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China signs pact to share year-round water data with Mekong River Commission

October 23, 2020 | 14:13

China has agreed to provide the Mekong River Commission (MRC) with year-round hydrological data, contributing to better river monitoring and flood and drought forecasting in the Mekong countries.

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Dr An Pich Hatda and MRC Secretariat staff (left) and Mr Li Ge of China’s Ministry of Water Resources and officials (right) pose for a virtual group photo at the end of the signing ceremony. (Photo: MRC)

China on Thursday signed an agreement with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to share year-round data on the flow of its portion of the vital waterway amid concern that Chinese dams may be causing drought downstream in Southeast Asia.

The official website of MRC announced that the agreement was signed today between China’s Ministry of Water Resources and the MRC during a one-day virtual MRC Dialogue Partners Meeting, an annual meeting held by the MRC and its upstream Dialogue Partners: China and Myanmar.

“This agreement is a landmark in the history of China-MRC cooperation,” Dr. An Pich Hatda, the MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer, said at the signing ceremony.

He added that data-sharing is critical to the management of the Mekong, on which 60 million people depend for fishing and farming in downstream countries Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

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China's hydropower system has been accused of causing drought in Southeast Asia countries. (Photo: Reuters)

Year-round data sharing - A necessity to ensure water security of Mekong Delta region

Over the last 18 years, China has shared its water level and rainfall data during June – October in the flood season from two hydrological stations located on the Upper Mekong mainstream at Yunjinghong and on a tributary at Manan, both in China’s southwestern Yunnan province. However, with drought posing an increasing concern, the MRC has been seeking year-round data to help analyze what may be causing the river’s low flow.

China’s prime minister in August pledged to provide more data, but it previously had been unclear whether it would come through Beijing’s own Lancang-Mekong Cooperation body or the 25-year-old MRC.

The new agreement will see China provide year-round data from two hydrological stations in Yunnan Province, including rainfall and river level data, the MRC said. China has also agreed to share urgent information on any unusual rise or fall in water levels and discharges, as well as other relevant information on factors that might lead to sudden flooding in the lower reaches of the basin.

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Erosion in Tien Giang - Vietnam's Mekong Delta province. (Photo: Suc khoe & Doi song)

China's hydropower system bears accusation for causing drought in Southeast Asia countries

According to Reuters, a push for more data from China’s portion of the Mekong River - which Beijing calls the Lancang River - intensified this year after U.S. government criticism that 11 Chinese dams were “hoarding” water and hurting livelihoods downstream, an accusation Beijing denies.

Two years of record drought on the 4,350-km (2,700-mile) waterway have severely harmed livelihoods and raised questions over how mainstream Mekong dams in China and downstream in Laos were affecting the flow of water, Insider said.

The Mekong River Commission is an intergovernmental organization established in 1995 for regional dialogue and cooperation in the lower Mekong river basin. Based on the Mekong Agreement between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam, the Commission serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region.

Since 1996, the MRC and China have worked together on a number of collaborative initiatives, including annual dialogue meetings, data and information sharing, joint symposiums and joint studies, and technical exchanges on water resources development, environmental protection, and hydropower development.

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Valerie Mai