Low water levels on the Mekong River in Laos’s central Khammouane province are hindering local trade as the river enters its driest season, sources in the region said Thursday.
Traders in Khammouane’s Hinboun district, which borders Thailand along the Mekong, normally rely on the river to transport their goods. But low water levels this spring are hurting business.
“Last year the Mekong River did not dry up as quickly as it has this year. It will dry more in April and May,” a Hinboun merchant said.
“It is difficult to navigate because there are many sandbars.”
He feared no boats would be able to run in April and May, as now only two routes remain navigable.
The Mekong River, which runs from the Tibetan plateau in China through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, is Southeast Asia’s main waterway, but seasonal variations make it difficult for ships to navigate.
Chinese dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River have been blamed by some environmental groups for lowered water levels in countries downstream.
More small traders in Khammouane province are buying goods from Thailand to stock up for the dry months, said a Thai border official at the Tha Uten checkpoint on the other side of the Mekong from Hinboun.
Laos and Thailand operate markets in Hinboun and Tha Uten twice a week. Hinboun merchants order consumer and electronic goods to sell in Laos.
Transporting goods over land and across the Mekong at the Third Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge at Thakek, which opened last November, could cost more than by boat, the businessman said.
The two countries have improved trade relations in recent years, and Thailand, which gives access to the sea, is Laos’s main trading partner.
Water levels are within the normal range for the dry season at most stations Laos, the Mekong River Commission, a regional management forum, said Monday in its weekly monitoring report.
Last March, water levels fell in Laos's northern Bokeo province, with local authorities warning that boats of 100 tons and above could not navigate the Mekong between southern China, Laos, and Thailand.
Laos’s 70 planned hydropower projects also depend on water levels, as Lao officials have said the country hopes to become “the battery” of Asia.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.