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State of the Basin Report 2003

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The Mekong River and its tributaries comprise one of the largest river systems in the world. As a result of decades of war and isolation that ended just a few years ago, the Mekong’s water and related resources are largely undeveloped. The volume of water flowing down the Mekong has been little reduced by dams and irrigation and, overall, water quality is good. The Mekong’s fish are among the most diverse and abundant in the world.

Development of the Mekong Basin is necessary and it is also inevitable. Due to a wealth of unexploited resources, pressure from investors, and a rapidly growing population in need of livelihoods and better standards of living, the pace of development in the basin is increasing rapidly.

Although exploitation of the basin’s resources could be of tremendous benefit to the peoples of the Mekong Basin, who are among the poorest in the world, it could also cause tremendous hardship if it is not properly planned, managed and monitored.

An estimated 70 percent of the people who live in the Lower Mekong Basin are subsistence farmers. They supplement the rice they grow with the wild fish they catch and plants and animals foraged from nearby forests and wetlands for use as food, materials and medicines. If the volume of water in the river system declines and/or the timing of the seasonal rise and fall of water changes, these wild resources may decline, along with livelihoods and food security for the millions who depend on them. Changing water levels could also adversely impact agriculture, aquaculture, navigation, and water supplies for household, commercial and industrial use.

Because the potential as well as the risks of exploiting the Mekong are significant, it is crucial that decision-makers have timely and accurate information on water-related sectors and the impact that developing them is having, and could have on the economy, environment and human welfare. In support of this objective, the Mekong River Commission is launching a series of reports on the state of the Mekong Basin.

This document summarises the key findings in MRC’s first State of the Basin Report. As with the full report, this Executive Summary provides an introduction to the geography, hydrology, plant and animal life of the Lower Mekong Basin, as well as the social and economic circumstances of its peoples. It also reviews key economic, environmental and social issues related to fisheries, agriculture, forestry, hydropower, trade and transport, domestic water and sanitation, as well as flooding. In keeping with the mandate of the Mekong River Commission, the emphasis is on issues that relate directly to water resources and their management.

Since the inception of the Mekong River Commission in 1995, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam have been strongly committed to collaborating in the use, management and conservation of water and related resources and this report is one step in the process of reviewing the condition of the basin and how it is changing. MRC hopes that it will contribute to a better understanding and dialogue among the range of stakeholders who will determine the future of the Mekong River Basin.

MRC also hopes that readers will contribute to the success of future editions of the State of the Basin Report by suggesting topics to add, errors to correct and additional sources of relevant data. MRC’s first State of the Basin Report is very much a work in progress and it is hoped that future editions will reflect the valuable advice provided by its readers.