Thai villages blame Chinese for Mekong drought effects

Union of Catholic Asian News 10 March 2010

The livelihoods of Catholic communities are among those in danger as drought and the possible effects of Chinese dams reduce the water level of the Mekong River to its lowest in 20 years.

“We face a drought almost every year but not this serious,” Father Vichai Uanyendee of Presentation of the Lord Church in Huai Leb Mue village, Nong Khai province, told UCA News.

“Our villagers’ garlic, tomato and corn crops as well as vegetables have been destroyed. Fisherfolk cannot use their boats” on the Mekong, he said.

The 68 Catholic families of the village are mostly farmers, fisherfolk or small-scale traders.

Low water levels in the Mekong, the lifeline that runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, are threatening the livelihoods of more than 60 million people who live along it.

Environmental groups and others have blamed China, which has built four dams on the upper stretches of the river. China and some experts, however, say the dams have little impact on the water level. They blame instead a severe drought.

In Pak Kat village, Nong Khai, one kilometer from the Mekong riverbank, villagers have had to buy water at 300 baht (US$9) per pickup truckload, according to Vichai Yasiri, a Church worker of Holy Redeemer Church.

The government has not been able to supply the village with water because there are too many affected by the drought, the layman said.

The church’s parish priest, Father Somnuek Suthi, said the current drought has not attracted as much attention as other disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

Meanwhile the Catholic Social Development Center of Tharae-Nongsaeng archdiocese is preparing to donate water pumps to critically affected villages, both Buddhist and Catholic, along the Mekong so that villagers can draw water from the river.

“We have learned about the difficulties faced by the communities. In particular, around 200 families in Tha Utan district, Nakhon Phanom province, have not had water supply for days,” said Adul Trakulma, center coordinator.

He explained that the harsh conditions are driving many young people to seek jobs as laborers in the cities.

SOURCE

Mekong drought puts village livelihoods at risk (UCA News)