Mekong River Commission to urge China to help raise water level

TNA 5 March 2010

BANGKOK, March 5 (TNA) - The Vientiane-based Mekong River Commission (MRC) will seek China's cooperation in tackling the problem of low water levels in the Mekong River, as Southeast Asia's primary international water has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 20 years, affecting local residents and businesses dependent on the river.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) comprising member countries Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, agreed at its Wednesday meeting in Luang Prabang, Laos, that it will petition the Chinese representative at the United Nations for Beijing's cooperation in finding a quick and effective solution by the end of next week, according to Saksit Treedech,Thailand’s permanent secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

Mr Saksit said the Mekong’s drought conditions are worrisome and that the member countries wish to tackle this problem seriously, as it has been affecting freighters and cargoes, which have been forced to halt their runs, including water shortage from the river for public consumption.

It will be the first time the Commission has officially sent a letter to China. However, Mr Saksit said the Mekong agency is not intending to pressure China on the matter, but to inform the neighbour on the north, as all the countries having the river run through or pass alongside them now face similarly unusual low water levels.

At the meeting, Thailand also suggested that the four nations should apply diplomatic measures through their foreign ministries in order to press China to realise the importance of a joint solution to the river problem.

He added Thailand's Natural Resources and Environment Ministry will urgently discuss the issue with the Foreign Ministry.

In Thailand's northern province of Nong Khai, the Mekong River has fallen to its lowest level in 50 years. All 17 districts in the province have been declared drought-hit zones.

Meanwhile, in the northern province of Uttaradit, the Sirikit Dam is also facing the lowest water levels in 10 years, causing sandbars on which cars can pass through and people can take a walk.

Dam director Somkid Khaengraeng said its water levels are now in crisis, as there is only  1.46 billion cubic metres, while the Royal Irrigation Department requires the dam to daily release water at 24 million cubic metres in order to help drought victims in the area.

Mr Somkid also urged local residents to use the water prudently and to avoid growing off-season paddy fields, for crops will be damaged due to water shortage.

If rice farmers do not stop rice farming, he warned, the dam can only release water for another 75 days, for the rest of the water must be kept as backup supply in the reservoir. (TNA)