PHNOM PENH – With horror images showing fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas around the world, one could be forgiven for welcoming the sight of one of the world’s great rivers turning a fresh blue. However the azure hue seen in recent weeks along stretches of the Mekong is stirring concerns that dozens of hydroelectric dams, the biggest of which are in China, are interrupting the river’s natural flow and blocking sediment that should be carried to farmland downriver that helps feed 60 million people. Earlier this month the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body, put the colour change down to “extremely low flow, slow drop in the river sediments,” after warning last month that the Mekong region could face serious drought over the turn of the year.
BANGKOK — A confluence of drought and dams along the Mekong River has renewed concerns about the future of the 4,763 kilometer waterway, upon which tens of millions of people depend for their livelihoods in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The number of dams impeding the Mekong’s flow is fast multiplying, drying up segments of the once fast-flowing river and leaving the region facing imminent drought, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a regional intergovernmental body that aims to jointly manage the river’s water resources. “China’s operators of the Jinghong Dam and the Thai operators of the newly opened Xayaburi dam in Laos conducted operations that actually exacerbated the drought,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center, a US think tank. “Those dams and more than 70 others now operational in Laos and China all contribute to deteriorating downstream conditions related to the drought.”
DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia — When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 10 pounds, Ayaan is among nearly 100,000 Ethiopian children whose lives are at risk. Just four days before her first birthday, she is lighter than an average 3-month-old baby. A clinic at Kersi, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, has seen an increasing number of such cases in recent weeks, as have locations across the south and west of the country. Much of the land is used to grow the cash-crop narcotic known as khat. In more than a dozen villages outside the city, this reporter witnessed groups of mainly young men, but also some women, getting high in the shade on the chewed leaves. Khat is an appetite suppressant, and local culture means that children often eat only after adults. As the doctor at the Kersi clinic told The Washington Times, “if parents are on khat, the whole family goes hungry.”
DIRE DAWA, EASTERN ETHIOPIA — When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 4.5 kg, Ayaan is among the almost 100,000 children whose lives are at risk across Ethiopia. Just four days before her first birthday, she weighs no more than an average 3 month old baby. This clinic, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, is seeing an increasing amount of such cases over recent weeks. Here land is used to grow the cash-crop narcotic known as khat. In over a dozen villages on the northbound road out of the city, this reporter witnessed groups of mainly young men, but also some women, getting high in the shade on the chewed leaves. Khat is an appetite-suppressant, and local culture means that children often only eat after adults. And that means “if parents are on khat, the whole family goes hungry,” according to a doctor at the clinic.
KANIGIPUR, NORTHERN KENYA — Driving through northern Kenya’s drought-affected famine district as the midday sun lifts temperatures to over 40 degrees centigrade, pools of water shimmer in the distance, laying between dessicated trees and shrubs, with the mountains of Turkana peering through the haze. But these aren’t pools. There is no water here. By a cruel irony, this parched land taunts its thirsty and hungry people with distant images – mirages – of glistening oases in the distance. There hasn’t been rainfall since 2004, according to Akwari Nubukwi, an elder in the village of Kanigipur in the southern Turkana district. “We use the water from the riverbed, where we dig to find it. But it is just a little water, and even the goats and dogs drink from it”, he told me. The locals who are now suffering without water, whose animals – their main food and livelihood source – are dying, know better to be caught out by the illusion of water. Akwari adds: “Many animals have died. We haven’t had rain for a year. People are losing their animals. We are hungry now.”
MOYALE — Leaning on his walking stick, Shamsidin Mohamed flicks his fingers up and down in turn, alternating between whispering and counting out loud in his native Somali. By the time he has finished, he tots-up 23 cattle dead out of a herd of 70. It is a catastrophic loss. These herders are dependent on their animals for food and income. No agriculture is possible in such a barren, rock-strewn, sun-dried place, more lunar than earthly in appearance. “This is very dangerous here. Just a little rain, but no pasture for the animals. Most people can’t count the dead animals. We have to move many kilometres every day looking for pasture, water. The animals are weak, they die in the bush, sometimes people don’t know when and where