China damm dams - weaponizing water

By pjain      Published Nov. 6, 2019, 1:43 a.m. in blog Geo-Politics   

Key Takeaways - China waging war on neighbors

Water systems vital for billions of lives

For large sections of the world’s population, major river systems serve as lifelines. The rivers not only supply the most essential of all natural resources – water – but also sustain biodiversity, which in turn supports human beings.

If the world is to avert a thirsty future and contain the risks of greater intrastate and interstate water conflict, it must protect freshwater ecosystems, which harbour the greatest concentration of species.

Dams fragment river water flows

A major new United Nations study published May 2019 offers grim conclusions. This is backed up by Nature piece also of May 2019.

  1. Humans have modified the flows of most long rivers, other than those found in the remote regions of the Amazon and Congo basins and the Arctic. Consequently, only a little more than one-third of the world’s 246 long rivers are still free-flowing.

  2. FRAGMENTATION. The rivers are tied up with dams, levees and other man-made water-diversion structures that leave them increasingly fragmented. Such fragmentation is affecting river hydrology, flow of nutrient-rich sediment from the mountains where rivers originate, riparian vegetation, migration of fish and quality of water.

Major rivers drying up by time reach sea

An increasing number of river are drying up before reaching the sea due to excessive damming and drastic overuse of water resources. - In the US Southwest, the Colorado River, one of the world’s most diverted and dammed rivers. From its origin in the Rocky Mountains, it used to be the lifeblood for the southwestern United States, it used to empty into the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Now, broken up by more than 100 dams and thousands of kilometres of canals powering the diversion of 9.3 billion cubic metres/yr, the Colorado has not reached the sea since 1998. - Similarly, so does the Rio Grande, which marks the border between Texas and Mexico before heading to the Gulf of Mexico. - In Central Asia, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya have been so overexploited for irrigation that they are drying up before reaching the Aral Sea once the world’s fourth-largest inland lake. This so-called sea has shrunk 74 per cent in area and 90 per cent in volume, with its salinity growing nine-fold.

  • In the Middle East the Euphrates and the Tigris are dammed in Syria and dry by Basra;
  • India's Godavari, Krishna R, and the Narmada are also at risk.
  • The overused Murray in Australia is facing this too.
  • The Indus in Pakistan are at risk of meeting the same fate.

Human actions are irremediably altering rivers and other ecosystems

Fish going extinct - starvation for poor

Free-flowing rivers, while supporting a wealth of biodiversity, allow billions of fish – the main source of protein for the poor – to trek through their waters and breed copiously.

Fundamentally, altered flow characteristics of rivers are among the most serious problems for sustainable development, because they seriously affect the ecosystem services on which both humans and wildlife depend.

This is driving increasing numbers of plant and animal species to extinction. Aquatic ecosystems have lost half of their biodiversity since the mid-1970s alone.

Agriculture Reforms - can help

Improving practices in agriculture, which accounts for the bulk of the world’s freshwater withdrawals, can be done, eg India consumes 4x more water per kilo of food grown compared to US or Israel.

Without embracing integrated water resource management and other sustainable practices, the world risks a parched future.

Dams Block Sediments that fertilize agriculture

Free-flowing rivers deliver nutrient-rich silt crucial to agriculture, fisheries and marine life.

Such high-quality sediment helps to naturally re-fertilise overworked soils in the plains, sustain freshwater species and, after rivers empty into seas or oceans, underpin the aquatic food chain supporting marine life.

China’s chain of dams and reservoirs on each of its long rivers impedes the downstream flow of sediment in the Brahmaputra (hurting the Ganges esp. Bangladesh), and the Mekong River, thereby denying essential nutrients to agricultural land and aquatic species.

China's Dams hurt downriver countries

China successful in brutal suppression of protests and fast building of Dams

China's hyperactive dam building on rivers that originate in Chinese-controlled territory like Tibet, Vietnam, and others that flow to other countries.

No country in history has built more dams than China. In fact, China today boasts more dams than the rest of the world combined.

  1. Dams in China now total 86,000, which means it has completed, on average, at least one dam per day since 1949. Nearly a third of these are large dams, defined as having a height of at least 15 metres (49 feet) or a water storage capacity of more than 3 million cubic metres (793 million gallons).

