Are China’s dams responsible for droughts along Mekong River?

Are China’s dams responsible for droughts along Mekong River?

  • Dueling reports backed by the US and China have sparked debate about whether Chinese dams in the Mekong River put the 60 million people downstream at risk.

Chinese dams aren’t the problem causing droughts for downstream nations along the Mekong River – they are part of the solution – says a Chinese study released in July.

The study is an attempt to pour water on claims by a rival US-backed investigation that blamed dams in China for water shortages suffered by Southeast Asian countries on the river’s lower reaches.

The Chinese study, a collaboration between Tsinghua University and China’s Institute of Water Resources, argues that the dams help alleviate the problem by storing water from the wet season and releasing it in the dry season.

The claim has sparked an academic discussion about the root cause of shortages so severe that Vietnam declared a state of emergency and Thailand enlisted its military in relief efforts.

Analysts say the competing claims are signs of a battle to control the narratives framing China’s relations with its smaller Southeast Asian neighbors, if not turning the Mekong into another front in the US-China rivalry.