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My Turn | Water Woes (Part 2)

JESUS V. QUITAIN

THE cause of Asia’s water trouble is the Himalayan Mountains which give water to 8 big rivers: the big Mekong river which initially streams through China goes along down to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying in the Tonkin gulf; the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra which flows inside India; while the Yellow and Yangtze rivers run through China alone. India’s 1 billion 500 million plus people rely on the Ganges and Brahmaputra river for rice irrigation. China’s 1 billion 300 million plus rely on the Yangtze, Yellow and Amur (Manchuria) waters for their ricelands. The rivers are inside their territories so there is no problem.
The Indus river passes through India before it runs the entire length of Pakistan. India in the 1980’s, began building dams for electricity, farming, drinking and sanitation tapping Indus water. And today they are adding more dams. Pakistan, because of lack of planning, foresight or political will did not put dams during the same period. Now it is complaining that India’s many dams have reduced Indus water for Pakistan to slow streams. Since 1947, India and Pakistan had fought several times. The biggest problem is that aside from China and North Korea, Pakistan and India had successfully tested nuclear bombs in the 1990’s. If they go to war using nuclear bombs, the radioactive fall out will affect the whole world. Compounding this matter is the Kashier area which is being claimed by both countries.
The Mekong river in the Himalayas passes first to China then to three nations, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The four nations should be the only states involved in the Mekong water issue. However, world security and politics are involved. The world’s top rice exporters are Thailand and Vietnam. The world’s top rice importers are Indonesia, with a population of about 250 million, and our own country, the Philippines, with 100 million plus people. They are followed by China, India, Pakistan and Africa. If Vietnam or Thailand rice production is reduced because of lack of water for irrigation, there will be less rice to sell. If the world’s top rice importers cannot buy Thailand or Vietnam rice there will be less imported rice for us and the other nations which could lead to hunger and trouble.
There are two possible scenarios: A) Internally. Prolong hunger will lead to unrest, protests, anger, revolution. B. Externally. War over water between neighboring states. The problem began in the 1990’s when China built dams in the Mekong river inside their area called Lancang Kiang when they switched from coal power electricity which is a major cause of world pollution and global warming to safer and cleaner hydropower. Today they have six giant dams there producing 15,000 megawatts. Projecting a need for more electricity for their expanding industry and agriculture, China plans to construct more dams.
In the 2000s, China and Laos agreed to tap Mekong as it passed through Laos with China’s financing and technical know-how. Today, Laos is selling electricity from their two giant dams on Don Sahong and Xayaburi to Thailand and is planning to compete with Thailand and Vietnam in exporting rice. As of 2018, Mekong and its tributaries have 40 dams. With foresight, the four nations along Mekong created the Lancang Mekong mechanism to resolve water disputes but it has not stopped the construction of dams. Vietnam and Cambodia being at the end of the Mekong flow has complained for the last 5 years that it is getting less water for their rice lands. If Vietnam’s rice produce goes down, Thailand alone cannot export rice enough to feed the people of India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Africa and the Philippines, which has a total population of 3 billion plus. Without knowing it, the Asean nations have dragged into the Mekong whirlpool because the Indonesian and Philippine yearly rice shortages are filled by Vietnam and Thailand rice.
There are 6 critical commonalities in the 4 global water flashpoints, in Africa, Middle East, Indus Valley, and the Asean: 1) The populations of the states in the flashpoints keep getting bigger every year. This plus great pressure to produce more food 2) Commercial freshwater fishing is almost zero except in Mekong meaning less food in Africa, Middle East and Indus Valley. 3) Global warming equals longer droughts meaning less food crops 4) Global warming create hotter weather resulting in bigger and heavier storms leading to bigger floods. The bad news is, Australia’s New South Wales University studies show global warming reduces water moisture in the soil. The very thirsty soil quickly absorbs excess remains from storms. Thus, floodwaters which should run to rural areas, rivers, creeks and other waterways are reduced. This causes water shortages in the drams. Not enough electricity and less water for agricultural crops and farms means food production shortages which could lead to higher food prices, hoarding, and social unrest. 5) Plenty of fresh clean water equals good health and sanitation. Dirty stagnant waters lead to water-borne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, and others. 6) In 2018, retired US military officials released a study that “xx water stress defined as a shortage of fresh water is a growing factor in the world hot spots and conflict areas xx.” Water will either lead to war or be the number one catalyst for war.
Postscript: Drink plenty of clean water while they last. Bottoms up!

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