Climate change and overdevelopment hit fisheries
[By Mark Tilly]
Two reports released last month by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental organization that works with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to jointly manage the river’s resources, serve as a crucial health check on the state of Southeast Asia’s longest river and the millions of people who depend on it for their livelihoods. The reports were published simultaneously. One focused on the state and trend of fish stocks in the river and the other interviewed households that live along the river, the results being all too familiar.
The cumulative impacts of climate change, overfishing and the development of hydroelectric dams are taking their toll on the many people who depend on the Mekong River. The reports detail the effects ranging from the loss of family income due to the decrease in the number of fish catches and the increase in damage caused by floods and the development of water infrastructure, to gender inequality which affects many people. disproportionately the ability of women to find employment.
During the period 2015-2018, about 62 percent of the sampled villages suffered loss and damage from flooding, 25 percent of villages reported that the impacts of flooding were worsening and 25 percent reported that these floods were affected. impacts had been worse in the past 12 months than in the past 12 months. the previous years. Compared to the 2014 survey, loss and damage from climatic shocks, especially flooding, has increased significantly. These communities are particularly sensitive to changes in water resources and climate, as agriculture remains the most common form of livelihood in all study sites.
The survey found that households fishing in the region fell from 50 percent in 2014 to around 37 percent in 2018 due to a reported decline in fish stocks. Conversely, the study of fish stocks shows that the fisheries of the lower Mekong basin are under stress from overfishing and habitat degradation due to human activity and environmental changes.
The Social Impact Survey also notes that trade, including services, has become the second most common source of livelihood in the region, and part of the reason why fishing has declined as the main source. of income is that people find other forms of employment.
Migrating to work in other districts or provinces is very common for almost all of the respondents in the sample villages, but this trend generates its own negative impacts, leading to the breakdown of the family unit and the emotional ties that exist there. ‘accompany.
The reports urge MRC member countries to enforce national fishing laws and implement pre-developed strategies to help restore fishing communities and the aquacultures they depend on. It also advocates the integration of river management plans to deal with the risk associated with the growing development of hydropower.
However, anyone who has followed this topic closely over the past few years will be far from convinced that anything significant will come out of these reports, with the MRC continuing to be seen as a toothless tiger. The porous nature of the borders of member countries where the Mekong flows means that cross-border governance is notoriously difficult. This situation is exacerbated in various member countries whose administrations do not have the capacity, or in some cases the interest, to implement these strategies.
Cambodia’s fishing regulations, like almost all laws in the country, are enforced and then dropped based on their political desirability at the time, such as during elections. Meanwhile, fishing regulations in Laos are typically only enforced around large hydropower projects, where the government relies on project developers to enforce the rules.
Experts I spoke to for this article note that the rhetoric of the RCN tends to underestimate local fishing and emphasize the benefits of communities moving away from fishing towards more “modern” forms of livelihood.
Since the base periods of the two studies, things have become even more difficult for fishing communities in the lower Mekong countries with low monsoon levels, which some studies attribute to the development of hydroelectric dams upstream, exacerbating the dry seasons. rains and subsequent fish catches in 2019-21. And since the start of the pandemic, many of those who have migrated to cities are unlikely to have found substantial economic opportunities. The economies of Cambodia and Laos have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, given that so much of the country’s workforce depends on tourism. While employment opportunities may improve now that Cambodia has officially abandoned its quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers, industry experts expect that it will take time for its tourism industry. is recovering.
Despite the disheartening findings, the MRC’s social impact report makes progress in recognizing the crucial role women and gender play in the Mekong River, given that women are as much, if not more, than men in the generation of men. household income. Even so, fortunes and opportunities for women are different across member countries, with higher secondary education rates for women being higher in Thailand (51%) than in Cambodia (4.4%).
Such a comprehensive report from the MRC on the Mekong River issues is the first step, but there is a big difference between identifying the issues facing the region and having governments begin to address them. The worsening effects of climate change and the continuation of the hydroelectric dam development project will test the governments of member countries to see if they are up to the task.
Mark Tilly is a former Cambodia-based journalist and volunteer for Oxfam International’s Mekong Water Governance Program through Australian Volunteers International. His work has been published in Crikey, Southeast Asia Globe, and Asia Sentinel. He currently writes for Energy News Bulletin.
This article is courtesy of The Lowy Interpreter and can be found in its original form here.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.