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Woman rows to a floating market.

Greater Mekong

Southeast Asia’s longest river holds immeasurable value — and faces innumerable threats

© Amir Jina

In few places on Earth do so many depend on one river for so much.

Map of the Greater Mekong region

The Mekong River is the lifeblood of 300 million people across Southeast Asia — but this unique ecosystem faces collapse from overfishing, unsustainable development and poor agricultural practices.

Conservation International is working with governments and communities from China to Cambodia to protect the forests and wetlands that feed the system, to minimize the impact of forest degradation and loss as well as dams and other water diversions, and to improve management of fisheries to ensure that the Mekong basin can continue to feed millions sustainably.

Why is this area important?

Food we eat

The Greater Mekong has been called Asia’s “fish basket” and its “rice bowl.” The Mekong River produces 4.5 million metric tons (9.9 billion pounds) of fish every year, contributing about 80% of the protein consumed in the region’s households. The freshwater system is also critical for growing rice, which provides more than half of the daily caloric intake in countries across the region.

Water we drink

From its source in the Tibetan Plateau to its end in Vietnam, the Mekong River is a critical source of drinking water for the millions of people who live in its watershed.

Jobs and prosperity

What if you depended directly on nature to live? In the Greater Mekong, this isn’t a hypothetical question. There, some 80% of the population relies on forestry, agriculture or fishing for their livelihoods. In Laos, for example, more than two-thirds of the population is employed in the agricultural sector.

What are the challenges?

Loss of forests

The continued loss and degradation of forests throughout the Mekong River basin has major implications for the river, for its wildlife, and for the climate. Large-scale drivers such as agricultural expansion and small-scale drivers such as fuelwood gathering and illegal logging are slowly eroding the region’s forests — and the countless benefits that they provide to people.

Dams

More than 100 dams are planned or under development along the Mekong River and its tributaries. Dams bring energy to underserved communities — but poorly planned and operated dams can also harm the health of the river, reducing water flows and water quality, and putting wildlife and people’s livelihoods at risk.

Poor fisheries management

The Mekong is one of the richest sources of freshwater fish in the world – yet overfishing — including the use of destructive and illegal fishing gear, destruction of natural fish nurseries and other poor management practices — are widespread. This has decreased average fish size and diversity, threatening the livelihoods and nutritional base of millions.

Our Solutions

Conservation International has worked across the Greater Mekong region since 2001, helping to protect nature and the benefits it provides: food, safe drinking water, renewable energy and sustainable livelihoods. Through protected area management, community engagement and long-term financing, we work to ensure that the watershed’s mountains and forests can continue to safeguard the water that supports life downstream.​​​​

What can you do?

Make a difference for people in the Mekong Basin by helping to protect its globally important ecosystems, including Tonle Sap Lake.

Watch

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© Indy Kethdy
© CI/photo by Tracy Farrell

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