每日英語跟讀 Ep.812: Below a New Dam, a Grim Turn for the Mekong
The water is so clear on the Mekong River in northeastern Thailand that the sunlight pierces through to the riverbed, transforming the waterway into a glinting, empty aquarium. It is beautiful, but it means death.
At this time of year in Thailand, this stretch of the world’s most productive river should be brown and swollen with silt. Instead, a prolonged drought and a huge new dam over the border in Laos, the first on the lower Mekong, have stolen the nutrients needed to sustain life.
On another bend, the Mekong almost disappears entirely, a trickle of stagnant water surrounded by a lunar landscape of sere hillocks and desiccated roots. This is the season that fish normally spawn here, but there is no water.
“Our nets are almost empty,” said Buorot Chaokhao, who has fished the Mekong’s waters in Nong Khai, Thailand, just across the riverine border from Laos, for nearly five decades. “Maybe our way of life on the river is finished.”
The lower Mekong, which makes its way through five countries, was one of the world’s few remaining free rivers. But a hydropower boom, coupled with extreme weather patterns attributed to climate change, is radically remaking the waterway.
In October, the turbines of the first lower Mekong dam, the Xayaburi, began churning upstream from Nong Khai in Laos after a series of test runs last summer. The effect of the Thai-funded dam was almost immediate, residents said.
The Mekong ran clear and depleted, appearing an eerie, luminescent blue on sunny days. Algae bloomed, choking nets. Now a month-long drought has pushed the water level even lower so those parts of the river are no longer a waterway at all but a desert of dead plants and dried-out crustaceans.
With about 10 more dams planned for the mainstream Mekong’s lower reaches and hundreds more on its tributaries, a lifeline for 60 million people is being choked. Tens of millions more will be affected as farms and fisheries are compromised, even as the rich and powerful across the region profit from the hydropower business.
“We’re asking the question: Is this the breaking point for the Mekong?” said Brian Eyler, director of the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia program and author of “Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.” “The Mekong’s ecosystem is adaptable and resilient, but the worry is that the river’s massive resource base won’t be able to overcome all these dams and extreme weather.”
Source article: https://paper.udn.com/udnpaper/POH0067/350561/web/