2020-11-04 10:14:03

China has begun providing year-round data from two of its hydrological stations along the Mekong River to improve water monitoring and disaster forecasting by its downstream neighbors.

The Ministry of Water Resources announced Sunday that data from the two stations — Yunjinghong and Man’an in the southwestern Yunnan province — will be shared with five countries on the river as well as the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the intergovernmental organization for regional cooperation in the lower Mekong basin. Previously, China had only shared hydrological data for its flood season, between June and October, a practice that was often criticized for not being sufficiently transparent.

“Due to the influence of climate factors such as global warming and monsoon anomalies, the Mekong River region faces severe challenges of floods and droughts,” the ministry said, adding that information sharing can improve “downstream hydrological forecasting and disaster mitigation actions, as well as minimize loss of life.”

The Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, flowing south through China into Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Over the years, the river has been the focus of water disputes and political tensions due to dam projects by upstream countries, such as China and Laos, as well as other human activities.

Sunday’s announcement came months after a U.S. government-funded study blamed China’s dam building on the Mekong River for a devastating drought in downstream countries in 2019. The report, published by Eyes On Earth, a research and consulting company specializing in water, said major Chinese dams and reservoirs built for hydropower generation and water management had held back water from the upper Mekong, which led to a shortage of water in downstream countries during the rainy season last year.

However, some researchers and the MRC Secretariat — the commission’s operations arm — have questioned the study’s methodology and conclusion, calling for more upstream information and transparency to improve regional cooperation and manage water scarcity.

Liu Chen, project officer of infrastructure sustainability at the Beijing-based Global Environmental Institute, said sharing data is vital for improving communication and avoiding conflict in the lower Mekong basin. It will also help the causes of the region’s environmental changes to be better understood, she said.

“China has been criticized for inadequate information transparency (on water data),” Liu told Sixth Tone. “Limited information can cause misunderstanding and overshadow (the country’s) cooperation efforts.”

Responding to criticism about the perceived lack of transparency in data sharing, Premier Li Keqiang pledged in August that China would provide year-round water data to countries along the Mekong River starting this year. Two months later, China and the MRC signed an agreement to do just that, including rainfall and river level data, twice daily.

An Pich Hatda, chief executive officer of the MRC Secretariat, called the data sharing deal “a landmark in the history of China-MRC cooperation.”

“The increased regulation of the basin and the opportunities and challenges it brings call for greater data and information sharing, improved water release notifications, coordination of operations, and enhanced early warning systems,” he said at the annual MRC meeting at which the agreement was signed.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: An aerial view of the Mekong River in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, Aug. 9, 2013. People Visual)