More than 20 years ago, when two Chiang Rai-based environmentalists, Niwat Roikaew and Somkiat Kuenwongsa, learned that the Chinese government were blasting rapids in the upper Mekong River from Yunnan to Myanmar and Laos to clear the way for large commercial vessels, they started worrying.
Back then there was little data about what China was doing in the international river. But the two environmentalist realised that blasting obstacles such as rapids and islands was bad for the river’s ecology as rapids are habitats and spawning grounds for fish.
More importantly, without rapids, there would be no natural barriers against strong currents during the wet season. In the early 2000s, they gathered more information and learned that the Manwan dam, the first dam on the upper Mekong, had been finished, more were to follow and that blasting was continuing.