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2008 Sacrificing the Mekong

2008 Sacrificing the Mekong

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Published by John Schertow

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Published by: John Schertow on Jun 14, 2011
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06/14/2011

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Sacrificing the Mekong River Basin in theName of Electricity
By John Schertow
 –
December 11, 2008
The Mekong river is considered the lifeblood of southeast Asia. It starts out on the Qingzang plateau in Tibet, a place known as 'roof of the world', and makes its way through Burma, Laos, Thailand,Cambodia and Vietnam before pouring itself into the China Sea.Along this path, carved out over millennia, the Mekong has ensuredthe health and security of countless people, providing them withfood, water for crops, and a means of trade and transportation.Today the Mekong supports as many as 100 million people.However, the onset of Hydro development, which began in the early1990s, threatens to drastically change that.In effect, the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-governmental body of Mekong countries, wants to turn the Mekongriver basin into an international sacrifice zone, where abundanceand food security will be replaced with increasing poverty, foodshortages and the heavy loss of diversity.It's strange, but the MRC says this is all necessary and that they haveno choice but to exploit the natural resource power of theMekong river, because of the never-ending need for more electricityin Southeast Asia's urban centers. And so, they are attempting tobuild dozens, possibly hundreds of dams along the river and itstributaries.
 
 The Mekong River at sunset At the same time the MRC insists that it supports sustainabledevelopment, that it cares deeply about the Mekong basin and, asstated in their mandate, that they will make every effort "Topromote and coordinate sustainable management of water andrelated resources for the countries' mutual benefit and the people'swell-being" in a manner that is "consistent with the needs to protect,preserve, enhance and manage the environmental and aquaticconditions and maintenance of the ecological balance exceptional tothis river basin."It certainly sounds like something local, riparian communities andenvironmental groups can support. However, the reality of the MRCis a far cry from this glowing image of social and environmentalheroism.In fact, it's often suggested that the MRC must be replaced becauseout of either fear or inability or just plain old greed, it has created "avacuum of accountability" that allows developers move forwardwith their hydro projects "unchallenged," with little regard to theireffect on the Mekong basin or its inhabitants, without even so muchas an environmental assessment.
 
Results and Consequences
Next to the Amazon, the Mekong River is the world's most bio-diverse inland waterways. It is home to as many as 1,250 species of fish, including the giant catfish and the world's few remainingfreshwater dolphins.Each year, between June and December, the Mekong grows to about thirty times its low season size, replenishing the water table andtriggering a mass migration of fish to their breeding and feedinggrounds in Cambodia's Tonlé Sap Lake."As the floodwaters recede, the fishermen of the region work together constructing what are, in effect, long bamboo fencesaround the lake to trap the migrating fish. The fences stretch forsome 1,500 km, using 3 million stakes or more. Huge quantities of fish are caught - around 30 tons an hour in one single fishery.Although this is not industrial fishing in the accepted sense, it isartesian fishing on a massive scale and a truly impressive sight,"describes the New Agriculturist.Historically, the communities would get about 80% of theirnutritional needs from this annual effort.Today, such a prospect is impossible. "It is now estimated that thetotal fish catch from the Lower Mekong Basin is two million tons peryear," the New Agriculturist adds.More than that, communities say the dominant species have begunto mature at a much younger age, which means, on top of the steepdecline in population, the fish are now smaller and lessvaluable. Some communities say they now have to fish 'night andday' - even for weeks on end, to meet the same yield that they would

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