News / Asia

Asian Ministers Tackle Mekong River Development

People fish on wooden boats on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Aug. 19, 2010. (file photo)
People fish on wooden boats on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Aug. 19, 2010. (file photo)
Robert Carmichael

Environment ministers from six Asian nations are meeting in Phnom Penh to finalize how they will work together to balance economic development and environmental protection in a region that includes one of the world’s longest and most biodiverse rivers in the world.

In 2005, the nations that share the 4,800 kilometer Mekong River set up the first five-year plan to unify efforts for balance environmental protection with development and poverty reduction.

That $30-million program, with the unwieldy name of the Core Environmental Program and Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Initiative, expires in December.  The six countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion group are China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and their environment ministers have endorsed, in principle, extending the program until 2016.  

Formal approval of the plan is expected in December.

Senior natural resources specialist Sanath Ranawana, with the Asian Development Bank, which administers the program, explains why such talks are critical for tens of millions of people.

“The GMS, the Greater Mekong Sub-region, is an area that is growing very rapidly. And the potential for growth here is enormous; countries like China, neighboring countries such as Indonesia or India, which create a huge demand for the resources and the products from this region. And so this program is quite important and crucial for balancing what this region might do in the future, development in the future, with how it can manage its resources in a sustainable way,” Ranawana says.

The Mekong River and its tributaries are one of the richest freshwater fisheries in the world, but environmentalists warn it is increasingly under threat from pollution and new hydropower dams.

Activists dance in front of the Chinese embassy in Bangkok after delivering a letter demanding its government to stop building dams on upper Mekong river
Mar. 4 2010 (Reuters).

Environmentalists fear dams could cause significant damage to migratory fish stocks, as well as the flow of sediment that builds up and protects the Mekong Delta region in southeastern Vietnam.

The most controversial proposal is the $3.8-billion Xayaburi dam in Laos, but following pressure from downriver countries Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos officials recently said they are suspending construction.

The Mekong’s importance to Cambodia was highlighted by Prime Minister Hun Sen who told Thursday’s gathering that managing the river’s water resources is “a matter of life and death” for the people who rely on it.  

Laos also sees the river as a key way to boost its impoverished economy by generating electricity from hydropower dams in this energy-hungry region.

The ADB’s Sanath Ranawana says linking energy programs with the environment forms a central plank of the second stage of the program.  It will also link the environment to investment decisions in other vital areas such as agriculture, tourism and transport.

“We have made the case, and the countries recognize very well, that environment is an integral aspect that they need to take care of," he says. "The ecosystem services that are generated from the conservation landscapes are what underpin the whole economic program, the economic development.  So agriculture, hydropower, all of the sectors that are important for economic development are based on having valuable ecosystem services.”

In Bali last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the annual Association of South-East Asian Nations Regional Forum that Washington is working with the ADB and the European Union to improve infrastructure and the environment in the Lower Mekong.

She also called for a pause in all new dam construction until fully assessing their environmental effects.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs