Boys fishing in the Xe Bang Fai River, Laos.

Southeast Asia

Rivers play a central role in the lives of millions of people in Southeast Asia. They provide fish, fresh water, fertile silt, transportation, recreation, and many other essential functions. Rivers and their catchments - the lifeblood of the region - are increasingly threatened by ill-conceived development schemes.

The Mekong Region is the main focus of International Rivers' work in Southeast Asia. As it passes through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, the Mekong River bursts with color and life. Sixty million people live in the lower Mekong Basin and their livelihoods and cultures are intimately connected with the river’s natural cycles. Boasting one of the world’s most diverse and productive inland fisheries, the Mekong supplies people with about 80% of their protein needs.

Yet this beautiful, dynamic and thriving river system is under threat and the next decade is critical for the future of the Mekong. The people living along the banks of the river and its tributaries see the Mekong as a resource to be nourished and sustained for future generations. But the region's governments and greedy foreign interests seem intent on constructing scores of dams on the Mekong mainstream and tributaries. China is building a cascade of fourteen dams on the Upper Mekong in Yunnan Province, which will have devastating impacts on downstream communities. Laos, in its bid to become “the battery of Southeast Asia”, hopes to develop more than sixty dams on Mekong tributaries, and is even considering nine projects on the mainstream. The dams would mean death by a thousand cuts to the river's rich fisheries and the people who depend upon them. But there is hope. The Mekong River is still a thriving ecosystem, and it is not too late to protect it.

People throughout Southeast Asia are facing threats from dams. Vietnam is building dam cascades on several Mekong tributaries, the impacts of which are being experienced by ethnic minorities living in Vietnam and by the Cambodian villagers living downstream. Cambodia is also hoping to build dams on Mekong tributaries and the mainstream. Burma has plans to construct dams on some of its most beautiful and pristine rivers, including the Salween River, the region's last major undammed river. In Sarawak, Malaysia, plans are rushing forward to build as many as 51 dams on the traditional lands of indigenous communities.

International Rivers is working with a growing movement in the region to challenge dam plans and promote more sensible options for meeting the region’s energy and development needs.