The mighty Mekong River is the heart and soul of Southeast Asia. Millions of livelihoods are linked to it, especially in terms of food, energy and water security. Besides giving birth to one of the planet’s most biodiverse river basins, the transboundary nature of the river — which begins its journey in the Tibetan plateau and flows 2,140km through China before entering downstream Southeast Asia — means it is facing a threat to its existence like none before: hydropolitics.
In recent years, historic low water levels in the Mekong has devastated communities like Cambodia’s Tonle Sap, once home to one of the most productive freshwater fisheries on Earth. But Tonle Sap isn’t alone. Similar images of dry riverbeds, dead fish and destroyed farms have been shared by communities across Southeast Asia, even leading Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha to mobilise the army to aid the drought-hit North and Northeast in 2019.