Mekong River dry-season sandbars impede cross-river trade with Laos

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NAKHON PHANOM, Jan 10 – The water level of the Mekong River in Thailand’s northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom is decreasing steadily, in its normal season fluctuation, impacting goods transportation between Thailand and the Lao PDR, as the dry season approaches.

For the coming three months the waterflow in the river will fall by half, bringing sandbars to the surface where there was navigable water before.

Sand dunes are surfacing in several sections of the river, obstructing ferry transportation particularly at the crossing checkpoint at Thailand’s Tha Uthen district, the major border trade market.

Ferries carrying commodities have been forced to use a detour running through a deepwater channel, taking longer than before. The river passage now takes about an hour instead of the 20 minutes previously needed.

Longer transport times raises the cost of shipping goods, delaying goods transport and reducing the overall volume that can be carried on one day. The border market checkpoint is opens only from 8am until 3pm, said Saman Sahat, a ferry shuttle service manager. He said it feels like the Mekong is drying fast this year, starting in January.

Expressing concern that the situation will worsen in March and April, the usual height of the dry season, he said it is unavoidable.

In nearly 50 years of hydrological information, the rise and fall the river is predictable. In May it will begin to rise again, and in June it will carry twice the volume of last month, and three times to likely waterflow of this month.