#7 from SE Asia: The Damm(n)ing of the Mekong River

Post # 7 from SE Asia
1/29/2010
from Luang Prabang, Laos

The Mekong River is unlike any other river in the world. At the end of the dry season, the Mekong is a series of shallow small rivers spreading over the wide Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam. But at the height of the monsoon floods, the Mekong can increase its waterflow 30X, to become the third greatest flowing river in the world, after the Amazon and Brhamaputra of India/Bangladesh. When the monsoons come, it rises so fast that it will cause its lower tributaries to flow in reverse for months at a time. This alternate flooding and drought surprisingly has created some of the most fertile land and the greatest fresh water fishery in the world. It has fresh water dolphins and manatees, giant sting rays, 10 ft catfish, and 1700 unique species of fish.

Or it used to be so.

When I reached the capitol of Laos, Vietiane, 10 days ago by bike, I wanted to take the ‘slow boat’ up the Mekong River for 4 days. I would take a hammock, plenty of wine, and I would finish read my colleague at Indiana University Elenor Olstrom’s seminal book, GOVERNING THE COMMONS, about controls on common areas, for which she got the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. I am proud of her, we all are at IU, a Hoosier from IU and the first woman to ever get the Nobel prize in Economics.

But this boat trip was not to be. I would have to drink my wine by myself on shore. The boatman says that the dams upriver are lowering the river too much too early. So I would not be able to take the slow boat. I would not be able to fish off that boat either.

The Mekong is being dammed right now. A dam in Thailand and Laos, and two more in China. But more importantly, China has plans on at least a dozen more dams. They have begun some already. One of them, when it fills, will be second only to the Three Gorges dam in water volume. All reasonable estimates indicate that if the Chinese finish all their planned dams, the water will not flow at all into impoverished Cambodia and the Mekong Delta will dry. This could destroy the traditional livihoods for 5 t0 10 million Vietnamese and for millions of Cambodians.

There is no love lost between the Vietnamese toward the Chinese. They are now letting the Chinese know the the damming of the Mekong as planned is not acceptable. A few Vietamese have even said that this issue could cause ‘war’. The Vietamese are not shy about this in their public statements, or in their actions.

So I guess what I am saying is, if you want to see the Mekong River, you should see it sooner rather than later, before it is reduced to a muddy trickle, like the Rio Grande. Unfortunately, it is like much of the remaining natural world on our still beautiful planet.

See it now, while you still can.

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