Thais Living Along Mekong Struggle from Drought, Effects of Dams

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Nong Khai and Chiang Rai, Thailand

A fishing boat sits on a dry bed away from the Mekong River in Thailand’s Nong Khai province as the region suffers from a severe drought, Feb. 7, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Water croton, a mangrove shrub crucial for fish spawning and resisting erosion, has died as a result of the receding Mekong River in Nong Khai province, Feb. 7, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Hydrologist Tiem Ngern-tok stands next to a gauge at a measuring station in Ban Sob Kok, a village in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, that shows the water level below 2 meters (6.5 feet) in an area where 3 to 6 meters (9.8 to 19.6 feet) is normal, Feb. 15, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Pylon bases at the 4th Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in Chiang Khong district in Chiang Rai province are exposed, indicating a critically low level of the Mekong River, Feb. 14, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Samrit Jama sails his boat taxi through shallow water in Nong Khai province, paying attention to avoid rocks or to become grounded, Feb. 7, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


A fisherman in Chiang Rai pulls an empty net from the Mekong River, Feb. 14, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


A man collects kai, an algae used by local cooks, in Chiang Khong district, Feb. 13, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Pulling a small fish from her net, a woman in Chiang Khong district says bigger fish have been hard to find over the past three to four years, Feb. 14, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Somboun Vilayjit, a farmer from the Bokeo province, across the river on the Laos side of the Mekong, said it was tough to collect enough kai to feed his family or sell it, Feb. 14, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Teens in Bokeo, Laos, play along the river bank across from Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, Feb. 14, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


A Thai villager in Chiang Khong district pans for gold along the Mekong River bank, Feb. 14, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


The Mekong River appears blue like sea water, a sign that sediment is deficient and could harm the ecological system of the river in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, according to experts, Feb. 15, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Even as the level drops, a community in Nong Khai province continues to pump water from the Mekong River for household use, Feb. 7, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

Dam operations upstream combined with a drought have caused a severe drop in water levels along the Mekong River, on which tens of millions of people rely for their livelihoods through fishing or farming, say Thais who live by the banks of the great waterway.

BenarNews visited communities in northern Thailand that sit on the river to get a close-up look at the problems that locals have been complaining about, and to capture their regions in pictures.

Pra Apichart Ratigo, an abbot in Chiang Saen, a district of Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, said he had observed the Mekong for decades.

“Previously the water gradually receded in the dry season to a certain point and it bounced back gradually. Over the last four or five years, it abruptly went up in three days and went down in three days, like someone turned a faucet on and off,” the Buddhist monk told BenarNews, referring to the effects of dams upstream in China and Laos.

The 4,350-km (2,700-mile) Mekong flows through six countries. It stretches from the Tibetan Plateau and empties into the South China Sea in Vietnam.

On the Mekong, China has built 10 dams and Laos two to produce electricity for their countries.

Niwat Roykaew, co-founder of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group in Chiang Rai, said the Thai government had not done enough to offset the water-flow issues since China and Laos built their dams.

“The Thai government should leverage discussions about the dams’ water control management … in accordance with the seasons to keep the ecology functioning – not to be severely affected like in the present,” he told BenarNews. “But the government isn’t enthusiastic to do so.”


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