Mekong River Facts

The Mekong River flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. It is incredibly important to local economies and cultures as a means of communication, irrigation, and production.

Its vastness allows for an abundance of fish species to thrive there, making it an important part of the region’s food security. Additionally, the wetlands found along its length provide valuable ecosystem services to wildlife and humans.

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Mekong River Facts for Kids

  • The Mekong River is 2,703 miles long.
  • It flows through 6 countries: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam.
  • Mekong is home to over 1,000 species of fish.
  • The wetlands along the river provide valuable ecosystem services.
  • The Mekong provides irrigation and transportation for local economies.
  • It’s one of the world’s most important rivers for food security.

The Mekong River and its importance

The Mekong River is an integral part of the social, economic, and cultural fabric of Southeast Asia. It runs through six countries: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For millions of people who live along its banks, the Mekong provides a vital source of livelihood – from food and transportation to employment opportunities.

Economically, the Mekong Delta region in Vietnam serves as one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. As well as providing for domestic consumption, its fertile lands support an export industry for rice and other valuable crops. The river’s waters also offer a rich resource for fishing with plentiful species that are found nowhere else on earth.

Culturally the importance of the Mekong cannot be overstated. Generations have lived alongside it and take pride in their local heritage, which includes music, art, literature, and shared spiritual practices connected to this river.

Ecologically, the Mekong is also remarkable – one of the most biodiverse regions on our planet, supporting over 1,000 fish species, 200 of which can’t be found anywhere else. This rich ecosystem gives home to many critically endangered animals, such as Irrawaddy Dolphin, Giant Catfish, Mekong Giant Softshell Turtle, and numerous other plants and wildlife.

The impact of dams on the Mekong

Current dams on the river include

  • The Manwan Dam in China which was completed in 1995
  • The Dachaoshan Dam, also in China, was completed in 2003
  • The Xiaowan Dam, also in China, was completed in 2012
  • The Don Sahong Dam in Laos, which began operating in 2019
  • The Pak Beng Dam in Laos is currently under construction and expected to be completed in 2023.

The Positives 

Dams offer many solutions for a variety of purposes. Electricity can be used to light homes and power factories in areas with limited sources.

Water flow can be regulated to guard against drought or flooding, creating safety for crops and communities.

Recreation options bring engaging activities to life, such as swimming, boating, and fishing. Irrigation provides opportunities for more efficient farming, yielding plentiful food for people and animals alike. Dams provide multitudinous benefits with far-reaching effects.

 The Negatives

The Mekong River is facing a major threat from proposed dam construction along its length. If built, these dams would significantly affect the river and its ecosystems, as well as the local communities and economies that rely on it.

One of the most pressing concerns is their effect on fish migration. Many species of fish migrate up and down the river to spawn.

If blocked by dams, they could suffer significant population declines with negative impacts on food security and fishing industry livelihoods in the region.

The construction of dams would also bring big changes to the river’s biodiversity. The Mekong is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, and alterations to water flow and temperature caused by the dams could disrupt species balance, potentially leading to changes in ecosystem services such as fisheries or other resources needed by local communities.

On top of this, there are concerns about displacement, economic hardship, and loss of livelihood for those who depend on the river for their daily subsistence – such as farmers and fishermen – should these dams be constructed.

Important Facts and Overview

The Mekong River is one of Asia’s great rivers, winding its way through six countries. It originates in Tibet, then flows through China (until it becomes known as the Lancang Jiang), Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea.

During the rainy season, from May to October each year, the river swells dramatically, which can cause floods and devastation. However, during the dry season, from November to April, runoff reduces significantly, causing an annual drop of up to 95 percent of the river flow in certain places.

The Mekong supplies vital resources for people living along its banks, including fresh water for agriculture and hydropower generation. Major cities along its course, such as Phnom Penh and Vientiane, are dependent on it for transportation as well as economic growth.

In northern Laos, near its source stands Khone Falls, one of Southeast Asia’s greatest waterfalls which measures nearly 9km wide during the high-flow season. It is said that no boat can travel upstream past these rapids, making them a formidable natural barrier throughout history.

The river runs through China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is the world’s 12th longest river and very important to millions of people who rely on its resources. Here are some facts about the Mekong River:

The water level in the Mekong fluctuates significantly during the course of a single year. During low periods, it is still navigable, while during high periods, it can be extraordinarily dangerous for regular shipping vessels.

The Irrawaddy River in Myanmar is another major tributary of the Mekong River Basin, which also includes numerous other smaller tributaries.

One unique species found only in the Mekong (nowhere else on earth) is the endangered river dolphin known as ‘lancang jiang’. Its numbers have declined dramatically due to overfishing, pollution, and ships operating without regard for their safety.

Over 60 million people from six different countries rely on the rich biodiversity and fisheries of the Mekong River basin for food security and economic livelihoods.

The entire basin contains over 1000 species of freshwater fish, which are an important source of protein for locals and support local businesses with fish products that make their way to regional markets around Southeast Asia.