The Mekong River is undergoing urban and industrial development, displacing its local populations and ecosystems.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Mekong River is undergoing urban and industrial development, displacing its local populations and ecosystems.

March 6, 2019

Brian Eyler To Discuss Environmental Changes in the Mekong River on Thursday

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The “Mighty Mekong” River, which winds through Southeast Asia, is slowly ceding its might in “one of the most over-engineered places on earth,” argues Brian Eyler, who studies this phenomenon, in his latest book.

Eyler, director of the Stimson Center’s South East Asia Program, will introduce “Last Days of the Mighty Mekong” and discuss the changing economic and environmental landscape of the Mekong River basin at a seminar on Thursday.

Eyler, an expert on Southeast Asian transboundary issues, spent more than 15 years living in China before penning his book.

Eyler told The Sun that his book seeks to “represent views that typically aren’t voiced” in conversations surrounding the Mekong river basin, an area which stretches across China and five Southeast Asian countries.

“Throughout the whole book … there are over 100 individuals profiled that are at work, or a part of communities in the Mekong,” Eyler said.

Many of these people are integral to the economic community of the Mekong, according to Eyler, and they feel the mixed effects of decades of suboptimal environmental management.

“I want the reader to walk away with an understanding of knowing why the Mekong system is so unique … and also what the threats [to the region] are, including climate change and upstream dams, poor investment decisions,” Eyler said.

Hydroelectric power projects in the Mekong are one example Eyler poses of how modernizing change affects the region. While the dams brought hydro-electric power to the region, they negatively affected the basin’s ecosystem — dams have disrupted the flow of “water and sediment, which is extremely important for farming and food land for that fish population.”

The Mekong River in Southeast Asia is home to 2.6 million tons of fresh-water fish of more than 1000 different species — all of which are threatened by the area’s modernization, Eyler said.

Eyler’s book discusses potential policy solutions officials can take to maintain the basin. He stresses the importance of reorganizing dam projects to look at the downstream impact of the entire dam system as opposed to thinking about these impacts project-by-project.

He believes that environmental managers and specialized government officials in Mekong have the capability to “replace some of these dams with alternative methods for power generation … that provide a great opportunity to conserve the resources of the Mekong.”

When asked what he wants to accomplish with his book, he stressed one point: that everyone should all “go see this part of the world before we can’t any longer.”

Eyler’s talk is hosted by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and the Southeast Asia Program, and will take place at 12:15pm on Thursday in B73 Warren Hall.