A sixfold increase in water usage for human purposes has left a chilling mark on the 20th century. Increased droughts, lack of safe drinking, polluted rivers and oceans as well as severe dangers to biodiversity are just a few results of this development. The main conduits for oceanic pollution on the one hand and as important means of trade and economic growth on the other, rivers play a critical role in these developments. Like no other waterway, the Mekong symbolizes the dilemma of water management and treatment, numerous regions face. Contested and cherished alike it displays what the future might hold for similar areas all around the globe.
Flowing through History
Starting high in the snowy peaks of the Tibetan plateau before plunging through the mountains of Chinas southern Yunnan province towards Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and ultimately Vietnam where it pours into the South China Sea, the Mekong bubbles with history. Settlements dating back to before the bronze age and the ancient Khmer Empire of Angkor signify the importance of the river for the region, despite its complex and challenging navigability. Being a lifeline for people, animals and plants alike the river provides a habitat for numerous endangered animals and is home to a uniquely bio-diverse ecosystem. Cooperation between the Mekong countries has long been a great challenge with a history of regional wars and conflict evolving around the river. As the economic gap between the respective nations has widened significantly in recent years the future tales of the Mekong is one of thriving and surviving alike.
Human made changes in the Mekong are starting to leave their mark as increased droughts, decreased fresh water resources and reduced catches in fisheries as well as incomparable pollution threaten to change the regional landscape forever. As the central point of connectivity
the Mekong river encompasses every sphere of everyday life from agriculture and fisheries to energy production, and manufacturing. Due to rapid regional economic developments, its natural resources are threatened and exponentially vulnerable to adverse changes in the river. Development projects in the Upper and Lower Mekong River basins such as hydropower dams or in-channel sand mining could have the potential to severely endanger the region as a whole. The impacts are already felt today with mines, dams, and roads being built without consideration for the local population, biodiversity and environment in general. This short-sighted approach to reaping the benefits of the river has provoked sharp international criticism, with the United Nations and the United States openly expressing their concerns about the recent developments in the river.
A River for All?
Every country and almost all economic sectors in the Mekong region are interconnected through an interdependence on the river and thus must take part in sustainable development planning. If the future tales of the river is to be one of inclusive and sustainable usage, all affected countries must start to work on an integrated approach that equally accounts for the individual interests of all nations. As a project we are looking forward to visiting the Mekong region during our On-Site seminar to not only see the consequences of the recent developments but also what can be done to achieve a turnaround in the usage of the river.