Ban Kong Sai, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand, April 7, 2016
It’s not just humans but also animals downstream who are affected every time water is released from Chinese dams into the Mekong River.
“The survival rate of baby birds has dropped to less than 60% over the past three years, as their nests lie on the riverfront and the water level of the Mekong is so unpredictable,” lamented the administrator of a Facebook page devoted to bird lovers.
His words suggest that many nests have been flooded, with young chicks and eggs getting drowned.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the administrator attributed this information to a survey on two species of migratory birds: small pratincones and little ringed plover.
“Last year, the survival rate must have been less than half,” the administrator of Bird-Loving Beung Kan Group said.
The bird-lover pointed out that during the dry season, riverfront areas should have remained dry long enough for these birds to lay and hatch their eggs, and then raise their chicks until they are ready to fly.
However, when water is suddenly released by Chinese dams for commercial navigation, these waterfront areas are swamped.
“We’ve seen far fewer birds build nests here this year,” the administrator continued.
China sits in the upper part of the Mekong River, which also flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Hence, every time China builds a dam in this international river, countries downstream are affected in different ways. Concerns are also growing about China’s plan to blow up more islets in the Mekong River for commercial navigation, as it will further affect the river basin’s ecological system.
“Banks along many portions of the Mekong will be destroyed. Water flow will change direction. Sediment from the collapsing banks will fill the deep pools that usually serve as natural habitats for fish during the dry season,” Dr Chainarong Sretthachau, a lecturer at the Mahasarakham University, said.
He said even river weeds will not grow once these islets are blown up. The academic said fisheries along the river would also suffer. According to him, the Mekong Giant Catfish – a critically endangered species – will also become a casualty if China goes ahead with its blowing up the islets.
China has previously blown up several islets in the river and many countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion have had to bear the brunt. The severe drought in the region is also believed to have partly stemmed from China’s decision to channel much of the Mekong River’s water into its dams.