Mekong: a confluence of dams, algorithms and food security for 60 million

The 4,350 km long Mekong River ensures food security to over 60 million people across six countries, namely China, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Obviously its continued flow is of critical importance in maintaining adequate supplies of food to people in the region.

However, the construction of dams along the Mekong River for hydroelectricity is also an important source of economic development and renewable energy.

“While these dams have the ability to provide clean energy and significantly increase the economic development of the region, they also have the potential to damage food security downstream”.

The area relies on consistent and reliable flooding in the wet season to support the fisheries and flow of nutrients downstream. With dams potentially preventing these floods, the whole food growing livelihood and food source of the millions of people downstream is put at significant risk. Furthermore, the length of the river and the fact it crosses through six countries, adds another level of complexity.

So where do we draw the line between food security, energy security and economic development?

“By analysing data between 1993 and 2012, the scientists developed an algorithm that, if properly applied, can ensure that drought conditions are followed by short floods to allow for optimal conditions and the flow of essential nutrients downstream.”

Well, a team of researchers from Arizona State University have developed an algorithm to determine just that! The algorithm strikes the balance between conserving food and livelihood security, as well as allowing the benefits from hydro-electricity to flow through the region. The algorithm was based on a suite of historical data, used to predict the timings and amplitudes of floods.

Take a read of this fascinating article to find out more.


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