Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Experts question praise of China’s ‘drought relief’

Experts question praise of China’s ‘drought relief’

The Jinghong dam on the Mekong River in China, seen last year. International rivers
The Jinghong dam on the Mekong River in China, seen last year. International rivers

Experts question praise of China’s ‘drought relief’

The Mekong River Commission, in a missive posted on their website on Monday, credited China’s “emergency water release” from its Mekong dams with successfully helping to alleviate the drought in the Mekong River Basin earlier this year, a claim disputed by experts.

The statement was based on an MRC report published in late October and conducted in cooperation with China’s Ministry of Water Resources.

“The study found that the supplemental water release was effective, increasing water level,” the statement claims.

“It shows the positive impact of China’s cooperation on the drought management,” Pham Tuan Phan, the MRC’s CEO, is quoted as saying in the statement.

However, the Cambodian Ministry of Water Resources at the time said the release of water was unlikely to have much of an impact, a view that experts yesterday seconded.

Ian Thomas, a former technical adviser at the MRC, said yesterday that the report was “a stinking pile of codswallop”, adding that it failed to address the critically low water levels in the Tonle Sap.

“Tonle Sap is the natural reservoir and sponge that normally in the dry season releases its flood waters back towards the ocean and helps keep the salt water out of the Mekong Delta,” he said via email.

Thomas said the dam release had helped remove salt from the delta in Vietnam, but maintained “Cambodia is the real loser”.

“Instead of some water still going to Tonle Sap and sustaining Cambodia’s vital fishery and fish habitats in a major drought year, the Great Lake was effectively completely bypassed by the manipulation of the Mekong flow by upstream Chinese and Laos hydropower operations,” Thomas said.

Thomas also disputed that China’s water release was an act of altruism, saying it was planned anyway and necessary for the dam to properly function.

Brian Eyler, an expert on China’s economic relationship with Southeast Asia at the Stimson Centre, agreed that the release was simply business as usual. Calling the move “perfectly crafted public relations”, Eyler said it “was not unique and undeserved of praise”.

Eyler also argued that sporadic water releases don’t do as much to alleviate drought as consistent releases, and also “do not permit farmers and downstream governments to prepare and make prudent decisions”.

Eyler also warned that China’s ability to control water releases could be problematic for the Mekong Basin in the future, noting that “every transaction with China comes at a price”.

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of China expert Brian Eyler.

MOST VIEWED

  • EU parliament’s 13-point vote to decide on possible sanctions

    The European Parliament is due to vote on Thursday on a 13-point resolution on Cambodia – which includes a call for the treason charges against bailed opposition leader Kem Sokha to be dropped – a threat that could see the EU enforce a range of sanctions against

  • Government hits back at threats to pull EBA, suspend UN seat

    The spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has said the government is in no way concerned after the European Parliament gave it three months to reverse what it called the “systematic repression of the political opposition”. Ignoring the ultimatum could mean facing

  • Sar Kheng: Sokha requested security

    Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Sunday revealed the story behind the transfer of former opposition party leader Kem Sokha from Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province to his house in the capital. Speaking at the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) headquarters in Prey

  • PM vows to ‘protect’ Chinese interests

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday told Chinese companies investing in Cambodia not to worry about contract cancellation in the Kingdom. Speaking at a roundtable meeting with business executives in China as co-chair of the China-Asean Expo, the prime minister told six Chinese conglomerates with