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The Mekong River

The Mekong River
The Mekong River (known in Tibet as Dza-chu, China as Lancang Jiang and Thailand as Mae Nam Khong), is a major river in southeastern Asia. It is the longest river in the region. From its source in China's Qinghai Province near the border with Tibet, the Mekong flows generally southeast to the South China Sea, a distance of 4,200 km (2,610 mi). The Mekong crosses Yunnan Province, China, and forms the border between Myanmar (Burma) and Laos and most of the border between Laos and Thailand. It then flows across Cambodia and southern Vietnam into a rich delta before emptying into the South China Sea. In the upper course are steep descents and swift rapids, but the river is navigable south of Luangphrabang in Laos.
The natural resource management issues and priorities differ in each of the countries and the level of development and populations vary significantly. In north-east Thailand, with over 20 million people, the water resources are virtually fully developed and problems are emerging associated with salinisation of arable lands as result of over-clearing of native vegetation and poor irrigation, soil erosion, and declining water quality in the rivers and streams. In Laos, with 5 million people and a much poorer country from a GDP perspective, the water resources are largely undeveloped. Cambodia, with 10 million people, is recovering from decades of war, and in the Mekong delta some 20 million Vietnamese live on some of the most highly productive agricultural land in the world.

In short, the Thai want more water; the Laotians want capital and expertise to develop hydropower for export to Thailand and Vietnam; the Khmers need capital and infrastructure and to secure sustainable fishery resources in the Tonle Sap (Great Lake); and the Vietnamese, while in need of capital for the management of resources, do not want any upstream development to exacerbate salt water intrusion in the Mekong delta during the dry season.

The Tônlé Sap
The Tônlé Sap is a shallow lake in western Cambodia which is part of the Mekong River system. It is the largest lake of Southeast Asia and is fed by numerous streams. During the dry season it drains by the Tônlé Sap River southeast to the Mekong River. During the wet monsoon season of June to November, the high waters of the Mekong River reverse the flow of the Tônlé Sab River and increase the size of the lake from 2,600 to 10,400 sq km (about 1,000 to 4,020 sq mi). When the high waters of the Mekong River recede, the flow reverses. This natural mechanism provides a unique and important balance to the Mekong River down stream of the lake and ensures a flow of fresh water during the dry season into the Mekong delta in Vietnam which buffers the intrusion of salt water from the South China Sea into the rich agricultural lands of the delta.
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