China to provide water data on dams [along the Mekong River]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Apinya Wipatayotin and Theeraporn Saiwirat
Bangkok Post

China has agreed to provide water level data from two dams in Yunnan province until the end of this year's drought in the lower Mekong River basin, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti says.

China recently sent a letter to the Mekong River Commission saying it was willing to provide it with hydrological data from Jinghong and Manwan dams, the minister said.

The data will be delivered every Monday at 9am starting from this week and will end at "the end of drought", the letter says. The data includes information on water levels, flow and rainfall at 8am on each day.

The cooperation comes after growing pressure from countries in the lower basin, including Thailand and Laos, which have complained that dams in China are contributing to problems leading to the lowest water levels ever seen in the Mekong.

Thailand has demanded China cooperate more closely on water management during the drought season.

Mr Suwit praised the Chinese decision to release the water information to other countries through the commission, calling it a significant step in closer collaboration with other countries sharing the resources of the river,

"It is a historical success since the establishment of the Mekong River Commission 15 years ago. The cooperation indicates China's sincerity in dealing with the problem. It is a mutual step for creating trust between us," he said.

The step resulted from talks when Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue called on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva this month.

Mr Suwit expressed confidence the information from the hydro-meteorological stations would be useful for the river basin management.

"The information is important. It lets us know where the problem is. Dams retain only 4% of water flowing to the Mekong."

The problem will be high on the agenda at the Mekong River Commission summit to be held in Hua Hin from April 2 to 5. China will attend the meeting as an observer. The MRC comprises Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

In another development, Mr Suwit said the drought season for this year was likely to extend to June and would cause more problems for farmers.

Only the Srinagarind dam in Kanchanaburi has a water level over 80%, unlike the rest which average about 40%, he said.

Activists working on Mekong River issues, meanwhile, said they plan to hold a parallel forum to discuss the water crisis when the MRC summit is held in Hua Hin. The public forum will be held at Chulalongkorn University.

The day after the two-day forum, the Mekong People Network in Thailand would submit a letter to China through its ambassador to Bangkok to call on Beijing to take responsibility for water problems facing countries downstream.


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