How China is cutting off water for 70 million people with the Mekong


The Mekong is essential for the survival of 1.6 billion people in Southeast Asia. China is taking advantage of this dependence. The Middle Kingdom recognized that water could be a weapon. And use them.

“Mother of all water” – this is how a mighty river becomes Mekong called It is the third largest river in Asia and one of the largest bodies of inland water on earth. Much of the continent depends on it. As a source of drinking water, a transport route and no less important for fishing in it. Just ten years ago, the river reliably supplied enough water to the countries of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. But in the meantime, the torrent has become a torrent in many places. Entire regions dried up, fish almost disappeared, and farming became almost impossible.

But unlike Europe, which experienced a historic drought this summer, climate change has little to do with the river drying up. The reason for this is Beijing: the Communist Party government The Chinese.

China is using the Mekong River as a weapon

The source of the Mekong is on the Tibetan Plateau. It is the third largest ice field on earth after the Arctic and Antarctic. China considers it as its territory. So the country claims ownership for every liter of water that flows from the plateau, explains China correspondent Tamara Anthony for ARD’s Atlas format. The top ten rivers of the Asian continent have their source in the Tibetan Plateau. For a long time, this was not a problem – there was enough water for everyone. However, since the late 1990s, China’s previously liberal water policy has changed.

Because of the country’s incredibly rapid growth, his thirst for drinking water, but also for energy, grew more and more. China started building dams. Mainly for energy production. About a fifth of China’s electricity is generated by hydroelectric power, Anthony said. But without power generation, water has long become a tool to pressure neighboring countries that are so dependent on “Chinese” water. The threat was and is always the same: “If we want, we will turn off the faucet.”

Mekong map

The Mekong originates in the Tibetan Plateau and flows through most of Southeast Asia.

© dpa graphic / DPA / Picture Alliance

And that is exactly what China has been doing in recent years. Almost half of all dams in the world are in the Middle Kingdom – almost 22 thousand. Sometimes even up to the height of the Eiffel Tower and hundreds of meters wide. China has built eleven mega dams in its country since 1995. There were others in neighboring countries, e.g Laos, in which China financed the construction to push the countries into further dependence. Water has become liquid gold for the Middle Kingdom.

The reason for the construction of these buildings is also the trauma of the Chinese: in 1931, 3.7 million people died in a flood. Since then, the country has been making every effort rivers to control.

Eight of the ten recent droughts in the southern Mekong occurred after the construction of the first mega-dam.

But it turns out to be difficult, especially in the Mekong. About 2,000 kilometers of rivers flow through the territory of China. Extreme currents make it dangerous, but also attractive for power generation. So China is staying the course, much to the chagrin of the countries fed by the Mekong. Eight of the ten recent droughts in the southern Mekong occurred after the first mega-dam was built.

Mekong Dam in Laos

Nam Theun 1 Dam in Laos. China was early on financing dam projects in other countries to attract them.

© Sinohydro 3 / Picture Alliance

Meanwhile, China’s mega-dams have disrupted the river’s entire ecological rhythm. Even before they were built, the level of the Mekong dropped in the summer – but much less than today. Fishing was still possible, 70 million people lived off what the Mekong gave them. They could rely on the river to provide them with a food source, or they could sell the fish that reliably fell into the nets.

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