Newsroom

Speeches Shim

The Mekong River plays a central role in the lives of millions of people in South East Asia who depend on it for their food, water, income, and transportation. Yet it is precisely because of its importance that the river faces many challenges as the countries of the Lower Mekong – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam -- look to the future.

The Mekong River Basin is home to 60 million people, of whom 70 percent are engaged in subsistence agriculture. These culturally diverse people are among the poorest in Asia, and they depend heavily on the river and its tributaries for food, income, transportation, and drinking water. As such, they are highly vulnerable to changes in climate. One of the expected consequences of this change is rising temperatures. As temperatures rise, many species of crops, fish and animals lose their vigor and are less able to compete, while other animal, plant and insect species move in to take their place. This can be very disruptive to agriculture and fisheries and the people that depend on them. Another change that scientific models predict is a substantial increase in weather variability. This too can have a dramatic effect on the kinds of crops that can be grown or harvested from nearby land.

Forests cover nearly 50 percent of the Lower Mekong region, providing a wide array of benefits to millions of people. Trees are one of nature’s most efficient ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing carbon. The region’s forests, with their unique flora and fauna, are also important sources of income and employment and contribute significantly to people’s health and the economic growth of the surrounding countryside. Yet despite the benefits, forests in the Mekong region continue to be destroyed at an alarming rate (nearly 1% per year, or more than 500,000 hectares per year), as land is converted for crops, grazing or other uses. Unsustainable and illegal logging, urbanization, and climate change also add significantly to their rapid decline. The loss and degradation of forests are important factors in global climate change, representing about 15 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. Roughly half of this amount comes from deforestation and forest degradation in Asia.

Widespread migration from the countryside is placing tremendous stress on urban water supplies and sanitation services delivery throughout Asia. This has placed a heavy burden on the nations of the Lower Mekong region as well as on the millions of urban poor who lack direct access to clean water. Further, many water services providers in Asian cities lack the proper management skills and suffer from weak governance, inefficient operations, aging infrastructure, and limited investment. Each of these contributes to poor service delivery and reduces access to safe water supply and basic sanitation. This in turn leads to higher rates of disease and child mortality from preventable waterborne illnesses and a corresponding loss of economic productivity.

The Mekong is among the world's longest rivers, flowing 4,800 kilometers from the Tibetan plateau through six nations to its delta in Vietnam. The river and its tributaries contain the largest freshwater fishery in the world, producing 2.6 million tons annually, a food chain that relies on the nutrient rich sediment carried by the river. The river contains between 1,200 and 1,700 species of fish, making it the second most biodiverse river in the world. Many of these species must migrate a thousand kilometers or more upriver in order to spawn. This vast fishery supports some 60 million people along the Mekong and its watersheds, directly and indirectly, of whom 40 percent still live in poverty. Many of them depend on protein from the fish and the food grown along the river’s banks and floodplain, which receive nutrients during annual floods.

Pages

Last updated: August 28, 2020

Share This Page

@USAIDAsia