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China to release water from dam, following request from drought-hit Vietnam

Saturday, March 19, 2016, 11:03 GMT+7

China said on Tuesday it will discharge water from a dam on the upper Mekong River, which will help ease drought conditions in several Vietnamese locations, one day after Vietnam requested the move to be made by the Chinese.

From March 15 to April 10, China will release water from Jinghong Hydropower Station to downstream areas for emergency use, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang told a regular press conference on Tuesday.

The move is expected to alleviate the current drought in Vietnam, as well as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, according to the minutes of the meeting released on the ministry’s website.

“Since the end of 2015, due to the El Nino phenomenon, countries along the Mekong River have suffered drought of different degrees, and people's lives and work have been impacted,” Lu said, adding that the Chinese government has decided to help those countries cope with the drought.

The response came one day after Vietnam said it had filed a request via diplomatic channels to the Chinese side with respect to the release of much needed water.

“Vietnam had asked China to increase water release from Jinghong Hydropower Station to mitigate drought conditions in several provinces of the Mekong Delta,” Deputy Spokesperson of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pham Thu Hang said on Monday.

The Mekong River flows through six countries, including China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The low-lying and heavily cultivated Mekong region is home to more than 20 million Vietnamese people and is Vietnam’s rice basket.

Vietnam is suffering its worst drought in nearly a century as salinization is impacting farmers in the Mekong Delta, with scientists blaming it on the ongoing 2015-2016 El Nino weather phenomenon, one of the most powerful on record, according to AFP.

"The water level of the Mekong River has gone down to its lowest level since 1926, leading to the worst drought and salinization there ever," AFP quoted Nguyen Van Tinh, deputy head of the hydraulics department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as saying.

As much as 40-50 percent of the 2.2 million hectares of arable land in the Mekong Delta had been hit by salinization, according to Le Anh Tuan, a professor of climate change at Can Tho University in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho.

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