Mekong River – Quick, Look Before it’s Gone

In pictures: Damming Laos’ Mekong River – In Pictures – Al Jazeera English.

A total of 11 large hydropower dams are planned by the governments of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, while China has already completed five dams on the Mekong’s upper reaches, with another three under construction. China is also the driving force behind a cascade of dams on the Nam Ou River, a tributary of the Mekong in northern Laos.

Environmentalists fear these dams’ impact on fish numbers may have a devastating effect on food security and biodiversity in the region.

These countries are under intense pressure to industrialize and provide jobs for the people flooding into their cities.  Since factories require electricity, these dams are part of the vicious cycle – more displaced people needing more jobs.

The river also supplies the livelihood of millions of people.  How will damming it affect them?  The people most directly affected by this had no voice in the decision – how just is that?  What will become of the species that coexist with the river?  How will the changes affect the ecosystem of Indochina?  What would happen if these governments decided not to build the dams?

Ho Chi Minh City

h/t to Environmental Geography

The theme of Movement, an elaborate ballet of traffic in the former Saigon, Vietnam

Count Your Blessings

	 Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times  Dao Ngoc Phung, center, is obsessed with education as a way for the family to get ahead. She devotes herself to overseeing the schoolwork by her younger brother, Tien, and sister, Huong.

via Girls Just Want to Go to School – NYTimes.com.

Phung wakes her brother and sister, and then after breakfast they all trundle off to school. For Phung, that means a 90-minute bicycle ride each way. She arrives at school 20 minutes early to be sure she’s not late.

In a poor village in Vietnam,  Phung dreams of being an accountant.  During the week, she is the parent to her younger siblings while her father works in the city.  Their mother died of cancer a few years ago.

But Phung, and millions of other Asians in poor situations like hers, persevere because they know that education is their only hope to lift them out of poverty.

For all the differences between Vietnam and America, here’s a common truth: The best way to sustain a nation’s competitiveness is to build human capital. I wish we Americans, especially our politicians, could learn from Phung that our long-term strength will depend less on our aircraft carriers than on the robustness of our kindergartens, less on financing spy satellites than on financing Pell grants.

We have the luxury of a outstanding public education system, and few of our students have a 90 minute bike ride to attend their local school.  We need to do a better job of convincing children and their parents that it matters, or we’ll end up with Vietnam outsourcing their jobs to us.

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