Preserving the Mekong River System

The Cambodia Herald
14 July, 2013

by U.S. Ambassador William E. Todd

Thank you again this week for all of your questions.  In some of my recent columns, I have focused on Cambodia’s democratic process and its upcoming parliamentary elections.  Last week, I accompanied approximately 35 large Cambodian companies to the United States to promote trade between our two great countries.  During this trip, I was in our nation’s capital when I heard the welcomed news that King Norodom Sihamoni accepted Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recommendation of a royal pardon for opposition leader Sam Rainsy.  This news is a positive development in promoting democracy in Cambodia and I encourage continued efforts to implement recommendations to achieve free and fair elections.

Changing subjects, many of you may know from my blog that fishing is a hobby that I have enjoyed my entire life.  Recently, I tried my luck at fishing on the Mekong River – one of the most fascinating and dynamic rivers in the world – with a group of friends and some local fishermen.  Unfortunately, I did not catch any fish; in fact, no one in the group even had a single bite during the entire three-hour trip.  Our poor results inevitably led to a discussion with the seasoned Cambodian fishermen on the recent changes they have seen to the Mekong’s magnificent river system.  I learned that over the last 10 years fish in the Mekong have become much more difficult to catch and they are dramatically smaller in size.  This troubling situation brought to mind a question not long ago from one reader who asked, “What does the United States think about the impact of dam construction along the Mekong River?”

The United States has a strong interest in the sustainable management of the Mekong River.  In fact, two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong and their counterparts from Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam under the banner of the U.S.-sponsored Lower Mekong Initiative, which serves as a forum to address complex, transnational development and policy challenges among the Lower Mekong countries.  A key part of the meeting was a discussion on advancing economic growth and sustainable development through policy dialogues and programs that improve the management of water and other natural resources like the Mekong River.

There is no doubt that the Mekong currently faces many challenges.  Overfishing and damage to the forests and watersheds that line this great river affect its flow and biodiversity.  Planned dams along the main branch of the river and its tributaries could also pose significant threats to the river’s environment.  While dams are an important source of “clean” hydroelectric energy, if not planned and built correctly, they can seriously damage the health and livelihood of communities that depend on the river.

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