The Mekong River is Southeast Asia’s beating heart, coursing almost 5,000 km through China, where it is known as the Lancang River, and onward through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia before entering Vietnam and flowing into the sea.
More than 70 million people rely on the river, partly or entirely, for their livelihood, and its central role in the economies of the Lower Basin countries cannot be understated. Taken together, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam represent around half the Mekong region’s entire production of rice and fish, a third of tourism, and a large percentage of the region’s energy demands, according to a recent study by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).
But the Mekong’s enduring role as a source of life and livelihoods is facing multiple threats. These threats have been compounded by the COVID pandemic that has created unprecedented economic hardship and worsened environmental degradation.
With incomes decimated by prolonged lockdowns, fishing has intensified. Throughout the basin, communities have faced other existential challenges, including riverbank erosion and reduced replenishment of the Mekong Delta as a result of increased water use and climate change.
We must come together to respond to these challenges to preserve the world’s 12th longest river and its productive value for all riparian countries, yet nature is already showing signs of impatience.
An Pich Hatda