Six nations gather over drying up of Mekong

– We can expect to see more and more headlines like this as we go forward.

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Leaders of four countries whose people depend on the Mekong River for their livelihoods get the chance today to confront China over claims that it is draining off their lifeblood with the building of large dams upstream.

They meet as the Mekong, which provides food, transport and irrigation for 65 million people in six countries, has dropped to its lowest level in nearly 20 years.

China and Myanmar will join the summit meeting of the Mekong River Commission, whose members are Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Chinese officials – as well as the Mekong Commission’s technical experts – say the scientific evidence does not support environmentalists’ allegation the dams are the main cause of reduced downstream flow.

Blame Mother Nature, they say, or climate change.

This year’s low flow and consequent drought is attributed to an early end to the 2009 wet season and low rainfall during the monsoons.

As Asia’s superpower, China wields considerable economic and political leverage over its southern neighbours.

The four Mekong commission nations, plus Myanmar, are heavily invested in hydropower projects to meet great shortfalls of electricity and have little interest in examining their drawbacks too closely.

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