This summer I worked as an intern for the Face-to-Face AIDS Project in Cambodia. While in Cambodia, I made many environmental observations. To me, the most significant environmental issue in Cambodia is the condition of the Mekong River, which flows through China's Yunnan Province, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
In Phnom Penh, the capital of the country, Cambodians gather every evening along the river's edge to socialize, exercise and eat. During the day, fisherman are seen pulling in nets to their wooden boats. On one of my first nights in Phnom Penh, I was sitting on a balcony with a friend, overlooking the Mekong River. While enjoying the company of my friend and the view below me, I reflected on how essential the river is to Cambodian culture and life. I also reflected on how visually polluted the river appears.
Soon enough, I became knowledgeable of the many problems currently facing the Mekong River. Many scientists have agreed that the Mekong is seriously polluted. Concerning the river's wildlife, a unique species called the Mekong River dolphin is said to be on the brink of extinction by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The WWF blames pollution for the vanishing species.
Touch Seang Tana, a Cambodian environmentalist, says that a number between 150 and 170 of the dolphins are living today. Two major contributions to the pollution of the Mekong River are an increase in pesticide and fertilizer use and the expansion of catfish farming.
Luckily, awareness about the fragility of the Mekong River dolphin is being raised not just in Cambodia, but internationally, as well. Many tourists go on self-claimed "eco tours" in hopes of catching a glimpse of the animal. Rules and regulations on fishing have been made. The extent to which the species is followed remains questionable. From my personal observations of the river, which is coffee brown and often foamy, it is clear that the Mekong River, and its wildlife, need to be protected seriously, and soon.