China’s upstream activities along the Mekong River have long been contentious — but a recent study has sparked fresh scrutiny over its dam-building exercises, reigniting warnings that millions of livelihoods could be destroyed.
A U.S.-government funded study by research and consulting firm, Eyes on Earth, found that Chinese dams are holding back large amounts of water upstream on the Mekong, which exacerbated a severe drought in the Southeast Asian countries downstream last year.
China dismissed the scientific report as “groundless.”
The 4,350 kilometer (2,700 mile) Mekong River runs through six countries. Starting from China — where it is called the Lancang River — it flows past countries like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, before emptying into the South China Sea via Vietnam.
It is the lifeblood of these Southeast Asian countries and supports the livelihood of nearly 200 million people there who depend largely on farming and fishing.
China built its first dam on the upper Mekong in the 1990s and currently runs 11 dams along the river. The country has plans to build more dams, which are used to generate hydropower.