But the dream is likely to be thwarted by lack of commitment from the leaders of nearby countries, writes Asia Sentinel’s Bryony Taylor
In the first summit meeting between Japan and officials from the five countries that border the banks of the 4,800-km Mekong River, the countries pledged to urgently tackle the environmental issues related to development of the region. It is questionable, however, whether the meeting will end up as more than lip service despite the attention and funding from Japanese officials.
Tokyo pledged ¥200 billion (US$2.21 billion) to the initiative, called ‘A Decade toward the Green Mekong,’ which will begin next year and aims to promote biodiversity and cooperation on water resource management. In the so-called Tokyo Declaration following the summit, the five countries and Japan pledged in a remarkably vague agreement to, among other things, “build a mutually beneficial relationship based on the spirit of yu-ai, or ‘fraternity,’ which is a way of thinking that respects one’s own freedom and individual dignity while also respecting the freedom and individual dignity of others.”
To those communities whose livelihoods and survival have already been damaged by the dredging, dams and pollution already in place, the words at the summit meeting mean very little, especially with 11 more dams planned for the river’s mainstream. The continuing degradation of the river is vital to the concerns of as many as 70 million people from its origin in the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea. More than 100 ethnic groups have adapted to the rhythm of the river over centuries.
Those rhythms are now being seriously affected, threatening the lives of important fish populations as well as the people who live on the river’s banks. And, even though villagers and fishermen complaining of the effects of dredging have recently protested in front of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s private residence in an effort to be heard, both national and regional leaders remain deaf to their voices and concerns.