Development Of The Greater Mekong Delta Region

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is not technically a geological region, but rather, a development project that was initiated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1992. The Great Mekong Subregion brings together the countries bordering the Mekong River basin, namely Cambodia, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Vietnam, and the Yunnan Province of China. The goals of the Greater Mekong Subregion project are to enhance the economic relations of the participating countries in nine key sectors: agriculture, energy, human resource development, the environment, investment, telecommunications, tourism development, transport infrastructure, and trade facilitation.  The Chinese in particular have been aggressive in promoting development of the Mekong region.

In addition, the ADB and other development partners are assisting the Greater Mekong Subregion participating Mekong Delta region countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set forth by the United Nations through increased connectivity, improved competitiveness, and a greater sense of community.

Although the Mekong Delta river region may be associated in some peoples minds with Apache helicopters flying low over rice paddies, imagery stamped on the minds of many from the Vietnam War, the Greater Mekong Subregion today is considered a significant biodiverse region by international environmental organizations. The Mekong Delta area is also very diverse in its' geographic variety. This variety of climatic zones supports significant biodiversity. Over the past ten years more than 1068 new species were discovered in the region.  The Mekong Delta region contains habitats for an estimated 20,000 plant species and rare seeds, 1,300 fish species, 1,200 bird species, 800 reptile and amphibian species, and 430 mammal species. Notable mekong fish species found in the Mekong River and surrounding Mekong Delta environment include the Javan rhino, Irrawaddy dolphins, and Mekong giant catfish, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world.  The Mekong fish species alone represent a significant understudied population of biodiversity.  The wildlife could also be leveraged in promoting mekong tourism.

Conservation International ranks the Greater Mekong Subregion's biodiversity among the top five most threatened areas in the world. The primary threats according to the WWF are accelerating economic development, population growth and increased consumption patterns, including agricultural deforestation, logging and illegal timber trade, wildlife trade, overfishing, dam and road construction, and mining. The WWF also states that the Mekong river region is particularly vulnerable to global climate change.

China has been most active in the development push in the Mekong region in its' aggressive bid to secure access to natural resources in Indochina, develop its markets, expand its' dominating influence in the region and develop transportation links.  China has formed especially close ties to the Burmese government - the country is also known as Myanmar.  The Chinese have recently announced a project to develop a high speed rail line from China, through the region and all the way to Singapore.  Whether recent democratization reforms in Burma may affect this relationship remain to be seen.

It remains to be seen whether development of the Greater Mekong Subregion will ultimately prove to be a positive change for the people in the Mekong Delta region or whether the negative effects of development, particularly on the environment will outweigh any positive economic impacts.  A shift toward sustainable development with a focus on local and sustainable mekong tourism protecting mekong delta wildlife and mekong fish species would be a welcome change but one that doesn't appear to be on the horizon for the Greater Mekong Subregion any time in the near future.