The Mekong River, flowing through China, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is home to the world's largest inland fishery and hosts a treasure trove of biodiversity. . The river, also known as the Mother of Rivers in Laos, is the country’s economic and spiritual lifeline. Along its riverbanks, riparian villagers farm on its fertile soil, fish from its waters, and mine for gold hidden in its belly. For centuries, these communities have been producing and reproducing with knowledge of weather patterns and of the river’s ecosystem. However, this capacity to subsist independently is now under threat. Landlocked Laos is currently constructing the first hydropower dam planned for the mainstream Lower Mekong River, despite strong oppositions from its neighbours. Environmental experts warn that the Xayaburi Dam would cause significant and irreversible damage to the river's ecosystems and affect the lives of these communities, which include many of the region’s poorest people.
According to the 1995 Mekong Agreement, a treaty on transboundary water cooperation, the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam must jointly approve the project before it can proceed. Despite that and concerns raised over the Xayabouri’s dam's considerable transboundary impacts and the significant opposition expressed to the project by the region's people, Laos began construction activities in late 2010. Its expected date of completion is 2019. Spearheaded by Thai developer, Ch. Karnchang Public Company and financed by 4 major Thai banks, the US$ 3.8 billion Xayabouri dam project is expected to generate 1,260 megawatts of electricity, around 95% of which will be exported to Thailand.
For this story, I travelled by boat along the area designated as reservoir for the dam. During the journey, I encountered villagers who will be affected by the dam project. In portraying the various ways they create their livelihoods, I seek to highlight their subsistence relationship with the Mekong River, one that will soon disappear.