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May 25, 2023


Having just returned from Thailand, where a bottle of Thai Mekhong whiskey is present in most hotel rooms, I was reminiscing about Mekhong whiskey and the plight of the Mekong River.  Note that the name for the river is spelled differently than the name for the whiskey which has been modified in some modern refinement in English.  Mekong literally means the mother of water though the English spelling of the whiskey is more in line with the actual Thai pronunciation.  Over the years, I have had my fair share of Mekhong and spent considerable time on the Mekong River.  Just so you know, Mekhong is a proper whiskey that has been improved over the years to become a popular cult drink in some circles.  The bottle shown below would retail for some $145 per bottle in western shops.  A Napa cabernet sauvignon wine would be infinitely more attractive to me at the same price – though to each his own.

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Have no worries about the supply of Mekhong whiskey no matter what happens to the Mekong River.  However, there are far more worrisome consequences as the river shrinks in size and water flow.  The Mekong River is the world’s twelfth longest river originating in Tibet and flowing through six Asian countries: China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia.  The Mekong is home to 65 million people of which 80% live in the lower part of the basin.  Therefore, as big brother China builds dams for power generation and extracts more water for agricultural purposes, the downstream populations will suffer. As shown below in the Thai northeastern province of Nong Khai, sand dunes are popping up which have been caused by the dams built on the river in China and Laos.

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The Bangkok Post reported that civil society groups are urging the governments of Thailand and Cambodia to shift their Mekong River policy towards protecting ecosystems and promoting environmental justice.  The environmental campaigners and activists tried to make this an issue in the recent Thai election, but it was lost in the flurry over more immediate issues affecting the country like personal freedoms. The mantra among the environmentalists is to reverse the current stance towards hydropower investment in favor of protecting the river’s rich biological treasures and unique ecosystems, as well as the environmental rights of local communities across the region.  Shown below is an image of existing dams, those under construction and planned along the river.

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Not surprising, the evil empire of China is the major culprit of this effort, though they are not alone.  Moreover, it should also come as no surprise that China provides financial support to impoverished Laos and Cambodia as well to build dams.  As neither country has the financial capacity to repay the loans, they will ultimately become vassal states of China.  The governments along the Mekong tend to view the river merely in terms of economic development and investment opportunity while ignoring that it is an important source of food and income for people.  Oddly, Environment Minister Say Sam Al of Cambodia indicates his government has no concern about hydropower projects on the Mekong, as it seems to advance economic prosperity and enhance cooperation between Mekong countries to establish an ASEAN Power Grid. 


On the other hand, Sithirith Mak, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Environmental Unit at the Cambodia Development Resources Institute, insisted the threat from hydropower dams to the environment is very real.  Moreover, Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest and most significant wetland biosphere of the Mekong River Basin, has been damaged by the impact of upstream hydropower dams, said Mr. Sithirith. 


A typical village on Tonle Sap Lake is shown below which will be among the first places to be impacted by the shrinking of the Mekong River Basin.  The fragility of their lives is evident and they will be among the first to endure the end of a lifestyle that has continued for centuries.  Economic prosperity for the “fat cat” ministers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is hardly worth the destruction of lives for many others living on the margins.

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Our products are from Asian elephant countries offered to fund programs for the families and their 300 elephants in Baan Ta Klang, northeast Thailand. Your support enables us to provide two native English-speaking teachers in the village as well as underwrite a portion of the veterinary services for the elephants.

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