The Bird’s eye view: what endangered birds tell us about the risks of Mekong development

The Thai government started 2017 announcing another major commitment to transportation expansion: US$25 billion to finance futuristic high-speed trains, super highways and expanded sea and airports. Far less glitzy but immediately controversial, however, was one of its final transportation acts of 2016: preparing to restart, after 13 years, rapid blasting and river channelization to clear the Mekong River for navigation just below its arrival from Myanmar. In 2000, when the project was initially taken up by Myanmar, Thailand and Laos with Chinese financing, Thai communities along this route expressed outrage. The habitats impacted support hundreds of fish and other aquatic species, which they rely on for food and income. Decline in catches and river bank agriculture and increased flooding was already noticeable in 2003, when the first phase was nearly complete, yet the Thai government suspended blasting due to a border dispute with Laos.

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