Seen from the Thai side, facing the jungle-covered hills of the Laotian bank, the great river bordering the two countries ebbs continuously, like a body of water symbolizing the eternal course of life. The melancholic and beautiful flow of the Mekong, so steady and slow, seems to carry its traditional majesty along with its flat, white waters.
But this is an illusion, and an error of judgment: The Mekong is in danger, and so are the fish, vegetation and people it has nourished since living memory. There is one statistic that illustrates how important the river and its resources are for those who live along its banks: Two million tons of fish are caught in the Mekong every year, a world record for rivers.
“Look at the middle of the river,” says Chaiwat Parakun, a fisherman from the village of Ban Muang in northern Thailand, pointing to the grassy islets protruding from the brown surface. “Since we have entered the rainy season, they should all have been submerged by this time. But no: the Mae Nam Kong (the Mekong in Thai) is at least three meters lower than its usual height.” We are now at the beginning of August and it will take weeks before the river level finally reaches almost-normal levels in early September.