The book that follows deals with one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong. The twelfth largest in length, it is, for reasons that I examine in the text, still surprisingly little known by comparison with other great rivers such as the Nile or Amazon. Yet the Mekong and the lands that lie beside it possess a turbulent history and face major contemporary political social and economic problems, and so an uncertain future.
I completed the manuscript for the first edition of this book in 1999 and it was published the following year. At that time, I drew attention to possible future developments that could damage the river’s ecology. But while I wrote of these possibilities, I did not anticipate just how quickly some of them would come to pass. In particular, China’s program for the construction of more dams on the upper reaches of the river has moved at a faster pace than was generally expected. And, at the same time, the plans for clearing obstacles in the river’s bed to facilitate navigation between Yunnan and northern Thailand, which were only under discussion in 1999, have since become reality. Both these developments mean that the good health of the river is, at the very least, at risk.
Because the text of the first edition tells a story that was complete in itself up to the time of publication, I have retained what I wrote in 1999. Instead of wholesale revision of the existing chapters dealing with the construction of new dams and the completion of one phase of river clearances, I have added an account of what has taken place over the last six years in the final chapter, now titled ‘Update and Epilogue’. In its closing sections this chapter retains its character as my personal tribute to a great river in its many guises.
While I never planned to do so, I have spent 46 fascinated years in close association with the Mekong – living beside it, travelling on it and studying its...