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Transparency Needed in Mekong River Management

Mekong River in Pak Chom district in the northeastern Thai province of Loei with Laos side seen at right. - has been reduced to record lows.

The United States is concerned that the People’s Republic of China is not sharing data on the health and management of the upper portion of the Mekong river.

Transparency Needed in Mekong River Management
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The United States is concerned that the People’s Republic of China is not sharing data on the health and management of the upper portion of the Mekong river, known in China as the Lancang.

The Mekong River Basin runs from China, through Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and drains into the South China Sea. It is home to over 60 million people. Some 85 percent of them rely directly on the river for their livelihoods, particularly those who are involved in irrigated agriculture and fishing. This means that any unexpected event that affects the flow of the Mekong River could heavily impact the economic security and health of millions of people throughout the region.

Recently, fluctuating water levels of the lower Mekong River, in conjunction with severe drought conditions, have caused a great deal of uncertainty among the PRC’s downstream neighbors. Beijing operates 11 major dams on its stretch of the river and its tributaries, which impact the amount and quality of water available to its downstream neighbors.

In August of last year, the PRC promised to share year-round hydrological information it gathers on the Mekong, in an effort to mitigate the impact of climate change, flooding, and droughts. However, there was no prior warning from Beijing earlier this year when water levels suddenly began to fluctuate wildly south of the PRC’s Jinghong dam. The downstream communities thus had no time to prepare for or respond to water levels that were at times 50 percent lower than usual.

The PRC has a responsibility to keep its downstream neighbors informed of changing conditions or activities that may impact the river.

“The United States supports transparency and accountability in managing transboundary resources. For decades, these values have guided our work to promote the health and sustainability of the Mekong River and the nearly 70 million people whose livelihoods depend on it,” said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price in a written statement.

“We share the concerns of Mekong region governments and the Mekong River Commission about the recent rapid fluctuations and worrying drop in Mekong River water levels. We join their calls for the People’s Republic of China to share timely and essential water data, including information about upstream dam operations. It is essential that the PRC live up to its commitments and consult with downstream countries.

“The United States, through the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, will continue to support governments and local communities in the Mekong region.”