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Mekong River Commission addresses drought

HUA HIN, Thailand, April 7 (UPI) -- Officials from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos -- member countries of the Mekong River Commission -- called for greater cooperation from China in managing the Mekong River.

The four countries signed a declaration Monday pledging to intensify cooperation to better manage the Mekong and reduce risks from floods and drought.

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But they expressed concern over eight dams China has planned along the river in southwestern Yunnan province, the Hindu newspaper reports.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in opening the two-day MRC summit Sunday in Hua Hin warned that the Mekong River "will not survive" without good management.

Abhisit said the river was "being threatened by serious problems arising from both the unsustainable use of water and the effects of climate change."

"This summit is sending a message that all the countries in the Mekong Region, both its upper and lower parts, are stakeholders, and we all have to take joint responsibility for its long-term sustainability," he said.

Abhisit seemed to be making an allusion to the Xiaowan Dam, which China is building on the upper Mekong, its fourth such dam.

But Beijing rejected accusations that its hydropower development is harming the river basin.

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China, like Myanmar, is a "dialogue partner" of the MRC and has yet to formally join the commission.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao said Monday a drought in the province of Yunnan, which is affecting more than 24 million people, was responsible for declines in water levels downstream.

"Statistics show that the recent drought that hit the whole river basin is attributable to the extreme dry weather, and the water level decline of the Mekong River has nothing to do with the hydropower development," Song said.

The Mekong River runs for 3,032 miles, 1,324 of which are in China.

The majority of rivers in southern China are at about 40 percent of normal levels. At least 600 of the country's rivers have gone completely dry, leaving nearly 20 million people short of drinking water, said Chen Mingzhong, a Ministry of Water Resources official, Bloomberg reports.

The Mekong River Basin, home to approximately 60 million people, is one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world. Agriculture, along with fishing and forestry, employs 85 percent of the people living in the basin. Farmers in the Mekong Basin produce enough rice to feed 300 million people a year.

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The four member countries of MRC, formed in 1995, have agreed to meet for a summit every four years.

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