UN Warns Mekong River is a Disaster Hotspot

A man fishes in Mekong River in Loei province on July 18, 2019.

BANGKOK — The Mekong River basin was identified as a major disaster risk hotspot by the United Nations today.

Poor people living close to the river suffer high exposure to flood and drought, according to a report released today. A UN official also called for the nations in the region to work and mitigate the risks together.

“The flow of river is a transboundary issue,” Tiziana Bonapace, an official from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, or UNESCAP, said at a news conference.

She also said her agency is willing to facilitate cooperation between Thailand, other Mekong sub-regional nations, and China.

The report, titled “The Disaster Riskscape Across the Asia-Pacific,” warned that numbers of people living in extreme poverty in the Asia Pacific could double by 2030 if natural disasters are not prevented.

Natural disasters induced by climate change are also growing in intensity, frequency and complexity, according to the report.

“The intensification and changing geography of disaster risks signal a new climate reality,” it said. “The region is not sufficiently prepared.”

Thailand has been experiencing severe drought this year, especially in the Mekong River area. Several factors have been blamed, including the El Nino phenomenon, mismanagement, and dams built by China along the river.

Asked whether Chinese dominance over the Mekong is to blame for the long drought, the UNESCAP official declined to comment because her mandate only covers natural disasters.

However, Bonapace noted that risks are becoming more complex.

“There is a fine line between what is a natural disaster, human-induced disaster and technological disasters,” she said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

The report also states that the Asia-Pacific region “has many transboundary river basins that are home to poor and vulnerable communities dependent on agriculture.”