Dam It And Tell The Fish To Take The Lift

TIME for some armchair travel as I sip on some water.

Yes, thirst-quenching H2O, the stuff that serves so many purposes. It makes up 60% of our bodies and keeps us quenched. It makes up more than 70% of Earth’s surface, and keeps marine life alive and is part of a cycle of vital life.

Yet, silly humans are unable to appreciate the importance of protecting this planet’s vital life-giving natural resource.

Wet Adventures

In 2014, comedian and writer Sue Perkins travelled 5,000km up the Mekong River to make sense of its majesty, which is currently at the tipping point between creation and progress.

The Mekong River With Sue Perkins is a BBC documentary, which is currently on Netflix. The serious topic isn’t made dreadful given unstuffy personality. Plonking former The Great British Bake-Off host into a revered river makes for a giggle sometimes, what with her jesting about the “idiot English woman abroad”.

Renowned as ‘the mother of water’, nearly 60 million people from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Tibet live along the Mekong, depending on it for food and livelihood.

“If we lived elsewhere we wouldn’t be happy because it’s not our hometown,” says a fishwife at a Cambodian village.

Celebrating Bon Om Touk, the auspicious water festival marking the end of the rainy season, Perkins, in a black shirt and white hat joins one of the boats  in a traditional village dragon boat race. 

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Rowing mightily while seated in a slim wooden boat adorned with banana offerings dressed in joss sticks, it is evident that this river is a source of life bustling above the surface and upon closer viewing, beneath. 

Photo op as Jeremy Wade is overwhelmed by the catfish he’s caught in the Mekong.

What A Catch

In 2016, as part of the River Monsters series with Animal Planet, British TV presenter/biologist Jeremy Wade caught and released the critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish that can sometimes be larger than its captor.

The world’s largest freshwater fish can weigh up to 300kg and grow to a length of 3m and is part of the natural wonder of South East Asia; a repository for diverse treasures that money cannot buy…or can it?

The Mekong in Laos is a prime target for economic gains in the form of dams being built for green energy. The Xayaburi hydroelectric dam is a massive and controversial engineering project suffering the ongoing side effects of the 19th century Industrial Revolution. 

The first of 11 dams planned for the lower Mekong, it is backed by foreign private capital or Chinese state-backed firms, and aims to make Laos ‘the battery of Southeast Asia’. The bulk of the electricity generated will be fed to wealthier neighbour, Thailand.

But this has faced some pushback in recent months, with the construction of the Sanakham Dam, as Thailand’s energy policy’s reliance on electricity imported from Laos is called into question.

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The dam building in the Mekong follows on from a similar programme in China’s Yunnan province, which is meant to alleviate flooding but could also alter the shape of the river flowing downstream.

Example of a fish ladder in the US, which is not entirely effective.

Machinery’s conquest of this serene and ecological landscape is a blasphemous desecration of the river gods. A representative from the Lao Communist Government, flanked by strict surveillance, tells a perplexed Perkins that fish lifts are built in the dam project for fish migration purposes (bonkers?!).

The Mekong Giant Catfish won’t fit in the lifts, and especially when little is known of its migratory pattern, it’s best they leave the river as a virgin habitat.


I grimaced at recent reports of the Mekong drying up and turning into Frankenstein’s monster from dam building, overfishing and sand mining. This calls for intervention with a balanced hand.

Wouldn’t a globally streamed André Rieu concert at the Mekong with a soprano belting out Panis Angelicus help as a start to alleviate poverty? 

I’d donate to the cause of preserving the heritage while presenting the artistic potentiality of the Mekong.

If you have a topic that is of interest, or have someone who would make a good panellist with a thought-provoking perspective on a subject, please email editor@storm-asia.com with your details and a short summary.

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