The United States is using satellite imagery to help nations in Southeast Asia monitor water levels on the Mekong River, significantly expanding publicly available data on the region’s vital waterway.

The State Department launched the Mekong Dam Monitor on in December 2020 to provide real-time data on the river that provides livelihoods for more than 60 million people but has suffered from significant drought, worsened by upstream dams.

Built in collaboration with the Stimson Center and Eyes on Earth, the monitor uses remote-sensing satellite imagery and geographic data to provide nations of the Mekong region information on water flows, dam reservoirs and climate conditions.

“Countries cannot effectively manage what they cannot measure,” the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia said in a statement. “And for too long the people of the Mekong have lacked a transparent accounting of the basin’s water resources.”

Recent analysis of satellite data (PDF, 31MB) and Mekong River Commission river height records confirm that dams built by the People’s Republic of China are dramatically manipulating the natural flows of the Mekong downstream.

The United States in October 2020 announced the new Mekong-U.S. Partnership with more than $150 million in assistance supporting the autonomy and economic independence of the five countries located along the Mekong River: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Mekong Dam Monitor will significantly expand water data available to the region, allowing communities along the Mekong River to “make informed decisions impacting livelihoods  and regional security,” the embassy statement said.