The worst drought in living memory has been exacerbated by Chinese dams withholding water

One of the worst droughts in the last 40 years in Thailand has been exacerbated by the Chinese government which has been intentionally holding water in its Mekong river dams, a new study says.

“The severe lack of water in the Lower Mekong during the wet season of 2019 was largely influenced by the restriction of water flowing from the upper Mekong during that time,” according to a new study commissioned by the Lower Mekong Initiative and Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership and carried out by Eyes on Earth, Inc.

The North East of Thailand is currently experiencing the country’s worst droughts in 40 years. Agricultural production and job security in the region have been adversely affected by the lack of water. According to TISCO Bank’s Economic Strategy Unit, the drought could cost the Thai economy 37 billion baht or 0.2 per cent of the GDP.

Now, the study by the SIP says that the drought is caused in-part by Chinese dams withholding water to boost its own electricity generation and to regulate Mekong river discharge.

“The satellite data doesn’t lie, and there was plenty of water in the Tibetan Plateau, even as countries like Cambodia and Thailand were under extreme duress,” said Alan Basist, who co-wrote the report, to the New York Times. “There was just a huge volume of water that was being held back in China.”

Yet despite the evidence that Chinese policy has affected the Thai people’s livelihoods, Thailand’s government under the Prayut Chan-ocha administration has continued to pursue a policy of appeasement and friendship with China.

Arms purchases and infrastructure contracts have increasingly been offered to Beijing to counteract western criticisms of Prayut’s military coup and subsequent suspension of rights.

Chinese Dams on the Upper Mekong courtesy of the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership

It is unlikely that this situation will change despite the findings of the study.

Chinese goods and tourists have become too vital to the Thai economy and Beijing’s political backing has become paramount to the government as it seeks to find its geopolitical footing in a region now-ignored by the Trump administration.

But the cost doing so may be high as Thai workers and citizens lose livelihoods and pasturable land to Chinese policies. An area that was once the breadbasket of Thailand could now find itself experiencing permanent drought.

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