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Serious Drought Expected to Hit Lower Mekong Countries Through Early 2020

The next few months could be rough for regional agriculture. 

The Bangkok Post reports that a serious drought is forecast to hit Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, which make up the lower Mekong River Basin, through January.

This could cause major harm to agriculture production in these countries, with Thailand and Cambodia expected to face particularly acute impacts.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) said in a statement that an ongoing drought upstream has left the Mekong's levels at the lowest point in over six decades, with low water flow recorded since June.

"The drought is caused by insufficient rainfall during the wet season with a delayed arrival and earlier departure of the monsoon rain and an El Nino event that has created abnormally high temperatures and high evapotranspiration," the news source quotes the MRC as saying. 

Little to no rain is expected in the basin in December and early January, meaning agricultural production will struggle, while even daily water supplies are at risk.

Low water levels on the river have been exacerbated by the completion of upstream dams. For example, after the US$4.5 billion Xayaburi Dam went online in Laos late last month, stretches of the Mekong on Thailand's northeastern border shrunk from a kilometer wide to just a few dozen meters wide.

Overall, 44 hydroelectric dams have already been built in Laos, many on major tributaries of the Mekong, with 46 more under construction.

In Cambodia, the highly unique Tonle Sap Lake is already facing a crisis thanks to dam construction and drought. NPR reports that 500,000 tons of fish are caught in the lake each year, while the Mekong basin as a whole provides 2.6 million tons of fish annually, feeding millions of people.

Water levels in the lake, which connects to the Mekong, are now extremely low, leaving many of the people who rely on it for their livelihood in trouble. "Last year, I could earn almost US$75 a day," one fisherman told the news source. "This year, I barely make enough to pay for gas and bait."

[Photo via PxHere]

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