News / Asia

    Mekong Drought Worsens Amid Doubts Over Lao Promises

    FILE - Cambodian farmers plant rice on the dry earth in the rice paddy on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
    FILE - Cambodian farmers plant rice on the dry earth in the rice paddy on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
    Luke Hunt

    Drought in Southeast Asia is raising concerns in the Cambodian and Vietnamese countryside where salinity levels are rising in the Mekong River and people are skeptical about fresh promises from Laos that it will respect the rights of downstream countries in dam construction.

    The reassurances from Vientiane were delivered by Bounhang Vorachith, who was recently named secretary-general of the Laos Communist Party, sparking hopes he might show a more conciliatory approach to negotiations with countries who share use of the Mekong River.

    “Laos will make an effort to ensure that there will be no impact,” Bounhang recently told the Cambodia government in regards to Vientaine’s plans to build 11 dams along the Mekong River and their impact on neighboring countries.

    He also reminded Prime Minister Hun Sen that Laos had studied the potential impact of the dams and promised to limit the impact of the controversial Don Sahong hydropower dam, The Phnom Penh Post reported, to be built just north of the Cambodian border.

    FILE - Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia listens to U.S. President Barack Obama speak during a 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Rancho Mirage, California, Feb. 15, 2016.
    FILE - Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia listens to U.S. President Barack Obama speak during a 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Rancho Mirage, California, Feb. 15, 2016.

    But his promises rang hollow among those who depend most on the Mekong River where low water levels caused by a severe drought have been blamed on climate change, clearing of rain forests for industrial use and upstream dams, mainly in China.

    Up to 70 million people live a hand-to-mouth existence along the banks of the Mekong River, including indigenous tribes such as the Jarai, Kraol, Phnong, Ro Oung, Stieng, Su, Oey, Kreung and Tampuan.

    Samin Ngach, a spokesman for the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, said food and fresh water supplies were in tight demand following weak rice harvests caused by a lack of rain during the last wet season.

    “The indigenous community, they could not plant rice. Finally they have no food to eat,” Ngach said. “The forest also needs water and also the animals as well they also need the water. It's difficult for people.”

    He said the ability of regional authorities to cope with the drought is also a concern. This was highlighted by a decision in Thailand last month to divert the Mekong River into drought-stricken areas, causing concern in Vietnam and Cambodia.

    Hanoi pressed Bangkok to use the Mekong River Commission (MRC) for resolving such issues before they escalate in the future. The MRC, however, has suffered large funding cuts from international donors who are upset with the commission and allegations of mismanagement and corruption.

    FILE - A fisherman casts his fishing net next to a ferry in the Mekong river near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.
    FILE - A fisherman casts his fishing net next to a ferry in the Mekong river near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.

    “That's the main source of fresh water fish for Cambodians, that's certainly significant. I think climate change could be felt now,” said Ou Virak, head of the local think tank Future Forum. “The heat comes very very early, there's hardly any real winter anymore there's no real cool season anymore.”

    Climate change, he said, was also leaving its mark on regional diplomacy, with China commanding control of the water flowing into the Mekong River through an extensive dam network constructed over the last 20 years.

    It's a huge advantage at the negotiating table with the Mekong River countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

    “But also you look at the dams upstream in China. I think that will definitely have an impact not just on fisheries but also on the water supply,” Ou Virak added. “Downstream countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, will have to find ways to negotiate with China.”

    Vietnamese farmers are facing major crop losses due to severe drought and salt water contamination of agricultural land in the Mekong Delta and its 12 Vietnamese provinces. Some reports say salt water contamination has reached the Cambodian border.

    FILE - Terraced rice paddy fields are seen during the harvest season in Hoang Su Phi, north of Hanoi, Vietnam, Sept. 18, 2015.
    FILE - Terraced rice paddy fields are seen during the harvest season in Hoang Su Phi, north of Hanoi, Vietnam, Sept. 18, 2015.

    Vietnam's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Cao Duc Phat, is quoted in a state-run media outlet as saying 139,000 hectares of land within that country's borders have been contaminated by salt so far, and this will continue to rise at least until the start of the next rainy season, which is usually in June.

    He said 575,000 Vietnamese were suffering from fresh water shortages alongside business like hospitals, schools, hotels and industry.

    Tek Vannara, Executive Director of The NGO Forum, said a further 200,000 hectares of rice fields have been destroyed by the drought in Cambodia, and this was having a very bad impact on the lives of farmers, blaming most of the losses on increased salinity.

    “The rice field, it is destroyed from the droughts,” he said.

    “The salt, it comes from the deforestation in the whole of the Mekong region,” he said, adding the wholesale conversion of land that once sustained forests to agricultural and industrial use and made the problem much worse.

    “In Cambodia, in Laos, in Vietnam or in Thailand, they already convert - to be agricultural development to be industrial. So this is another root cause,” he said.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora