In winter of 2009 people from two lower Mekong basin countries gathered on a remote tributary in a village of 500 accessible only by river. A generator provided a few evening hours of power. Several hydroelectric dams were under construction on the river. They were not meeting to discuss the dams. They were there to meet as river people. Across borders and from different areas of the Mekong – they were all river people.
The people of the lower Mekong have different languages, cultures and beliefs. Politics and economics differ between the Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In some places the river courses over rapids and between steep canyon walls. In others it meanders through seasonal wetlands. What all river communities have in common is a deep history of daily life tied to the river. That’s how the meeting was explained to the handful of tourists present.
River communities also share pressure from large scale projects that will change that way of life. Some expect significant, unwanted and dangerous changes without local planning or input. Others see opportunity, want modernization and are pragmatic about their options.
The Columbia River basin connects much of the northwest United States. There are striking similarities and connections between the Columbia and the Mekong. A chance 2009 conversation between Mekong river people and a few curious tourists led directly to The One River Project. You are invited to join that conversation.