Vietnam calls for sustainable use of Mekong River water amid crippling drought

Thanh Nien News

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People carry fresh water past a field in Vietnam's Mekong Delta hit by serious drought. Photo: Dinh Tuyen People carry fresh water past a field in Vietnam's Mekong Delta hit by serious drought. Photo: Dinh Tuyen


Drought-ridden Vietnam is urging its neighbors to use water resources from the Mekong River in a sustainable manner as the country is waiting for discharge from a Chinese hydropower dam to reach its southern farming region. 
The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesperson Le Hai Binh on Thursday said regional countries should work together and ensure that upstream hydropower dams on the Mekong do not affect the environment in other countries, especially those in the lowest reaches of the river. 
The river begins in the Tibetan plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea. Stretching 4,900 kilometers (3,045 miles), it is second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity. 
Via diplomatic channels, Vietnam has reached an agreement with China to have water released from the latter's Jinghong hydropower reservoir into the lower Mekong River to tackle drought and saltwater intrusion. 
Binh said Chinese authorities have confirmed that water discharge from the dam is being nearly doubled compared to the mid of March, to about 2,000 cubic meters per second. 
Downstream problem
Experts said farmers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta should not be too hopeful because the water discharged by China will first flow through thirsty areas in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
A strong El Nino has caused rainfall in the region to drop by up to 30 percent and the Mekong's water level to recede by half. 
In Vietnam's Mekong Delta, the severe combination of drought and saltwater intrusion has damaged 160,000 hectares of rice fields and more than half a million of people now lack fresh water.
Tran Duc Cuong, spokesperson of the Mekong River Commission’s Vietnam Council, estimated that between 27-54 percent of the water discharged from China’s dam will reach Vietnam.
“It will take two to three weeks before the water reaches Vietnam,” Cuong said.
At the 43rd meeting of the Mekong River Commission from March 15-17 in Can Tho, the Vietnamese delegation said drought and saltwater intrusion have caused negative impacts on many people in the Mekong Delta.
Vietnam also proposed Thailand provide specific information about a project to retain water from Huay Luang, a branch of the Mekong River, for agricultural purposes.
The Thai delegates said that a new project is being studied and information will be announced soon.
The Mekong River Commission Secretariat issued a diplomatic note to call upon Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand to use common water resources effectively and sustainably.

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