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Water-ways to water-wars: The Chinese weaponization of water

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China houses the highest number of dams worldwide, however the longing urge to become the “hydro-hegemon” has still not diluted. As of reports in 2016, China has up to 87,000 dams constructed on the various rivers that flow through it, which is statistically more than the 38,000 dams that exist worldwide.

The construction of 50,000 dams in the Yangtze river alone has reduced sediment load that gets deposited in the coast. This has influenced the vulnerability of countless deltas’ worldwide. Eleven massive dams straddle the mighty Mekong River, before it leaves China and flows into Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and on into Vietnam.

The Mekong river is one of the most fertile rivers in the world and is often connoted to being ‘The Rice Bowl of South Asia’ and the economic plug of the 60 million people Southeast Asia. China being the starting point for rivers that flow into the 18 neighboring courtiers has weaponized and used these waters as a geopolitical tool by creating an enormous dam infrastructure to manipulate and control the flow of these waters to its neighbors and settle political issues without going to war. 

These dams enable China to store and release water at will – a power that create droughts and floods. This can and has been inflicting a lot of damage to the countries that thrive off of the river waters originating from China. Thailand, one of the world’s leading sugar exporters, produced up to 30 percent less sugar than in previous years, as Thailand’s sugar output hit a nine-year low. Rice fields were damaged in Vietnam as water levels hit a record low in Laos and Cambodia.  About 94,000 hectares of rice fields are expected to be affected because of saltwater intrusion across the Mekong river basin.

The Siang river, one of the tributaries to the mighty Brahmaputra had recently started turning blackish grey before it entered India for which, the Chinese out rightly blamed the earthquakes in Tibet, however, satellite imagery tells us a different story. A major possibility of the Siang river being re-routed to mainland China isn’t an anomaly anymore. In fact, the threat to Brahmaputra is quite real as the Chinese are already in the process of building dams over Lhasa river, another tributary to the Brahmaputra. More dams on the Brahmaputra will invariably affect the Indian commoner, primarily by jeopardizing farming and agriculture in the North East India, home to staple food of India: Rice(Bhat) and also by increasing the risk of floods and droughts.

The Covid-19 pandemic has already been a huge blow in the gut to the world and to India, deeply tormenting the economy, development and the livelihood of millions of innocent lives. And now the malicious premise of China’s dam building infrastructure has accentuated its capacity for evil. The global community cannot allow Communist China headed by Xi-Jinping to toil around with the environment anymore. It is time the world to come together to pressurize them before the damage is irrevocable.

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