The Mekong, River of Life.

Photo Essay Project by Michael Klinkhamer. © all images by MK

The Mekong, River of Life.

Today Southeast Asia is relatively peaceful after decades of war, and for the most part, it's economies are humming and change of lives and customs and traditions are following rapidly from the traditional ways of life into the cash economy.

Shared by six countries — Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, China and Myanmar (Burma) — the Mekong region is rich in resources, culturally diverse and home to what the people of the region call their ‘life blood’; the mighty Mekong River is now seriously under threat by proposed and already build hydro dams in the upper and lower sections of the river.
The short time rewards of the exploitations of the Mekong will benefit the economic powers and supply energy for the city's in Thailand and China.  
It is clear that the free-flowing Mekong is a vital resource for poor and vulnerable people in the lower Mekong region, with its abundant resources including essential water for agriculture and fisheries. The health of this system is crucial to the future security of the women, men and children who depend on the Mekong, and to the economic development of the countries within the Mekong region. How to reverse this horror and doom scenario? By raising awareness, education, cooperation and making sustainable alternatives like wind and solar power options a real alternative but will it be enough in time?

Threats to the region

Land grabs, damming, deforestation, and exploitation of resources – including  mining– all threaten to push the Mekong’s most vulnerable communities further into poverty. Plans to build 12 hydropower dams on the river’s main stream present some of the region’s most pressing concerns.
The Mekong is home to the world’s largest freshwater fishery, and is the second-most biodiverse river on the planet – with 1,200 native fish species, and new species discovered every year. The river is a crucial source of food and income for local communities.
If the dams proceed they will alter the delicate ecosystem of the river and its surrounds, preventing fish from reaching their breeding grounds during annual migrations and threatening their long-term survival.
Many fishing communities will be forced to resettle if fish stocks disappear, creating further hardship for people already struggling with extreme poverty. Life is particularly difficult for ethnic minorities and populations in border areas, who have experienced far fewer benefits of the region’s economic growth. Many households are still at subsistence level, and must fish and forage for wild foods to survive.

Traditional infrastructure are today still in full practice along the Mekong river. (Bamboo Bridge near Kampong Cham in Cambodia.  

As the modern infrastructure and road connection are being completed the national economy is boosted, but the local people have a hard time adapting. Local floating village near Kampong Cham in Cambodia. 
Woman empowerment is vital for the transition from traditional lives to the modern economies and new challenges in order to deal with the changes along the Mekong river delta.

Youth education and a stop to child labour are challenging for the traditional lives in local communities along the Mekong river   

Youth education and a stop to child labour are challenging for the traditional lives in local communities along the Mekong river  (2)

People depending on the Mekong may be included at the last minute when they're forced to resettle or to adapt to new situations where their land or waters have been taken away, or fundamentally changed.

Floating villages on the Mekong river provide food and income in fisheries but also provide a nomadic life of many generations where people are independent and self reliant. This will probably change when dams change the bio-diversity.  

The muddy water and shifting currents of the Tonle Sap form a natural fish factory, nurturing finger-length silverfish, 650-pound catfish, and hundreds of species in between. 
By disrupting fish migration and spawning, the new dams are expected to threaten the food supply of an estimated 60 million people—most of whom live in villages.
Home to 781 known species, the Mekong River is the second-largest fish biodiversity region, with about half the entire river being classified as a Key Biodiversity Area
By changing traditional lifestyles forever, the dams could lead to growing inequality and short to mid term poverty while undermining region-wide efforts to meet national poverty alleviation goals.

Young woman setting up a fish trap in the Mekong river. Will the young generation find a future in the traditional means of supporting their family's or will they be pushed into the cash economy in the big cities? 
Internet and mobile connection is changing the lives in remote parts of the Mekong delta. Information and social media is now on everybody's fingertips, raising awareness and new opportunities.

Will minorities and woman find a way into the cash economy as the food resources and their nomadic lives will be harder to survive in ?


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