The Thirsty Dragon: The Impact of China’s Dam Building Activities on Regional Watersheds

Two recent articles reporting on China’s dam building spree on the upper Mekong and how it may impact downstream states.  First, via Yahoo, news that the UN sees China’s dam building activities as the:

“… the greatest threat to the future of the already beleaguered Mekong, one of the world’s major rivers and a key source of water for the region…

China is constructing a series of eight dams on the upper half of the Mekong as it passes through high gorges of Yunnan Province, including the recently completed Xiowan Dam, which — at 958 feet (292 meters) high — is the world’s tallest. Its storage capacity is equal to all the Southeast Asia reservoirs combined, the U.N. report said.

Laos, meanwhile, has started construction on 23 dams expected to be finished by 2010 on the Mekong and its tributaries, the U.N. said, as a means to spur development and lift the country from poverty. Cambodia and Vietnam also have ambitious dam-building plans.

“China’s extremely ambitious plan to build a massive cascade of eight dams on the upper half of the Mekong River, as it tumbles through the high gorges of Yunnan Province, may pose the single greatest threat to the river,” the report said.

…The proposed dams would add further pressure to the Mekong, which runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The 307,000-square-mile (795,000-square-kilometer) river network is home to dozens of rare bird and marine species, including the Mekong giant catfish, and is a source of food and jobs for the 65 million people who live in the river basin.

The river and its vast tributary network already face threats from pollution, climate change and the effects of earlier dams that were built in China and have caused water levels to drop sharply on the upper Mekong.

…The report, however, found several river basins in the Mekong that are under threat, including the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, Nam Khan in Laos and Sekong-Sesan Srepok in Vietnam and Cambodia due to increasing development and demand for water.

It called for countries bordering the Mekong to work more closely together to ensure that the region’s growing population and expected economic development doesn’t further strain the capacity of the delta.”

The second article, via Tibetan Plateau, discusses Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s personal intervention in the construction of dams on the Salween River, once again, “calling for more careful environmental assessment and prudence before going ahead with the plan.” As the article notes:

“…China’s official news agency Xinhua has quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu today saying that the “Chinese government attaches great importance to the utilization and protection of transnational rivers inside Chinese territory.”

The reasons provided by SCMP are far more believable: “Mr Wen ordered a halt to work on the Liuku hydropower station last month, telling authorities not to resume the plan until its impact on the ecology and local communities was fully understood.” These are the same reasons provided in 2004. Chinese environmental activists campaigning to save the Salween River have been working very hard to keep the Premier’s office apprised of these concerns and the situation on the ground. The real credit thus goes to the dedicated and well-coordinated work of these campaigners.

…The Three Gorges Dam is (probably) the most controversial construction projects undertaken by the PRC — more than a million people were relocated to make way for the dam and its reservoir . Its construction began in 1994, directly under the supervision of the then Premier Li Peng. There are countless stories of corruption and mistreatment of relocatees and protestors…”

This entry was posted on Friday, May 22nd, 2009 at 8:31 am and is filed under Cambodia, China, Laos, Mekong River, Tibet, Tibetan Plateau, Vietnam.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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