Thais Living Along Mekong Struggle from Drought, Effects of Dams

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Nong Khai and Chiang Rai, Thailand

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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