Leaders of Southeast Asian nations (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos) straddling the shrinking lower Mekong River are set to lean on China at a two-day summit of inter-governmental Mekong River Commission (MRC) the talks scheduled to begin April 4 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand. China is not a member of MRC and is participating as a “dialogue partner”.
A crippling drought in the region and the role of China’s dams will dominate the two-day summit. The Mekong is experiencing its lowest flows in 50 years. However, China attributes the shriveling of the Mekong on climate change induced drought. China is experiencing the worst drought in a century in its southwest, with more than 24 million people short of drinking water.
China maintains that the dams, built to meet soaring demand for water and hydro-generated electricity, have been effective in releasing water during dry seasons and preventing flooding in rainy months. The lower Mekong nations are expected to make a direct connection between man-made infrastructure (China’s dams) and low river flow rather than low rainfall. The lower Mekong states are confident that river flow data will support their claims and likely to press China to enter an agreement to share information on the river.
The Nile Basin countries should watch the Mekong River Commission summit with keen interest. Climate change induced water stress and the growing demands of water for irrigation, hydropower, domestic and industrial use will certainly create political tensions over Lake Victoria and the Nile River.