Vietnam, is the beating heart of mainland Southeast Asia, sustaining the livelihoods of around 66 million people. Yet the river is running dry, with its water levels at their lowest in 100 years. Its ecosystem nears the verge of collapse from the accumulative effects of climate change, dam-building and other man-made activities such as deforestation, sand mining, extensive irrigation and wetland conversion.
Unpredictable and more frequent droughts, as well as floods and reduced river sediments, have wreaked havoc on riverside communities’ agricultural production and inland fisheries. Tonle Sap lake, which provides two-thirds of Cambodia’s annual catch of fish, has seen its resources dwindle in recent years. The Mekong River Commission estimated that by last year the amount of sediment reaching the Mekong Delta, which produces more than 50 per cent of Vietnam’s rice output, had fallen to one-third of what it was in 2007.
Vietnam attempted to put the Mekong on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ agenda last year when it was chair, but the prevailing view among most member states was that issues affecting the river would best be addressed through existing subregional frameworks, given that only some members are affected by its degradation.