Sustaining the heartbeat of the Mekong Basin

China Dialogue –

The Mekong River is often depicted as originating in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Maps show it flowing downstream through China’s southwest, and then forming the borders of or flowing through Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, before bisecting Cambodia and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta on its 4,500 kilometre journey from the Himalayas to the sea.

However, the Mekong has another point of origin: the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Each year life springs from the lake, mostly in the form of a massive fish population that migrates to the far reaches of the Mekong system both upstream and downstream.

This annual migration provides tens of millions of households throughout the Mekong Basin with regular protein. While the total catch from wild fisheries in all of North America’s lakes and rivers is 160,000 tons, each year the Mekong system produces 2.6 million tons. The Tonle Sap alone provides around 500,000 tons, comprising 75% of Cambodians’ protein intake, and making it the world’s largest freshwater fishery.

But this rich resource is threatened by upstream dam construction, overfishing, unregulated agricultural practices and climate change.

We recently published a report that explores the impact of human activities from a broader perspective. It offers alternative development pathways to optimise trade-offs between water, energy and food production. Read more

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