Managing the Mekong River Term Paper

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Mekong River Delta

The Management of the Mekong River has long been an issue of great debate and inquiry. The body of water is essential to the livelihoods of millions of people and must be managed accordingly. The purpose of this discussion is to illustrate human-ecosystem conflicts. The research will analyze the nature of the conflict, the impacts on the natural ecosystem involved (you need to include raw scientific data that show human impacts), a description of the stakeholders involved, the options for dealing with the conflict (is this a good example of a sustainable solution to the conflict, the option selected and an evaluation of whether this is working including an update for the older case studies.

The Mekong River

The Mekong River is a perfect example of human-ecosystem conflict. According to a report entitled "People and ecosystems: The fraying web of life" the Mekong River is the 12th longest River in the world. It extends 4,880 km with its source being a Tibetan plateau and its outlet along the coast of Vietnam. The annual runoff form the river is that 8th largest in the world. The Mekong River is unique in that it is the least exploited major waterway as it pertains to the building of dams and other types of water diversions. Additionally according to an article entitled "Initiation of the Mekong River delta at 8 ka: evidence from the sedimentary succession in the Cambodian lowland"

The Mekong River delta, one of the world's largest deltas, has prograded more than 200 km over at least the last 6-7 ka, forming an extensive lowland in Vietnam and Cambodia on which several tens of millions of people are living ([Nguyen et al., 2000] and [Ta et al., 2005]). The lowland is the site of one of the earliest civilizations in Southeast Asia (Bishop et al., 2003) and bears archaeologically important sites, including Angkor Borei in the southern part of the Cambodian lowland, which was initially occupied in the fourth century B.C (Tumra et al. 2008).

There are a total of six countries that are directly impacted by the Mekong River. These nations include Cambodia, Myanmar, China, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam.

According to the report the governments of each of these nations are all invested in determining how best the utilize the Mekong River as a resource.


As it pertains to the Management of the Mekong Rivers there are several stakeholders that must be taken into consideration. The first of which are all the people who depend on the rive for food, work and even electricity. The very way of life for these stakeholders can change dramatically depending on the way the Mekong River is Managed.

Stakeholders also include government officials and environmentalists. Government officials have an obligation to provide citizens with service including water and electricity. Failing to do so can be quite damaging to stakeholders. Finally environmentalists and the ecosystem itself are stakeholders as it pertains to managing the Mekong. A balance must be struck between supplying resources and preventing the destruction of the natural ecosystem that the river supports.

Managing the Mekong

Many of the issues surrounding the use of the Mekong river centers around the ecological problems that may arise as a result of manipulating the river. Therefore there has been a concerted effort to attempt to manage the river. According to the World Resource report the effort the divert or dam the Mekong has been met with a great deal of opposition.

This opposition is present because the river is the traditional source for fishermen in the various countries through which the river runs. Indeed many of the nations along the Mekong recognize the need to preserve the Mekong as a source for fishermen. An article entitled "Mekong River Fish Conservation Zones in Southern Laos: Assessing Effectiveness Using Local Ecological Knowledge"

Small-scale fisheries are important in Laos, where rural people heavily depend upon Mekong River and tributary fish stocks for their l ivelihoods. Increasing pressures from human exploitation and habitat disturbance, however, have raised serious concerns about the potential depletion of various species. This has led to the establishment of large numbers of Fish Conservation Zones (FCZs) or "no- take" fish sanctuaries in southern Laos based on a "community-based fisheries co- management" framework (Baird et al., 2005).

This type of precaution is necessary because it allows for the exploitation of resources, while still protecting the traditional fishing resources for fishermen. Other similar programs have also been developed throughout nations that are located along the Mekong.

In addition to acting as a traditional source of fish, the river also acts as a barrier to the penetration of salt water into the soil of the Mekong Delta (Hoa et al., 2007).

Soil that is infused with saltwater are detrimental because agriculture crops will not be able to thrive. Nations that depend on agriculture as an aspect of their economies thrive on the production of crops. Poor management of the Mekong could lead to economic problems in the long run.

In addition to some of the problems associated with managing the Mekong., there are also some real benefits that can be realized if the Mekong is properly maintained. Namely the river can provide hydroelectricity. It has been estimated that the river has a hydroelectricity generating capacity of 30,000-58,000 MW. Throughout the length of the river there are various dams that have been constructed. In recent years, China has constructed several dams. In every nation that has constructed Dams on the Mekong, their seems to be a consensus that these dams are needed to meet the demand for water. This is most evident in China which has an extremely large population. The need for resources in China is also driven by rapid industrial growth in China. This growth has increased the demand for resources.

With these things in mind, Environmentalists have hoped that the nations of the Mekong would some to an agreement concerning how best to mange this large and important resource.

However over the last few years, China has acted in ways that have been frowned upon. China's management of the Mekong River within its borders has included the construction of several dams. Although these dams have proven beneficial to China they have had devastating effects on other nations that depend in the Mekong (Kummu & Varis, 2007). According to the report, Dams can have a negative impact upon fish populations. This is a serious problem because fish is the primary source of protein for many who live along the Mekong Delta.. The report explains,

The 900,000 tons of fish harvested annually (Friederich 2000) and the Mekong's extraordinary fish species richness are threatened by dams, which interfere with spawning cycles by preventing fish migrations. Dams also reduce the seasonal floods that sustain fish spawning and nursery grounds in the wetlands upstream and the delta region. The flood cycle, keyed to the monsoon rains, is a critical factor in the life cycle of many of the area's aquatic species. Even slight changes in peak flood flow could threaten the region's fish production and food security (MRC 1997:3-8). Impacts observed at dams already constructed on Mekong tributaries illustrate the area's vulnerability ("People and ecosystems: The fraying web of life)


Overall the people who depend upon the Mekong for sustenance are at the mercy of government officials who decide how this body of water will be managed. The nations of the Mekong have not come to an agreement concerning what can be done to properly manage the Mekong River. A alternative to the conflict may be a compromised that encompasses extremely strict environmental protection policies combined with a strategy to use the resources that the river provides. This compromise allows for the exploitation of the resource while still remaining sensitive to the vulnerability of the ecosystem and…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Baird I.G. Mark S. Flaherty1 and Ian G. Baird2. Mekong River Fish Conservation Zones in Southern Laos: Assessing Effectiveness Using Local Ecological Knowledge. Environmental Management. Volume 36, Number 3 / September, 2005

Friederich, H. 2000. The biodiversity of the wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin. Paper submitted to the World Commission on Dams, Presented at the Commission's East/Southeast Asia Regional Consultation, Hanoi, Vietnam. 26-27 February

Hoa, Le Thi Viet, Nguyen Huu Nhan, Eric Wolanski, Tran Thanh Congb, Haruyama Shigeko. The combined impact on the flooding in Vietnam's Mekong River delta of local man-made structures, sea level rise, and dams upstream in the river catchment

Kummu M., Varis, O. (2007) Sediment-related impacts due to upstream reservoir trapping, the Lower Mekong River. Geomorphology 85 (2007) 275-293

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