Wednesday, January 05, 2011

China's Insatiable Need For Water and Energy Hitting Downstream Countries Hard

China is busy touting its hydroelectric power projects as a way of going green and weaning the most populous nation on the planet from coal and other emissions-heavy power generating sources. They are damming rivers at a prodigious rate, but the dam projects aren't nearly as green as one would first believe, and they are having a disastrous impact on countries located downstream of the newest dam projects.
The Xiaowan dam in the hills of Yunnan province is one of eight hydroelectric projects that will bring China?s industrial revolution to the impoverished region. It is by far the biggest of the four dams built so far that when done this year will be the biggest arch dam in the world.

But not all of the water is China's. The downstream half of the 2,700-mile-long river winds through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where it is known as the Mekong.

In those countries, 60 million people rely on the Mekong not for electricity but for food, water and transport. They say the Chinese dams have reduced the river to its lowest levels in 50 years, and environmental groups accuse China of reducing the river flow downstream.

"Many local people and groups that monitor the dams in China point the finger at the dams as one of the main causes of the drying up of the river," says Srisuwan Kuankachorn, co-director of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance, a Thailand-based environmental group.

Srisuwan says the countries are in a drought caused by China that has killed fisheries, withered croplands and dried up waterway transportation routes.

And the problems are likely to get worse with the completion of the Xiaowan dam. A United Nations report issued in May 2009 warned that China's eight planned dams, of which Xiaowan is the fourth, "may pose the single greatest threat to the river."
By destroying the habitat on the Mekong, the Chinese are causing untold misery in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, which rely heavily on the Mekong for food, potable water, and transportation. With river levels at such low levels, the problems for Vietnam are only going to increase as salt works its way upstream and food production becomes more variable.

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