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MOTHER OF WATERFor centuries, the Mekong river has been the life and soul of mainland Southeast Asia. The “Mother of Water”, as her name loosely translates, is the lifeblood of some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, and home to more than 300 million people from over one-hundred ethnic groups. It is a living temple to hundreds of spirit figures from various traditions, which are believed to protect the river and those who live in its vicinity. The Mekong River Region is a powerful representation of the inter-connected, perpetual cycles of life and of nature, and one of very few places in the world that demonstrates so dramatically the importance of a sustainable and symbiotic interaction between humans and the eco-systems they inhabit. In recent years, it has become a worrying example of how delicate that balance is, as human beings continue to undermine it for short-term prosperity.The Mekong is one of six major river systems that originate high on the Tibetan Plateau, in a glacier-rich environment considered by scientists to be Earth’s ‘Third Pole’, due to the amount of frozen fresh water it stores. From its source at Lasagongma Springs, the Mekong takes a near-5000km journey through six countries and several climate zones before emptying into the South China Sea, in southern Vietnam. Humans have thrived in the Mekong River Region for more than 4000 years. Today, an estimated 80 percent of regional inhabitants depend on the river’s healthy, natural eco-systems for food, culture and livelihood: the Tonle Sap tributary alone constitutes the world’s largest inland fishery, providing more than the combined annual output of North America’s commercial and recreational freshwater fisheries, and 70-80% of the annual protein intake for the entire population of Cambodia. Downstream, in Vietnam, the river delta provides irrigation for the region’s extensive rice-growing industry, making Vietnam the third-largest rice exporter in the world. Meanwhile, the wetlands of the lower basin absorb potentially disastrous annual monsoon waters, and create an ideal environment for freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture. The unique environment provides a home to an abundance of wildlife, which facilitate a growing eco-tourism sector.Yet, the Mekong is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. The threats presented by development and climate change could create serious and irreversible problems for all those who depend on the Mekong and its tributaries for their livelihoods. As populations boom and once-remote regions transform at a rapid pace, the demands for energy and development solutions create mounting pressures on the region’s natural resources. Large scale dams, roads, and a free-flow of goods and labour across borders, are just a few of the development solutions being implemented by the region’s governments, which, though necessary for the improvement of generally sub-standard living conditions, could be catastrophic to the region in the long-term. The cascading effects of poorly managed infrastructure, deforestation, poor agricultural practice, the loss of important species due to poaching, and the ever-present illegal wildlife trade, are severely altering the environment and delicate eco-systems. The ongoing degradation of these eco-systems will ultimately decrease their productive capacity, and in turn, their ability to provide for people living in The Region. With the understanding that climate change is no longer a threat but a reality, it is essential that development of the Mekong River Region be planned and implemented in a sustainable way. If things continue the way they are at the moment, and the problems facing the Mekong escalate, the region faces the very real threat of natural resource conflict.