Frightened by River Changes, Villagers Blame Laos Dam, Seek Answers

The sun cast its warmest rays before dusk across the farms on Koh Pnov, one of the Mekong River islands substantial enough to survive the river’s seasonal rise and fall. Though usually drenched by the late afternoon showers of rainy season, on a bright August afternoon village leaders recounted the unprecedented flood and erosion that had frightened them the year before.

The season usually brings floodwaters, but only up to their knees, says Phan Muy, Koh Pnov community fishery chief. The Mekong floods last September were unprecedented, rising to 12 meters on September 6, 2019, more than 1 meter above the alarm-raising level of 10.7 meters.

Muy, who watches over island fishers and prevents bad fishing practices among its residents, says the village was frightened and on edge at the time.

“Everyone was so panicked, some people were jumping out of their houses,” which are all raised about 2 meters high on stilts, he says.

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Chan Muyhong and Danielle Keeton-Olsen