Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Damn the man! Save the Mekong!

So we're going to take a little step back to SE Asia for a minute so that I can make what I'd like to call a public service announcement. 

The fate of the Mekong River is in jeopardy and it will essentially all be decided by the Joint Committee of the Mekong River Commission on March 24. I want you to help show that there is worldwide opposition to plans to create 11 (more) dams along the river causing sweeping changes which would devastate the lives of millions in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. 

Here's the gist:

Several Chinese developers (in conjunction with the Laos, Thai and Cambodian governments)  are pushing to build hydroelectric dams along the Mekong without regard for the effects they would have on people who live along the river and the economy those nations have built based on the river's flow. Several dams have already been built but 11 more are planned. The one under consideration this week, Xayaburi, would basically green light all of the others. 

The problem:

The Mekong River is a huge source of income, housing and food for the people of several SE Asian countries. The agriculture of the region feeds more than half of Vietnam's people and 60 million people's lives across SE Asia depend directly on the river. 

The effect of the dams is not entirely understood, though it's obvious that it will have major effects on wildlife, agriculture, jobs and homes. It will even cause changes in the lay of the land not to mention the SE Asian way of life. It is believed the developers are downplaying the effects. 

There are so many amazing places on the river which would be lost:

This is Khone PhaPheng Falls. It's freaking amazing.

Khone PhaPheng was one of the many amazing places I visited in SE Asia that would be directly affected by dams built on the Mekong. Khone PhaPheng is in the southern-most part of Laos and is the largest waterfall by volume, nearly twice that of Niagara Falls, in the world. 

Really. Amazing. That's only the right half of it.

It is the primary reason the river is unnavigable straight from China to Vietnam, however it's also incredible. (Also, they built a railway which circumvented the need to go through the falls so, really, it's a non-issue now.) The falls are home to an endangered species of catfish, the plabuck, which would clearly be affected by decreased water flow, blocked migration patterns preventing them (and other fish and wildlife) to swim upstream to spawn and increased pollution. 

I could never have taken this photo if Si Phan Don hadn't been there.

Not to mention Si Phan Don, or Four Thousand Islands, where I stayed for several lovely days of sleeping in a hammock in a riverside bungalow, would be flooded, displacing hundreds (thousands?) of people. This trend of displacement and wildlife endangerment would be found all along the river if plans to build these dams continue. 

Another amazing place along the Mekong is Tonle Sap Lake. This lake is largely the result of floods in monsoon season during which the river actually inverts with tides at the delta and flows backward creating the lake. While generally one would think of flooding as dangerous and damaging, it is actually necessary for Cambodian agriculture and creates one of the most fertile soils in the world. 

It's also one of the places I really wanted to go to but just didn't have time for. Kind of regretting that now.

Fishing and faming are the major modes of living in the Mekong Delta area.

Then there are the major effects on Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta are areas that would suffer from decreased water flow and increased pollution among other problems. (Even more so than what they're already suffering due to previous hydrological changes along the river which cause major drought and flood seasons.) 

Not to mention these ladies would probably be out of a job.

So for more information and to find out what you can do to help check out the Save the Mekong Coalition and/or become a fan of this guy on Facebook who plans to swim across the river in protest. (Despite the obvious detriment to his health, though I will mention I totally made it out alive...)

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