  2. The United States, the world’s second most dammed country with about 5,500 large dams, has been left far behind.

China's Dams hurt downriver countries

Beijing’s dam-building frenzy and ensure it respects the environment and rights of downstream nations

China Weaponizes Water to intimidate Carrot-and-Stick

China Polluting Downstream Waters

China’s upstream activities could be threatening the ecosystem health of the cross-border rivers of India and SE Asia in the way it has polluted its own domestic rivers

  1. China pollutes its own "Yellow River", the cradle of the Chinese civilization.

  2. The water in the main artery of the Brahmaputra river system, the Siang, has turned dirty and grey when the stream enters India from Tibet. This has spurred downstream concern in India and elsewhere that China’s upstream activities could be threatening the ecosystem health of the cross-border rivers After staying quiet over the Siang’s contamination for many weeks, Beijing claimed on December 27 that an earthquake that struck southeastern Tibet in mid-November “might have led to the turbidity” in the river waters. But the flows of the Siang, one of the world’s most pristine rivers, had turned blackish grey before the quake struck.

China Yangtze River and Three Gorges Dam

Yangtze River runs dry by time it reaches the sea

While a number of smaller rivers in China have simply disappeared, even the mighty Yellow River – the cradle of the Chinese civilisation – now tends to run dry before reaching the sea.

Dam slows and blocks water trade

Even though there are impressive locks and lift systems at the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, in central China's Hubei province. These are running at full capacity creating a bottleneck for the previously unhindered waterway trade routes.

Yellow from Pollution

China’s upstream activities could be threatening the ecosystem health of the cross-border rivers of India and SE Asia in the way it has polluted its own domestic rivers, including the Yellow, the cradle of the Chinese civilization.

Sediment build-up in the dam’s reservoir stems from silt flow disruption in the Yangtze River,

China’s Three Gorges Dam – the world’s largest – which has a problematic build-up of sediment in its own massive reservoir because it has disrupted silt flows in the Yangtze River.

Tibet and Kashmir watersheds to India and Pakistan

China gained a throttlehold on the headwaters of Asia’s major river systems when it invaded and forcibly absorbed the Tibetan Plateau in 1951 after power vacuum left by UK.

Unilateralism by China has created increasing water-related tensions with India , many of whose important rivers originate in Tibet.

The Tibetan Plateau is rich in both water and minerals.

China has been engaged in major mining and dam-building activities in southeastern Tibet.

China quietly works on a series of hydro projects in Tibet that could affect the quality and quantity of downstream flows in South Asia.

Brahmaputra River River System 101

Water disputes with India and Bangladesh

In 2016, to complete a major dam project, it cut off the flow of a Brahmaputra tributary, the Xiabuqu, in 2016

In 2017, in violation of two legally binding bilateral accords, China refused to supply hydrological data to India, underscoring how it is weaponising the sharing of water data on upstream river flows.

In 2018, the monsoon-swollen Brahmaputra River last year caused record flooding that left a major trail of death and destruction, especially in India’s Assam state. Some of these deaths might have been prevented had China’s data denial not crimped India’s flood early-warning systems.

In 2019 China is currently damming another such tributary, the Lhasa River, into a series of artificial lakes.

In 2019, China claims it will resume data delivery to India.

Bangladesh is also hurt, though its regime is far more submissive to China.

Could China steal entire Brahmaputra river to its own Han nation?

China is apparently still toying with the idea of re-routing the upper Brahmaputra river system. An officially blessed book published in 2005 championed the Brahmaputra’s re-routing to the Han heartland.

Mekong River

China controls Southeast Asia's Water

China has erected eight giant dams on the Mekong just before the river enters Southeast Asia, and is building or planning another 20.

Armed with the new dam-centred clout, Beijing has rejected the treaty-linked Mekong River Commission and instead co-opted the vulnerable downstream nations in its own Lancang-Mekong Cooperation initiative, which lacks binding rules.

About the Mekong - also originates in Tibet grabbed by China

The Mekong which is known as Lancang in Mandarin flows along or through six countries. From its origins in the snowfields of Tibet, the Mekong – known as Lancang in Mandarin – passes through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam – all five of which are members of the LMC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – before draining into the South China Sea.

A huge economic resource for the region, it provides livelihoods for an estimated 60 million people living in the lower Mekong basin where it nurtures one of the world’s most fertile areas for agriculture and fishing.

Real negotiating action done bilaterally

China has dealt with Mekong countries bilaterally so that these countries are not able to unite and stand up to China as a regional grouping.

China controls LMC packed with its supporters - take it or leave it!

  • While China is clearly the boss, there is an Lancang-Mekong Cooperation group, but where other countries try to move China to their viewpoints. Beijing established the LMC in 2015.

