The Mekong in peril: a view from mid stream

The Advisor Cambodia
12 March 2015

I have finally found it, that most rare of things: a group of teenagers who do not use Facebook. I am standing on an island in the centre of the Mekong, about an hour’s drive north of Kratie and only 500 metres from the “mainland,” but I could be in another world. There is a special feeling here of the Cambodia I knew 10 or so years ago, before things became so hurried and hectic. The teenagers of the island Koh Rongeav remain unflinchingly optimistic about their future. One, Sean Thirith, hopes to work for an NGO one day, two of his classmates wish to become teachers, another a healthcare worker. The young men are courteous and smile nervously when I ask them questions. When I leave 20 minutes later, I depart in a sea of waves feeling that, if these pupils represent the future, then all bodes well.

Ominously, however, their island and river are standing in the headlights of breakneck development. One proposal, a hydro-scheme at Sambor, would likely flood their school, homes and livelihoods beneath concrete and water. With them could vanish some of the last global populations of Irrawaddy dolphin, candor turtle and giant Mekong catfish. It’s a sobering thought as we gather for a group photo, the teenagers laughing and smiling, seemingly unaware of the forces coalescing around their island, swirling like a dark eddy in the Mekong itself.

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