Mekong is almost a stagnant pond!

By Dave Armstrong - 22 Feb 2015 18:21:1 GMT
Mekong is almost a stagnant pond!

Could this be the final sunset on the mighty Mekong? In Luang Prabang, they are used to negotiating the wide river for fishing, transport and the rest, but how many dams can be built before the water runs out? Mekong image; Credit: © Shutterstock

What is happening to one of the greatest rivers in the world? With hundreds of its own endemic fish and many other species, with rainforest drenching its waters with life, the longest river in SE Asia is losing out. The main cause at the moment is simply lack of flow. So many nations have planned and are planning to dam it, there is a much-reduced flow-rate in most of the course. Information on the effects on the Mekong’s people and animals from National Geographic is a start, but this is bigger than the environment or politics. 4 years ago, we noted the problems arising from construction of just one dam.

Chuang Saen is a major port situated halfway down the length of the Mekong. TheMother of Water has always been the supplier of the largest inland fishery on earth, massive power and long-distance transport, apart from the majestic waters. Nowadays, in the dry season, rivers are low naturally, but extremes rule and inconsistency in flow disturbs everything. Fish breeding and crops are suffering from the intermittent droughts and floods. Up to 95% of the water here comes down the river from China, and 6 giant dams there have altered the state of the river permanently. Dams have historically been built throughout the Mekong, predominantly on the lower stretches, where they have produced most hydroelectric power, as well as flood stability and a great potential for irrigation.

Now, with the Mekong River Commission made up only of Vietnam, Thailand Laos and Cambodia, it’s all pretend-politics. China, as with all countries at river sources, holds all the aces in the pack. (Myanmar and China are simply engaged as Dialogue Partners. This is not an ideal arrangement, as the UN knew when they set up their largest single development project as a cooperative body (The Mekong Committee) in 1957, following France’s colonial presence.

The Mekong flows from Tibet to Vietnam, over 4345km (2,700 miles) long, supplying roughly 50 million humans and many others with basic needs, as well as many exports of food, electricity and---. Now many more large dams that emulate the Chinese and appeal to rich Thai politicians, are to be built, mainly in Laos. Xayaburi is a giant project, for example on the east-flowing stretch south of Vientiane. Far to the south, Don Sahong will be built at the Cambodian/Lao/Vietnamese border, where the huge Khone Falls currently reside.

The limited opposition is in Northern Thailand where a natural growth in environmental groups has realised the dangers and initiated lawsuits against 5 Thai agencies. These include one of the main benefactors, the electricity company EGAT. There is more hope of the rearrangement of the Don Sahong project, as Vietnam and Cambodia both oppose it, along with many others concerned with the obliterated migrations of many Mekong fish species. Two of several such catfish are the critically-endangered Mekong giant and the big goonch or giant devil catfish,Bagarius yarreli.

June, 2014 saw a Bangkok meeting in which there was little change from the bullheaded approach of the Laotian government. Progress on infrastructure is rampant, instead of the internationally-requested moratorium. The assumption must be that it is politic to barge ahead in many of these disputes worldwide, because once you stop, the profits will be affected badly.

Already, many are applying pressure on operations, often unilateral, that impinge upon the rights of people, nations and the rest of us. You can find many examples around the Amazon Basin, Central Asia, the Middle East and in Africa. Our future may well turn on these vital water supplies (rather than the electricity we can make from hydropower.)

Many articles chronicle the demise of SE Asian species around the great river, but apart from the critically-endangered Mekong giant catfish (largest freshwater fish, according to that old Guinness Book) and the rainforest species, the Irrawaddy dolphin confusingly lives in the Mekong with an isolated and almost extinct population. We really must perform better with our protection of so-called emblematic animals and plants, and, of course, this watercourse that has provided so many with so much for so long!