MRC defends China over Thai floods

Bangkok Post 16 August 2008

By APINYA WIPATAYOTIN 

Mekong basin flooding worst in 100 years


The Mekong River Commission (MRC) defended China's dam operations yesterday which have been blamed by environmentalists for being a cause of the severe flooding in Thailand's north and northeastern provinces. The flooding is said to be the worst in 100 years in the Mekong river basin.

''The current water levels are entirely the result of the meteorological and hydrological conditions and were not caused by the release of water from the Chinese dams, as their storage volume was far too small to affect the flood hydrology of the Mekong,'' according to an MRC statement released yesterday.

The flooding, which has wreaked havoc in Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos, and in Chiang Rai, Nan, Loei, Nong Khai, and Mukdahan provinces since early this week, was due to the above-average rainfall during the first months of the monsoon season which saturated the river catchments, providing a bigger flood runoff.

''These conditions resulted in high river levels than usual and were compounded by tropical storm Kammuri between Aug 8-10,'' said the MRC - a river basin organisation.

The commission's member countries include Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

The commission's statement backs Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and the Water Resources Department's theory that the Mekong flooding had nothing to do with the Chinese dams.

Mr Samak said yesterday that he believes the water runoff was caused by an excessive amount of rainfall, not discharge from Chinese dams.

China has built three large-scale dams on the Mekong river – Manwan, Dachaoshan, and Jinghong, which was just completed in June.

Locals and environmentalists here suspect the dams and the blasting of the Mekong islets to clear the way for Chinese cargo ships navigating up and down the Mekong was causing extreme highs and lows in the Mekong.

Water Resources deputy chief Thanade Dawasuwan said a massive increase in the water volume worsened the runoff and inundated the communities along the Mekong, which is fed by many tributaries.

''Blaming China [for the floods] without solid evidence would only hurt relations between the two countries,'' said Mr Thanade.

However, he admitted that the department only had little information on Chinese dam operations.

''China is not a member of the MRC, so the agency cannot compel them to disclose information. However, we will seek their cooperation and reveal whatever information we can,'' he said.

Montree Chantawong, campaign coordinator of the Bangkok-based Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Terra), said the current flooding was proof that Chinese dams could not prevent flooding downstream as the Chinese government had claimed.

Although it can't be said for sure if the Chinese dams were to blame for the inundation, they are certainly contributing to the ecological and hydrological changes in the river.

Meanwhile, the disaster prevention office in Nong Khai yesterday declared three districts disaster zones after water from the Mekong flooded the districts, causing damage to residential and agricultural areas.

The Royal Irrigation Department reported that floodwaters in Chiang Rai, Nan, and Loei were receding, but the situation in Nong Khai was still very bad.

The department expects the situation to improve within a few days.