Dams on the Mekong River, which originates in China, have adversely affected the livelihoods of people living in downriver countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia while the upriver neighbours continue to reap benefits of hydropower projects.
According to a report by Radio Free Asia, the farmers in Cambodia have complained of not being able to grow rice during the dry season, while fishermen said the size of their daily catches has plummeted, due to the lack of water. Similar is the case with the fish farmers.
“I’ve lost a lot of income due to not being able to farm,” said one of the farmers of Prek Dong village, in Kandal province in Kien Svay district’s Kampong Svay commune.
She further told RFA’s Khmer Service, “I rely on farming, but there is no water–we’ve had too much drought and barely any rain. Additionally, I’ve had to buy fish and rice [rather than farming them].”
The villagers here are, thus, forced to buy fish imported from Vietnam.
“Every year there is water in the river, there are fish, we can make prahok, but now there is nothing,” she said while adding, “My brother grows bananas and he’s been forced to pump water from a nearby lake to fill his well.”
Speaking about the agony faced by the fish farmers in Kampong Cham province named Eang Nam, one among them said that the shallow river has affected the regular flow of water in and out of nearby lakes and streams, thus, affecting how fish spawn.
“This year the water shortage is severe, and farmers are running out of water for dry season crops,” he said.
“When we don’t have water [in the river], the lakes dry out,” he added.
Recently, Ministry of Water Resources spokesman Chan Yutha said at a press conference that the problems affecting the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap River, which connects the Mekong to Cambodia’s largest lake, was due to “natural phenomena” including less rainfall, RFA reported.
As four of Cambodia’s main sources of water depend heavily on the Mekong, Hem Odom, an independent consultant on river resources and the environment, has opined that the Mekong River Commission (MRC), whose role to review major changes in the flow of the Mekong, need to do more to resolve issues related to the river’s level than issue statements.
The MRC works directly with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam but not China and Myanmar.
Hem Odom has urged the MRC nations to use the forum to “find common issues” to discuss with China, which has more than 10 big dams on its side of the river.
Like China, Laos has been building dams under its ambitious goal of becoming the “Battery of Southeast Asia”.
“So, the question goes back to the Mekong River Commission–the intergovernmental commission: What can it do among the four [member] countries first so that we can bring a joint message to China and pursue talks,” he said.