Winding almost 3,000 miles from the Tibetan plateau down to the South China sea, the Mekong River passes through the Chinese province of Yunnan, then on to Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Its basin (the area of land from which a river gets its water) covers 200 million acres, which is roughly the size of Germany and France put together. The Mekong is about a kilometre and a half wide, and in some parts is even wider. The river is of vital importance: it pours more than 475 billion cubic metres of water into the sea every year, and accounts for up to 25% of the global freshwater catch, as well as providing livelihoods for tens of millions of people. Its floods feed the rice fields with water and silt; the nutrient-rich sediment left behind after the floods.
Unprecedented social and economic development in the Greater Mekong makes conservation work here especially urgent and significant. This vital river could be one of the first victims of climate change. Its delta (in other words, the deposit of debris created by a river at its mouth in the sea), is extremely fragile. The Mekong Delta is considered “the rice bowl of Vietnam”. Its vast maze of rivers, swamps, and islands are home to floating markets, Khmer pagodas and villages surrounded by rice paddies, but its flat plane and frequent flooding put it in serious danger. Due to excessive groundwater extraction, sand mining, and ever decreasing sediment deposits, the Mekong is sinking, and the damage this decline is causing will not be limited to Southeast Asia. The River is so significant that the effects of its decline will be felt around the world.
Other areas of the earth are also under a similar threat. The plains of Bangladesh, the swamps in Florida, and the mouth of the Mississippi, are all at risk from the effects of climate change. What we need to understand as a species, is that just because something is geographically far away from where we live, does not mean that we won’t be affected by the changes that take place there. The world is interconnected, and there is nowhere any of us can hide from the consequences of climate change.