Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Along the Mekong - do we know what we do?

An article in today's Age reminds me of what I have not been thinking and writing about since my recent visit to Cambodia and Laos.  Why?  Well because it is just too damn depressing!  So what is happening along the Mekong?

"Today, the four countries that share the lower reaches of the Mekong River will announce whether they agree to the construction of a controversial dam that could forever alter the character and natural diversity of one of the world's longest and most bountiful rivers." (Thomas Fuller)

Please read Thomas Fuller's piece to explore why this is bad enough, but unfortunately there is more, much more.  The proposed Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong in Laos is only the tip of the veritable iceberg of intervention and exploitation in the vast Mekong river system.  This is a wicked, wicked problem if ever there was one!  A vast river system that underpins ecological processes and species lifecycles that we do not fully understand; six countries (China, Burma, Laos Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam) all concerned to develop...or exploit their 'own' natural resources and despite a Mekong River Commission as Fuller notes, "all four countries retain.. the right to build dams with or without agreement by neighbouring countries."
Whilst in Laos amongst water engineers and policy advisers I had figures quoted to me of 1.5 million people's livelihoods being threatened by dams in the Mekong-fed Tonle Sap lake system in Cambodia.  In all hundreds of dams and diversions are on the drawing board for the Mekong and its tributaries.  
There are of course groups trying to work with key stakeholders to avoid catastrophe, groups like M-Power. If ever there was a context calling out for systemic and adpative water governance this is it. 

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