Save the Mekong

Shared by six countries — Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, China and Myanmar (Burma) — the Mekong region is rich in resources, culturally diverse and home to what the people of the region call their ‘life blood’; the mighty Mekong River.

The free-flowing Mekong is a vital resource for poor and vulnerable people in the lower Mekong region, with its abundant resources including essential water for agriculture and fisheries. The health of this system is crucial to the future security of the women, men and children who depend on the Mekong, and to the economic development of the countries within the Mekong region.

Threats to the region

Land grabs, damming, deforestation, and exploitation of resources – including mining – all threaten to push the Mekong’s most vulnerable communities further into poverty. Plans to build 12 hydropower dams on the river’s main stream present some of the region’s most pressing concerns.

The Mekong is home to the world’s largest freshwater fishery, and is the second-most biodiverse river on the planet – with 1,200 native fish species, and new species discovered every year. The river is a crucial source of food and income for local communities.

If the dams proceed they will alter the delicate ecosystem of the river and its surrounds, preventing fish from reaching their breeding grounds during annual migrations and threatening their long-term survival.

Many fishing communities will be forced to resettle if fish stocks disappear, creating further hardship for people already struggling with extreme poverty. Life is particularly difficult for ethnic minorities and populations in border areas, who have experienced far fewer benefits of the region’s economic growth. Many households are still at subsistence level, and must fish and forage for wild foods to survive.

What we’re doing

Oxfam Australia has been working in the Mekong region for more than 20 years. We support a network of local and non-government organisations across the six countries in the region, linking grassroots village work with international and regional organisations.

Oxfam is an active member of global campaigning group Save the Mekong Coalition. We’re ensuring that communities know their rights regarding major development decisions that affect their environment and their access to the Mekong’s vital resources. We’re especially concerned with assessing the impacts of development on women and ethnic minorities. We’re seeking to influence the drivers of this development, including development banks, donor governments and the private sector.

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