The Mekong River is more than 4 300 kilometres long. It starts from the Tibetan Plateau and meanders through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The number of species in the river is among the largest in the world and the fish caught from the river accounts for as much as 80 per cent of the protein needs of the poorest people in the region.
The Southeast Asian economies are growing rapidly and consumption of electricity increases as much as ten per cent each year. Hydropower is an important form of electricity generation, especially for China and Laos. Dozens of large dams have been built in the river area and an additional 100 are planned. In addition to producing electricity, the dams change the flow of the river and reduce the fish catch downstream. For this reason, construction of hydropower burdens the relations between the countries in the region.
In 2008–2014 Finland supported the regional Mekong River Commission for many years. The commission promotes negotiations on the use of the Mekong water resources between the countries in the region by conducting studies and impact assessments. In 2010 Finland supported the assessment of the impacts of the dams in the Mekong mainstream. The assessment was the first document producing an overview of the impacts of the dams and provided the countries on the river with options for developing the mainstream. The information has helped the countries to negotiate on the construction of the dams and on reducing their negative impacts on fishing, an extremely important industry in the region.
Photo: Marko Keskinen, graphics: Juho Hiilivirta