The Mekong River begins on the Tibetan plateau. It first runs for over 4,200 kilometers through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It then flows into the South China Sea. This is one of the largest rivers in Asia and the seventh largest in the world.
This mighty river, however, is endangered by numerous Chinese dams. And with it, so are the lives of hundreds of thousands of fishermen and farmers who have always lived in symbiosis with the Mekong. The river gave them fish to eat and sell, as well as water to irrigate rice, fruit and vegetable crops.
The river, in fact, was one of the most productive areas. The Mekong boasted the largest inland fishing in the world, accounting for about 25% of the global freshwater catch. And the river‘s more than 500 known species of fish were able to sustain a population of 60 million. Farmers in the river basin used to produce enough rice to feed 300 million people every year.
No More Fish and Natural Nutrients in the Mekong River
Everything’s changed today. The 11 mainstrem dams and the other 120 smaller ones already built or under construction by China produce sudden fluctuations in water levels. These in turn interfere with fish migration and spawning. In addition to this, the amount of nutrients in the river has decreased dramatically, putting the already fragile river system in serious danger. The “natural fortifiers“, in fact, are fundamental for the health of the water and essential for keeping the fish alive.
As if the existing structures were not enough, Beijing has financed the construction of dozens more artificial dams in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. The aim is to produce electricity and, above all, to allow ships of higher tonnage to travel along the river to Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos. This would create a new trade route.
The Concerns of Local Residents
There are many cross-border river basins that are home to poor and vulnerable agricultural-dependent communities that are now in serious danger. According to the latest estimates, there will be 56 million people living in extreme poverty in the area by 2030. They will even reach 123 million if natural disasters are not prevented.
For the locals, there is nothing natural about the Mekong river anymore. Every day they never know whether there will be too much water or too little. When the water level is too high, as it is when it is too low, the fish die. If the fish die, they have nothing to eat and nothing to sell. As a result, their children will have to find another place to live.