In the two years since the LMC’s creation, China has hosted three foreign ministers meetings and set aside billions of dollars to support 45 projects under the mechanism, from water resource research centres to cooperation on connectivity projects, industrial capacity, border trade, agriculture and poverty alleviation.

China snubbed older MRC

It was seen by many as a rival organisation to the long-standing Mekong River Commission, which has been around in various guises for more than 60 years. Its members are the same as those of the LMC, except for China and Myanmar. China was invited to join the MRC but opted instead to act as a “dialogue partner” – as did Myanmar. That means Beijing can sidestep the commission’s rule that member nations’ dam-building project proposals must be presented for discussion.

Marc Goichot, an adviser to the WWF’s Greater Mekong Programme, said the MRC’s problems provided justification for the existence of the LMC.

The Mekong River Commission has too many limitations

  1. The MRC only has four out the six riparian countries as signatories

  2. Only about water resources - the overall economic and humanitarian issues are far deeper

  3. Myanmar is a pretty stubborn dictatorship, hard to deal with. It is excluded from LMC.

Mekong river a carrot-and-stick like South China Sea aggression by China

The Mekong issue had the potential to be the largest China-Asean conflict flashpoint after the South China Sea.

Ironically, the power it wields over Mekong is so large, that Beijing regards controlling the river as a strategic objective, i.e. even slight concessions are thanked by client states to subdue them in times of drought! As Beijing manages to achieve control of the Mekong’s development it would quickly become a crucial artery for China’s rise and exportation of influence into Asean.

It used to be power flowed through the barrel of guns, but now it seems the dams across rivers control the lifeblood of nations without need to fire a single bullet!

China’s moves on the Mekong were “analogous” to its tactics on South China Sea disputes. The LMC is a way of showing that China only plays by its own rules. It creates fait accompli by building dams upstream to the detriment of downstream countries and then sets up its own governing body as a rejection of the MRC. - Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Environmentalists deprecate China's naked exploitation of the Mekong

Environment experts have said that the lack of consultation with downstream neighbours and a lack of assessment of the dams’ likely impact on the river and its people have complicated the development of the region.

The development of hydropower projects by China and other countries has muddied the future for both the Mekong and its dependants as the construction of large dams upsets the ecosystem and threatens the livelihoods of millions of people.

Fisheries hurt badly by lower water levels and sediment blocking

“For downstream communities, dams upstream drastically change the river’s natural flood-drought cycle and block the transport of sediment, which affects the ecosystem .. The impact on water levels and fisheries has already been recorded along the Thailand-Laos border,” - Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for the environmental pressure group International Rivers.

China Enriching its Operating and Construction Companies

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the Beijing-led body had the potential to boost economic development in all six Mekong nations, and that China had made provision to help finance dozens of projects along its route.

China has Eight Major Dams up, 20 more

China’s cascade of eight giant dams on the Mekong, just before the river enters Southeast Asia, is affecting the quality and quantity of flows in the delta, in Vietnam. Undeterred, China is building or planning another 20 dams on the Mekong.

Since opening its first mainstream dam – known as Manwan – on the Mekong in 1995, China had built a further seven hydropower dams and had more than 20 others – in Yunnan, Tibet and Qinghai – either in development or planning.

Cambodia - Sucks up to China

Cambodia is one of China’s biggest supporters within Asean, thanked Beijing for its leading role in the LMC and described the progress it had made as “unprecedented”.

Laos - uses Chinese finance to make its own Dams

Laos, for instance, is pushing ahead with its plan for a third dam on the Mekong despite opposition from its downstream neighbour Vietnam and the MRC after setting itself the goal of becoming “the battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting hydropower.

Chinese companies are directly investing in more than six mainstream dams on the Lower Mekong, including Don Sahong and Pak Beng in Laos .. Development of these dams has not followed international good practice for considering, and avoiding or mitigating social and environmental impact. -- Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for the environmental pressure group International Rivers.

Vietnam - droughts worsened

Tensions rose in 2016, when Vietnam experienced its worst drought in 90 years, resulting in widespread rice crop failures and water shortages for 1.8 million people.

  1. Droughts were caused mainly by an unusually strong El Niño weather pattern

  2. Environmental experts said China was partially responsible as its reservoir dams had increased evaporation rates upstream.

  3. Lack of river water made droughts worse. To help resolve the drought, Vietnam asked China to release water from its upstream dams.

  4. Chinese dams blamed for exacerbating Southeast Asian drought | South China Morning Post


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