Madison Committee
on Foreign Relations

For Both the People and Wildlife: How Will the World Meet the Threats to the Mekong River Basin?

  • Wednesday, December 10, 2014
  • 5:30 PM - 8:00 PM
  • University Club, 803 State St Madison, WI

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The Mekong River spans six countries including China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It supports the largest inland fishery in the world, with 60 million people living in the lower Mekong Basin, where 80 percent rely directly on the river system for their food and livelihoods. The Basin has eco-regions with an incredibly high diversity of habitats.These globally unique landscapes are home to no fewer than 20,000 species of plants, 1,200 bird species, 800 species of reptiles and amphibians, 600 fish species, and 430 mammal species.

The largest threat to the conservation values of the river system is from the series of dams and other hydropower projects planned for the river’s mainstream and tributaries. Such impacts on river ecosystems would have flow-on effects to dependent communities and economies. These impacts are expected to include a growing inequality in the lower Mekong Basin countries and an increase in poverty in the short and medium term, especially among the poor in rural and urban riparian areas. Food security is also likely to be affected by reductions in fisheries production and impacts on agricultural productivity due to inundation and changed water levels, and likely changes to access rights for fishers and farmers. Join us as we discuss these vital issues with our experts who work directly in the region.   

Dr. Ian Baird, UW Madison Assistant Professor of Geography, is currently engaged in research concerning the political ecology of large hydropower dam developments in the Mekong River Basin, with an emphasis on inland fisheries, large-scale economic land concessions/acquisitions and land tenure, and effects on mostly indigenous people in Laos and Cambodia.

Dr. Tran Triet, Director of the Southeast Asian Program at the International Crane Foundation, works in Vietnam with Phu My villagers on the Ha Tien – Habitats to Handbags project received the prestigious United Nations Dubai Award and the Equator Prize for impact, sustainability, partnership and community empowerment. Dr. Triet’s creative project combines protecting nearly 6,500 acres of wetlands important for wildlife, including Eastern Sarus Cranes, with developing skills and alternative livelihoods for residents of one of Vietnam’s poorest villages. After six years of implementation, the income of local families increased fivefold, and the number of Sarus Cranes using the Phu My wetland during the dry season grew from 5 to 259 (almost 30% of the known population). He is now working to expand this program from Phu My to Cambodia and to other conservation areas in Vietnam.

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