For those of my generation, the Mekong River first recalls a key battleground of the Vietnam War. To the twenty-first century international community the Mekong is a battleground of a different sort. Its environmental, political and social travails are a leading front in the planet’s water wars, as the interactive website, Cry Me a River, stirringly illustrates:
China has built six giant dams hundreds of kilometres upstream, conservationists say. Fourteen more are planned in China within the next decade as well as the 11 mainstream Mekong Basin dams in Laos and Cambodia.
And a total of at least 140 hydro power dams are proposed for the entire Lower Mekong River mainstream and its tributaries.
[M]ore than 100 fish species would be at risk of extinction, including the Mekong giant catfish and snub-nosed Irrawaddy dolphin. Fish catches could drop by as much as 42 per cent, the study warns.
The flow of rich sediment to the famed Mekong Delta is already being interrupted, threatening farmers who produce enough rice to feed 300 million people per year,according to the Mekong River Commission, while multi-generation, rural farming families are being uprooted to make way for the scores of hydro projects. At risk as well is the diplomatic principle that the necessities of transboundary watersheds, such as the 307,000 square mile Mekong basin, can offer a longterm path to peaceful coexistence.
The National Intelligence Council saw the Mekong as an exemplar of international cooperation, even during the Vietnam War.
Water can serve as a potential entry point for peace and support sustainable cooperation among nations.
The Mekong Committee, established by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam in 1957 exchanged data and information on the river basin throughout the Vietnam War.
But Asia’s growing demand for electricity, and the concomitant social and economic benefits, combined with China’s emergence as a global economic powerhouse, have likely changed all that. The race by upriver nations to cash-in on the Mekong’s power potential will leave Vietnam on the losing end. According to the Cry Me a Riverwebsite:
Vietnamese researchers describe the region’s race for hydro power as a “time bomb” for the low-lying Mekong delta.
Ame Trandem, south-east Asia program director for the environmental group International Rivers, says the dam-building rush and climate change have brought the Mekong River Basin close to a “catastrophic tipping point”.
For Cry Me a River, follow this link.