Stimson in the News

The mighty Mekong at crisis point by Brian Eyler

in Program

Typically this time of the year in the Mekong Basin, the annual monsoon is beginning to taper off, the mighty river’s banks are spilling over and saturating the flood plain in Cambodia and Vietnam and the river is moving millions of tonnes of sediment alongside of millions of tonnes of fish that migrate up and down the Mekong.

A total of 2.6 million tonness of those fish are caught each year and feed the people of the Mekong. But this year, the river from the Golden Triangle to the Mekong Delta is nearly dried up and those flows of sediment and fish are missing.

Despite two major storms that came from the South China Sea in August and caused severe flooding in southern Laos and northeast Thailand, the Mekong’s traditional monsoon season just never materialised. Normally the months of May through November bring a lot of rain to the Mekong Basin but this year, water levels above Vientiane in Laos were lower than normal dry season water levels.

Nearly all portions of the river are marking the lowest levels from the 1980s onward for this time of year. Some parts of the river hit historic lows for any time of the year.

In other words, during the monsoon season, parts of the river hit lows never seen before in the dry season.

Something is very wrong in the Mekong and these trends are continuing as mainland Southeast Asia now is fully transitioning, in a premature manner, into its dry season. This year’s dry season, which will run from now until April 2020 will likely be the lowest ever recorded and the region needs to prepare for extreme drought.

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