Sunday, March 21, 2010
Prayers for rain are being uttered here in SE Asia much more fervently than usual as we go into the windy and wet season. The reason is the parlous state of the Mekong River which is now dangerously low. It flows like a carotid artery through a brace of countries, starting deep in China and winding through Burma, Laos, Cambodia and finally widest and usually most impressive in Thailand and Vietnam.
Millions of people literally live and trade on it but people we spoke to in Laos say they're now seeing sandbanks they've never seen before because the water level is so low. The reason, some say, are the dams the Chinese are building upriver. The Chinese for their part say it's the low rainfall recently. And it has to be said that Laos and Thailand are both planning and building dams themselves.
Next month the Mekong River Commission, which represents Thailand Laos Vietnam and Cambodia is meeting to discuss the crisis and to ask the Chinese to give them more details of the effect of the upriver dams and to discuss what's to be done.
I took the photo above, which you'll note is also very hazy. That's because it's the burning season at the moment (farmers clear their land and set light to the vegetation) which restricts visibility to the point that aircraft can't fly. It all just adds to the sense of looming environmental disaster round these parts which is perhaps not the most positive note to end my trip on.