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Villagers in Laos and Thailand Suffer as China Opens the Floodgates on Mekong River Dams

Source: RFA

Villagers living near the Mekong River in Thailand and Laos are finding it difficult to cope with sudden releases of water from dams upstream in China.

More than 200 famililes living in Laos’ Bokeo province have suffered because of sudden increases in the height of the river, threatening their livelihoods.

“Water levels along the Mekong have increased enormously after China released water from their dams in the north. It causes flooding,” said a local official from Bokeo in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service.

“Local people are then unable to fish, and seaweed that they have been raising for food or income gets destroyed or otherwise disappears because the water current is abnormally strong,” the official said.

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The official said that his province is affected the most because of its proximity to Jindong dam, located in only 300 kilometers upstream.

Meanwhile in Thailand, about 300 families in more than 20 villages are also struggling from the sudden release of Chinese dam water.

“[Sudden] increases of the water level instantly flood over the rocks and impact our ability to fish. Sudden rises make the waters too strong. The water level also decreases very quickly and it is abnormal. Islands on the Mekong where people grow crops are flooded and everything ends up damaged,” said a Thai villager from Chiang Rai province.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has been notified of the issue and is working with all the involved countries to limit damages in the future.

“We are aware of the problem and the MRC notified the related sectors of the lower Mekong countries — Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, to inform the people to take precautions in case of flooding after China notifies us that they will release water from a dam,” said  MRC Committee Member Sopheak Meas.

China typically releases water from dams during the rainy season to lower the possibility of a break in any of the dams. They also release water during the dry season for Chinese farmers in need of water for irrigation, but the effects are felt downstream.

Based on data from a Thai conservation organization, a recent opening of the floodgates causes water levels in the Mekong to increase as much as 3.7 meters in some places, the largest such increase in 37 years.

Global environmental group International Rivers warned that such water releases could result in disaster.

The conservation organization plans to go to Bangkok to submit a complaint letter to Chinese Embassy, formally asking for compensation for affected villagers next week. Officials from the US embassy in Thailand will meet some of the affected villagers about this matter on Monday next week.

According to International Rivers there are seven dams along the Mekong River within China, with 20 more planned or under construction in Yunnan and Qinghai provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region.