The Mekong region is home to approximately 280 million people and is a region of great ethnic diversity. Many communities live along or near the Mekong River, which links six countries in the region. With its headwaters in the Tibetan plateau, the river flows through China’s Yunnan province, past Burma into Laos and Thailand, and into the lowlands of Cambodia, meeting the sea in Vietnam.
Rice farming, fishing, and harvesting of non- timber forest products form the backbone of rural livelihoods and are pillars of the lower Mekong economies.
The region’s incredible ecological diversity sustains the livelihoods and food security of most of the rural population. Of the 60 million people who live in the Lower Mekong basin, it’s estimated that 80% rely directly on the river system for their food and livelihoods.
The Mekong has the second highest fish biodiversity in the world and is the world’s largest inland fishery. It is estimated that 40 million people are involved in the Mekong’s fishery at least part-time or seasonally.
The rapid expansion of large-scale resource and infrastructure developments intended to boost economic growth is increasing pressures on the environment and people in the basin. This is exacerbated by weak regulatory systems and lack of capacity or political will to enforce existing policies and regulations.
Farmers, fishers and natural resource dependent communities in the Mekong region have little or no say over the major development decisions that reallocate their lands, waters and resources to state and new private sector industries and uses. The impact on vulnerable communities is overlooked, especially when projects cross national borders. How can communities in Cambodia have their voices heard about the effects of a dam built in Laos?
The Mekong region is in the midst of rapid change. Major cities are expanding and rural regions are industrialising with highways linking urban centres to ports and trading hubs. To meet projected increases in energy demands, there are extensive plans to build hydropower dams on the Mekong mainstream and its tributaries. While infrastructure development has the potential to help poor communities improve their well being and livelihoods through increased access to markets, goods and services, too often affected communities have little or no information and influence on the planning and decision-making surrounding these developments.
Working with communities, the Mekong Water Governance Program seeks to support farming and fishing communities in the Mekong Region to have more secure and sustainable livelihoods and access to food by influencing the policies and practices of those driving development processes, including financiers, multilateral institutions, governments and intergovernmental bodies and the private sector.
The program aims to empower communities residing in the Mekong Region, so that they can effectively engage in formal processes of resource consultation and impact assessment. The program also seeks to make the development process accountable and sustainable so that future generations can share in the region’s wealth.
Through its long history of involvement in the Mekong, Oxfam Australia has developed a strong understanding and network of partners and allies working on water governance-related research, advocacy and monitoring. In November 2012, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recognised the impact and influence that Oxfam is having in the region.
Oxfam has already succeeded in increasing the understanding of risks to ecosystems and livelihoods, and is pressing governments – both in and outside the Mekong Region – to take their responsibilities for project affected people, and nature, seriously. A major achievement of the campaign has been to succeed in reframing the perceived threat from simply an environmental protection concern to one of food security and an impact of communities’ abilility to make a living. This has contributed to greatly elevating the issues in the minds of regional and international policymakers.
Having closely monitored and engaged in advocacy on Lower Mekong mainstream dams, Oxfam and its partners have ample experience in advocating for improved transboundary governance.
Key Project Objectives
The overall aim of the program is, through strengthening and
empowering communities, more women and men in rural areas (farmer and fisher
communities) in the Lower Mekong and Salween Watersheds will have secure and
sustainable livelihoods and access to food.
This will be achieved through:
women and men in rural communities of the Mekong Watershed to be able to
realise their rights to secure and sustainable livelihoods through increased
knowledge and understanding of how to protect their rights;
communities and local organisations will be linked and networked across the
region, with coordinated influence on the developers and financiers who operate
at a regional and international level; and
financial institutions, and private sector developers will respond to civil
society calls for more accountability by increasing dialogue space,
implementing int. standards and safeguards. Emerging evidence demonstrates this
leads to more equitable development.
Chan Thun poses for a portrait in Srekor Village / Photo Credit: Nicolas Axelrod
Chan Thun's Story
“When they will build the hydropower dam, this village will be flooded. If it will be flooded, it means that people in this village will need to relocate. I have met with the national assembly members to raise the concerns of my village. If they build the dam, it will have an impact on the health and the agriculture of people. But they replied to me that it will bring development and prosperity.
Regarding the compensation document, we don’t really know what they have written about it, and people didn’t receive any copy of it. And villagers never had any discussion about compensation with the company. And the same was for relocation; we never were consulted about it. In terms of compensation, you could exchange the plot of land and all the rest but you cannot compensate for the loss of tradition and culture, because it’s something so valuable that it cannot be compensated.”
What will the funding be used towards?
The Mekong Water Governance Program aims to gain more power and influence for farmers and fishers in natural resource planning, management and governance.
$10 can support two young men from Karen and Shan states in Myanmar to attend three days training on conservation and river protection, helping them to speak up on issues that affect them and their communities.
$50 can support Indigenous women displaced by a dam in Cambodia to buy four rolls of bamboo and reed ropes to make hats and baskets to sell at local markets, providing them with a source of income.
$80 can support the Women-on-Air radio program to discuss river changes and issues facing indigenous communities in northeast Cambodia.
$250 can buy a water tank and cooking stove for 20 families displaced by the construction of a dam in Cambodia, helping them to avoid the risk of deadly illness from uncooked food.
$500 can send 20 women from a small community in southern Laos to a national-level meeting with dam developers to discuss the impact of dams and have their voice heard.
Your generous gift of $30,000 can lead to ecosystems being better protected, communities being involved as partners in development and the benefits of natural resource flowing directly to poor communities.