People living in the Mekong River’s proximity could suffer tremendous hardship if the river is overexploited, the Mekong River Commission said in its State of the Basin 2003 report, released Wednesday.
Seventy percent of people living in the Mekong basin are subsistence farmers whose livelihoods and food security depend on the Mekong, and many observers had feared the river’s level was declining.
“The river system is in good shape, but there are indicators that it won’t stay that way unless good care is taken,” Joern Kristensen, commission chief executive, said at a news conference following the report’s release.
“The volume of water flowing down the Mekong has been little reduced by dams and irrigation and, overall, water quality is good,” the report stated.
Sediment at the bottom of Tonle Sap is increasing at an annual rate of 0.01 millimeters. At that speed it will take thousands of years for the lake to fill with silt, the report found.
Officials who compiled the report said that their findings contradicted their expectations, particularly as 2003 has been an unusually dry year.
“Sometimes the things we thought would happen didn’t happen, and the unexpected did happen,” Ian Campbell, a commission senior environment specialist said.
The problems facing the basin are essentially long-term rather than short-term, commission officials said. “Although the exploitation of the basin’s resources could be of tremendous benefit to the peoples of the Mekong Basin, who are among the poorest in the world, it could also cause tremendous hardship if it is not properly planned, managed and monitored,” the report said.
Nutrient levels in the river are also increasing, the report warned. The rise is likely caused by an increased use of fertilizers in the region, the report found. More research and data about the effects of pesticide use in the basin is needed, Campbell said.
Asked whether the river would flood this year, officials predicted it would not. “But we do not really know when we are dealing with nature,” said Pich Sokhem, MRC director of technical services division.
No expense was spared for the launch of the report, which is the first of its kind in six years. At the back of the Hotel Cambodiana hall, an illuminated ice sculpture dripped during congratulatory speeches.