Cloud seeding is among measures being weighed as the Mekong River falls to dangerously low levels, fueling further drought anxiety.
As Thailand braces for what’s predicted to be the least rainfall in a decade, the Isaan region, where agriculture depends heavily on the bordering river, is feeling the heat with many provinces facing water shortages.
In Nong Khai, for example, the river has fallen to a mere 80 centimeters – 11.4 meters below the banks and almost half that of last year at this time when the water level was 1.5 meters.
Pontoons and boats must stay ashore because the water is too low for them to safely operate in the river. Water has stopped flowing in some places, with some parts of the river reduced to puddles people can safely walk over.
And the problem may be even worse. While the Thai government said the Mekong is at a 50-year-low, the head of a Washington D.C. think tank studying the issue said satellite images show it at the lowest point in a century.
Brian Eyler, director of the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia program warned online Saturday that conditions will disrupt migration of fish to spawning grounds, which will mean less food and resources for people.
“Low levels at this time of year, among other things, impact the ability of migratory fish to find nutrient-rich habitats upstream in swelling tributaries where they can spawn,” Eyler wrote. He could not be reached for comment as of noon Monday.
Warnings have sounded for years that competition for the mighty Mekong’s resources between China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam could affect those who rely on it.
It’s only been four years since the kingdom was last battered by what was considered the worst drought in memory. The central government in Bangkok has dutifully acknowledged the crisis and promised to find solutions. So far, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered the armed forces initiate artificial rain-making operations. It is unclear when this will begin.
The dramatic consequences of this great drying-out have already been seen this year, such as in May, when people had to truck out 100-kilogram Mekong catfish killed in the drought-hit Mae Kampong Reservoir in the northern province of Phrae.