Water Journal : Water Journal February 2013
WATER FEBRUARY 2013 16 CrossCurrent POSTCARD FROM THE MEKONG RIVER DELTA -- From Wilf Finn The Mekong River rises in the south-eastern Himalaya Mountains of Tibet, then ows almost 5,000km south through six countries on its way to the South China Sea. The Mekong Basin drains an area of almost 800,000km2 (approximately 80 per cent of the size of the Murray-Darling Basin). Its journey ends in the enormous Mekong Delta (known locally as the Nine Dragon River Delta), which is where our travels south through Vietnam and Cambodia also ended in January this year. By the time the Mekong reaches its delta in southern Vietnam it has coursed its way through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Mirroring other trans-border rivers around the world (even our own Murray-Darling), it is the source of much con ict over dam construction, water quality, dwindling shing stocks and seaborne transport. Accordingly, in 1995 the governments of four of those nations (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia), signed the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin, which established the Mekong River Commission. The Agreement includes the development of a Basin Development Plan (sound familiar?) to: "promote, support, cooperate and coordinate in the development of the full potential of sustainable bene ts to all riparian States and the prevention of wasteful use of the Mekong Basin waters, with emphasis and preference on joint and/or basin-wide development projects and basin programs". The Mekong River Commission has its origins in the Mekong Committee, which was established in 1957 following the granting of independence to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos from France. Since then, the Mekong has witnessed the battles of the American War (as the Vietnam War is known in Vietnam), the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the subsequent war between Cambodia and Vietnam. The delta that we visited around the southern Vietnamese town of My Tho (a two-hour drive south-west of Ho Chi Minh City) showed few signs of the decades of recent con ict, but instead was a bustling centre on one of the nine major outlets of the delta (hence the local name). The abundance of water-borne food and goods may have masked (or perhaps demonstrated in equal measure) the resource pressures on the river -- most memorably the practice of hoisting an example of your wares on your mast for prospective purchasers. Suf ce to say, we didn't have a great need for the barge full of pumpkins that sailed past us at one point. While venturing to the Mekong Delta at the end of our trip, we had also seen its in uence a few days earlier when visiting the world's largest religious monument at Ankor Wat, which was built in the 12th Century near the Tonle Sap (or Great Lake). The Tonle Sap is South East Asia's largest freshwater lake and plays the role of storage and oodplain for the Mekong, which, during the wet season, backs up into the lake (reversing the usual ow into the Mekong). Our visit was deliberately made in the dry season; however, the villages around the Tonle Sap show the Mekong's in uence when the waters come each year. Within days of our return to Australia, the Mekong River was in the news, as the 19th Mekong River Commission Council Meeting had erupted on its opening day (18 January, 2013) with disagreement between member states about the Lao Government's construction of the Xayaburi Dam, 350km upstream of Vientiane in northern Laos. The Lao Government is not alone, however, in its dam building ambitions and the Mekong River will face some great challenges in coming years as the economies of its basin countries develop. Wilfred Finn is a member of the AWA Water Journal editorial committee and 'honeymooned' to the Mekong in January this year.
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