The Tourism Minister has called on riverside communities in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces to avoid fishing in areas where dolphins live to attract visitors who want to see the rare creatures. Thong Khon’s call came as the government prepared to open the third annual River Festival in Stung Treng province on March 24. Mr. Khon said the country’s Mekong communities have the potential to build their economies around ecotourism attractions that appeal to both local and foreign visitors, especially in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, where the river dolphins live. He urged locals to do more to preserve the dolphins’ habitat.
Amid mighty rivers and dense mangroves, the busy floating markets in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta have long shaped the delta’s well-known “water civilization.” As many as a dozen floating markets still remain along major waterways around the delta, where boats, houses, and markets float upon the maze of rivers, canals, and arroyos that crisscross
the landscape like arteries. No one knows exactly how old the delta’s floating markets are, but some historians believe they have flourished since the Nguyen Dynasty in the early 19th century. Since then, they have long been major markets, sustaining thousands of floating lives. In the Vietnamese floating markets, hundreds of boats and sampans, full of fruit and vegetables, flowers, and handicraft products, gather to trade their various goods, making for crowded and frenetic scenery. The bustling commerce of these “floating towns” stands in contrast to the languid and quiet lifestyle in the countryside along the river banks. More importantly, however, the cultural and historical values that the markets reflect are considered a key to understanding the Mekong Delta inhabitants’ identity and traditions.
“If the dam is built, it will be like before, in the time of the Khmer Rouge when we all had to move,” said Plau Saret, 44, of Domrae Village on the Mekong River island of Koh Tnaot, right next to the proposed Sambor Dam site. In 2011, she and her husband built a new house. Then, a few years ago, she saw Chinese surveyors digging in the river. The Sambor Dam is one of Cambodia’s priority energy projects, according to the country’s “Master plan for the development of energy generation.” This plan was a well-kept secret until two pages from it appeared Feb. 17 in a snapshot posted on the Facebook page of Phay Siphan, a government spokesman. The plan posted by Siphan states the Sambor Dam will be completed in three stages from 2025-2027, with a total power output of 1,800 megawatts. Attempts by Mongabay to get government comments on the plan were not answered and few details are yet known about the proposed scheme.
A group of 50 youth, community and civil society representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand gathered to celebrate the International Day of Action for Rivers in Kratie province on March 14. They used the event in Sambo district to urge the government and the public to protect rivers and stop the construction of dams on the Mekong, which they fear will destroy natural resources and biodiversity. Kai Vanda, a local community member who joined the celebration, said the river is a lifeline for people in the area, including farmers and fishing communities. He said it is everyone’s job to protect the river and speak out against dam construction, which will damage environmental biodiversity and fisheries resources.
Mines Ministry officials on March 9 announced a project to shore up sections of the Mekong river affected by erosion that threatens families in Kandal province’s Mok Kampol district. Fifty-nine families living along the river say they have been affected by riverbank collapses. Speaking to about 100 people on March 9 during a public forum on restoring the riverbank, ministry Secretary of State Dith Tina said the ministry will reinforce or restore sections of the riverbank. “We will use bags, known as geotech bags, filled with sand and piled up on top of each other along the riverbank and then we will pump sand into the space to shore up the riverbank to stop more and more collapses of villages into the water,” Mr. Tina said.
Dr Lê Tuấn Anh, deputy director of the Research Institute for Climate Change at Cần Thơ University, speaks to Sài Gòn Giải Phóng (Liberated Sài Gòn) newspaper about the negative impact of climate change. Do you anticipate that in 2017 the Mekong Delta region will face a drought as severe as last year’s? In my opinion, the weather in the dry season this year will not be as severe as that of last year. Of course, the region will still suffer the problem of fresh water shortage and salt water intrusion because the rainfall last year was low. That’s why right now the local government should seek measures to mitigate the negative impact for farmers. Do you think such natural phenomena have become a natural cycle in the Mekong Delta?
With the threat of climate change and population growth, Myanmar – a nation rich in water resources – has to put in place proper measures to ensure water security for the future, experts said. National University of Singapore’s Assistant Professor Dr Winston Chow, who has been studying the urban vulnerabilities of climate change, said there are challenges for the water sector in the region due to climate change. In the medium and long term, he said there would be increases in air temperature and ocean heat, and very variable rainfall, especially in Southeast Asia. “We may experience more floods, droughts and typhoons in the future, compared to the present. “The El Nino phenomenon – on top of climate change – can also make droughts worse. “The rising sea level is another factor that can cause saltwater intrusion in groundwater sources and fresh water,” he told The Myanmar Times.
From the Amazon Basin to boreal forests, and from the Mekong to the Himalayan foothills, rivers worldwide are being targeted for major new dams in a global hydropower boom that also aims to supply drinking water to exploding human populations and to facilitate navigation on the planet’s rivers; 3,700 new dams – 847 of them larger than 100 megawatts – are slated for construction. But one strong argument in favor of hydropower is now looking far weaker. Scientists have compiled the most comprehensive assessment yet of the global impact that dam reservoirs have on the world’s atmosphere and greenhouse emissions. And it isn’t good news. Globally, the researchers estimate that reservoirs – long considered “zero emitters” by the United Nations climate program – contribute 1.3% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions on this scale are comparable to those from rice paddy cultivation or biomass burning, the study authors write.
Ca ho (Catlocarpio siamensis), vo co (Pangaius sannitwongsei) and tra dau (Pangasianodon gigas) living in the Mekong Delta are all large-size fish which can reach 300 kilos in weight and three meters in length. They are all in danger of extinction. As they have enormous size and always causes big waves when whisking their tail, the fish are called ‘sea monster of Mekong Delta’. Scientists said the fish were found in large quantities in the Mekong Delta half a century ago, but they have become scarce and their names have been listed in the Red Book as endangered species. The gradual disappearance of the precious fish has prompted many scientists to conduct research and save them with artificial breeding.
Depending on who you speak to, there are naturally differing perspectives in regard to the future of the Mekong River, as most people living along the river look for a sustainable future through conservation of the existing ecosystem, while governments seek balanced resource usage and benefit-sharing arrived at via diplomacy and negotiation. The Lower Mekong has been a hotspot for mega-projects and developments initiated by the governments of Mekong River Basin countries and big private investors. Many of them have already constructed on the mainstream of the river – for instance, the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams – while many other projects, such as the river’s navigation-channel improvement and Pak Beng Dam, are scheduled to be implemented soon.