Mekong nations pressed to share data as water level falls to new low

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Mekong river bordering Thailand and Laos is seen from the Thai side in Nong Khai, Thailand, October 29, 2019. Picture taken October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The inter-governmental Mekong River Commission on Friday urged China and Southeast Asian countries to share more data on hydropower dam operations, as water flow in the Mekong hit record low levels for a second consecutive year.

A report by the commission attributes the low water level to two years of reduced rainfall and the operations of 13 Mekong hydropower dams - two in Laos and 11 in China - as well as dams on Mekong tributaries in Laos. The Mekong also flows through part of Myanmar.

The report said the low flow could have severe impacts on communities in its member countries - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - due to loss of fisheries and irrigation potential.

"We call on the six Mekong countries to increase their sharing of data and information on their dam and water infrastructure operations in a transparent and speedy manner with the MRC," said An Pich Hatda, chief executive officer of the MRC's secretariat.

The report addressed a second year of delayed seasonal water flow into Cambodia's Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia's largest lake, which has severely disrupted fishing and threatened the food supply of more than a million people.

The Mekong typically swells in rainy season where it converges with the Tonle Sap River, causing a rare reversed flow of the river into the lake around June.

This year's reverse flow began this week, said Chan Yutha, spokesman of Cambodia's Water Resources Ministry.

A tropical storm has hit parts of the Mekong this month, bringing large rainfall and rapidly increasing water levels in some stretches.

The MRC said Mekong countries should implement drought plans and request that water storage operators release more water and irrigators use less of it.

It also suggests they ask China to water supplement, or discharge water from dams and reservoirs, if current conditions persist.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Kay Johnson and Martin Petty)

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