By Paritta Wangkiat
Loei Province, Thailand, May 9, 2016
“If Thailand’s Mekong diversion project takes place in the dry season, the Mekong’s water flows to Cambodia and Vietnam’s delta will be reduced significantly,” said Le Anh Tuan, deputy director of the Research Institute for Climate Change at Vietnam’s Can Tho University.
“The coastal areas of the delta will face serious saline intrusion. The agricultural production and water supply, as well as the ecosystems of the Mekong delta, will have big negative impacts.”
The drought has already caused significant damage to the Mekong delta. Mr Anh Tuan said as much as 70km of the mouth of the Mekong river had been contaminated by salt.
Nearly two million hectares of natural land, accounting for 50% of the Mekong delta in Vietnam, has been hit by salinisation. Also, about 150,000 hectares of rice fields have been destroyed by salt. “In order to avoid any international water conflict, the lower Mekong subregion countries should have a new firm water strategy sharing plan, especially in the dry season,” Mr Anh Tuan said.
“The hydropower development projects in the main stream of the Mekong River should stop and water diversion projects should be limited.”
According to news reports, this situation forced the Vietnamese government to ask China, the first upstream country, to discharge water from its hydropower dams to save crops in the Mekong delta.
Vietnam also provided $6.3 million (222 million baht) to assist farmers affected by drought.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake is also experiencing a lack of water coming from the Mekong. Some provinces in Cambodia, mainly those on the Thai border, are suffering from water shortages.
Due to the drought, Thailand has started pumping water from the Mekong River into tributaries to rescue farmers in the Northeast.
The Khong-Loei-Chi-Mun water diversion project would be water exploitation on a much larger scale, with four billion cubic metres of water being diverted into Thailand. It’s likely this would be required to follow the Procedures on Notification, Prior-Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) under to the Mekong River Commission Agreement of 1995.
“We have not received any official technical information about the water diversion projects in Thailand until now,” Te Navuth, the secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, told Spectrum.
On March 15, during the 43rd meeting of the MRC joint committee in Can Tho, Vietnam, the Thai delegation committed to providing the project’s technical information and studies to MRC countries.
This was the only official statement MRC countries received from Thailand, previously relying on information from the media, according to Mr Navuth.
He added that the MRC Secretariat, a technical division of the member countries, and national experts would review any transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment reports produced by Thailand.
This would mean they would be in line with the MRC agreement and could conduct national and regional consultations with stakeholders.
“We do not think that there will be any major conflict among the MRC countries,” said Ix Hour, drought management team leader for the MRC Secretariat.
“But the member states will request more information sharing and notification on water utilisation if it is required based on the PNPCA agreement. And the process of getting approval on PNPCA will be pushed faster so that all member states will obey the PNPCA policy.
“We cannot specifically state what Thailand’s water pumping project effects will be. But we are predicting that the water level of the Mekong in this dry season will be significantly lower than normal.”
This story was produced in collaboration with The Mekong Eye and Mekong Matters Journalism Network, with full editorial control to the journalist and their outlet.
Image: SEI/Roengchai KOngmuang