Water is the lifeblood of the Lower Mekong countries. With economies and cultures historically built on the production and consumption of rice and fish supported by riverine ecologies, the Mekong countries are highly sensitive to changes in the natural water regime. This is particularly notable for much of Cambodia and southern Vietnam, which are at the bottom of the dominating Mekong river system and which make up its delta.  Read more about water resources and ecosystems.


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Villagers of Sre Kor village, Se San District, Steung Treng Province, Cambodia use the Se San River as one of the main routes for daily livelihoods activity. Photo by WorldFish via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Until recently, water has been seen as a plentiful resource. That is changing. In the last three decades, a growing population and rapid economic growth have significantly increased demands for water and created competition between sectors. Inefficient and poor use of water is affecting both the quality and quantity of water. A region-wide drought in 2016 brought the problem into stark focus. These issues are described in more depth in human demands and implications for water and trends and challenges of water management.

The fact that the water ecosystem spans national borders complicates issues further as competition for water increases between countries. The Mekong River Commission has served as a venue for countries to discuss Mekong-related water issues but there is still little in the way of a regional governance framework to mediate its management and use.  As a critical resource under considerable pressure, increasingly governments will need to prioritize how water is used. Learn more about the complex issues related to management of water resources on our water governance topic page.

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