By Dr. Lê Anh Tuấn
Loei Province, Thailand, September 20, 2016
Water conflict of Mekong River is getting increasingly tense and the fate of Mekong Delta is really being threatened by drought and salinity intrusion.
According to the information we obtained during field trip to Thailand in late July, the Kong-Loei-Chi-Mun project aims to get irrigation water supply for 4 river basin covering 1.8 million hectares for rainy season and about 900,000 hectares for dry season in 17 provinces of northeastern Thailand. The project will take the water amount equivalent of 1,200m3/s from Mekong River. In the dry season, the flow on the Mekong River in recent years is only about 2,500m3/sec. Thus, the amount of water Kong-Loei-Chi-Mun project would take almost accounts for half the amount of water from the Mekong.
The water colour of Hua River has suddenly changed to blue: a sign of disintegrated Mekong Delta, said the Mekong Delta villager.
The water colour of Hua River has suddenly changed to blue because of the lessening amount of alluvium sediments from upstream into the Mekong Delta. However, behind this reality is a threat of a disintegrated Mekong Delta.
Mekong Delta will not have enough water
Not only Thailand, but Cambodia and Laos are also promoting a number irrigation projects which plan to take water from Mekong River. In Laos, the project plans to divert water from Mekong River for irrigation in the north of Vientiane with the expected flow of 240m3/sec. Cambodia also has irrigation projects along the banks of Mekong River and Tonle Sap which plan to divert water from Mekong River with the flow of 500m3/sec.
If the water is taken by the countries in such a manner, the water flowing into the Mekong Delta will be very little. The water flowing into the delta maybe less than 500m3/sec, which will not be sufficient for everyday use and irrigation for cultivated areas of the delta. In addition, water from Mekong River will not be sufficient to push salt water back to the sea, causing more severe salt water intrusion. This will post a serious threat to water utilization in Mekong Delta in the future. Furthermore, it is even more challenging with climate change situation.
In Thailand, the communities are worried about the impact of the project although Thailand seems to be benefit the most from the project. On the other hand, other downstream countries should be even more concerned.
According to People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), the Mekong River Basin has a total area of about 795,000 km2 with a total water volume of about 475 billion m3 annually, among which China accounted for 16%, Myanmar 2%, Laos 35%, Thailand 18%, Cambodia 18% and Vietnam 11%. Notably, the water flow is not distributed evenly throughout the year but mostly in 5 months of rainy season. Therefore, the difference in water flows between 2 seasons is very big.
What to do to reduce the impact?
Currently the information about the water diversion project in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are not sufficient. Some scientists have heard about these projects, however the data and process of the project are not available. People received information about these projects from different sources and media.
In Vietnam, scientists and key stakeholders should get together to discuss the current situation and find effective solutions to response to the issue.
Through Mekong River Commission, we also need to negotiate with the upstream countries on the use of Mekong River which include sharing national interest between upstream and downstream counties, sharing information on current situation, problems and challenges facing the country. Vietnam should also requires all projects to provide transparent project information so that scientists, social and environmental activists can provide feedback and critics on the projects.
Filling the gaps of the Mekong Agreement
According to the 1995 Mekong Agreement, all projects on the mainstream are to adopt procedures for notification, prior consultation and approval. However, these provisions only apply to mainstream Mekong River. Meanwhile, on the tributaries, the project owners or the proponents of the project just need to do a single procedure of announcement for the projects to be approved. Thailand seems to have “conformed” to the agreement when doing the construction on a tributary; however, in fact, the water is taken from the Mekong River.
Mekong Agreement (1995) has been around for 21 years now; however, it still has drawbacks in terms of applicability. It is high time the member countries met to evaluate and consider what to adjust in the agreement so that we may enter into another agreement with more tightened bindings. For instance, projects are to be reviewed if 1 or 2 member countries do not concur with, or to be stopped. Currently, the 1995 Mekong Agreement has no binding terms.
Of course, to request the 4 countries to sit down to review a new agreement is not an easy task. This challenge requires the participation of the international community, scientists, social organizations, and media.
This story was produced in collaboration with The Mekong Eye and Mekong Matters Journalism Network through a field workshop for journalists. The journalist and their outlet retain full editorial and copyright control. Translation by The Mekong Eye, Read the original on Thanh Niên News.
Lead photo: Mekong River at the border gate between Thailand and Laos. Photo: Đình Tuyển