Robust river governance key to restoring Mekong River vitality in face of dams

Billions of cubic meters of Mekong River water are now harnessed behind dams in the interests of power generation, severely affecting crucial physical and biological processes that sustain the river’s capacity to support life.

Niwat Roykaew, an environmental activist based in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand, described the Mekong as a naga, a mythical water serpent and symbol of fertility that brings abundance to the entire region.

The river, which flows across the borders of six countries, supports a vast array of ecosystems, irrigates farmlands with nutrient-laden floodwaters, transports stabilizing sediments downstream, and nourishes world-renowned fish populations that form the basis of much of the region’s food security. The river is also a vital part of the traditions and cultural practices of the people who live alongside it. But, Niwat said, a relentless procession of dam building has inflicted wound after wound on this ancient, but suffering, life force.

“The river, as a living creature, feeds the people of the Mekong, but this naga is being slashed to pieces and its power diminished,” he told Mongabay.

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