A drought affecting Southeast Asia for the past six months shows no signs of letting up any time soon. Affected countries include China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Lao PDR.
The drought affects five provinces in China, as well as the countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Rainfall has been well below normal, devastating crops and fires are a growing problem. The rainy season is anticipated to begin in May, and officials hope that will spell the end to the drought. The drought has been so severe that river water levels are at lows not seen for 50 years, possibly longer. Higher than normal temperatures have been sending people to hospitals, and there has been an increase in insect predation of the region's major food crop, rice.
Millions are alarmed by the Mekong river levels, prompting the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to decide to approach China for help. China does not belong to the MRC. The Commission has blamed drought for the low levels in the Mekong, although many people living downstream from China blame the eight dams China has built on the Mekong for the low levels. China is home to half of the world's largest dams. The Mekong runs through China, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam.
Thailand is planning to approach China for help in solving the crisis.
The drought affects 65 million people in Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam. The extremely low levels of water in the Mekong have forced tour boat operators to cancel their services. Cargo boats have not been able to sail up the Mekong for two weeks in the Chiang Rai region, hurting the export sector, which has already lost an estimated $4.29 million in the past month. Businesses in the Chiang Rang region are now trucking their goods in and out of the area, causing road congestion.
In China an additional 11 to 17 million people are affected by the drought in five provinces. China has been attempting to save crops in the drought-stricken area with cloud seeding to generate rain, but critics now say China is spending too much money fruitlessly, and risking environmental damage through the practice. The drought-stricken provinces have lost 2.1 million hectares of crops, and millions of animals are at risk. The economic cost to China so far has been an estimated $1.46 billion. The drought has also affected river water levels in China, causing a loss of hydro generating capacity.
Thailand has predicted that summer temperatures, which are expected to reach above 40 degrees Celsius, will exacerbate the river water levels.
A few Chinese experts have linked the drought to agricultural development and subsequent ecosystem loss on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The Plateau is "... a major "origin of rivers" in China, South Asia and Southeast Asia. It also has a profound influence on climate change in Asia and the entire Northern Hemisphere." The Plateau, home to a large grasslands, has been facing pressures from cultivation of the land to grow crops.
Concerns over the effects of El Nino are increasing. The last time the weather phenomenon passed through Southeast Asia, devastating storms were the result. El Nino has already been blamed for the drought, with effects on food production seen as far away as the Philippines.