This award supports the travel and maintenance costs for a project-planning visit to Vietnam and Laos. The participants are the PI, Dr. Monique Leclerc, a senior US scientist; one junior scientist, her post-doctoral associate, an Hispanic female; and four additional senior US scientists representing a complementary array of expertise as well as a broad institutional and geographical distribution across the US. This group of six US scientists will travel first to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and then on to Vientiane, Laos. In both locations, they would meet extensively with local partners to plan a large proposal to be submitted at a later date. The objective of this visit is to plan a comprehensive research project that, if funded, will focus on the entire Mekong River environment, including not just the hydrology and biology of the river, but also the effects of new dams upstream on agriculture, on microclimates, on forestry, on land mammals in the Mekong drainage, and on human populations. This broad-based approach to analyzing the effects of damming of the Mekong sets this project apart from so many other Mekong-based projects, and it has the potential to bring in many different partners including US and local government agencies, non-governmental organizations such as WWF and The Nature Conservancy to support planning and environmental protection as well as involvement of young researchers in a comprehensive study.
This is an OISE grant with the purpose of gathering information. An exploratory mission took place in the form of a visit by PI Monique Y. Leclerc and by co-PIs Prof. John M. Norman. These two PIs went to Chiang Mai University to participate in an international conference on the Mekong and there made invaluable connections which enabled the visit to the Mekong region by creating, building and strengthening contacts at governmental levels and at vice-president levels and at the scientists levels throughout the four key Mekong countries of ASEAN. A meeting with the Vice-President of the University took place which then paved the way for the second leg of the mission of the present grant. The visit of the Mekong River bordering countries was done and facilitated by our ASEAN partners. The level of complexity of the land bordering the Mekong River, the level of patchiness of the landscape, and the speed of changes occurring at record pace in this region were noted. Interviews with local businessmen, with government officials, with dam operators, and with social researchers and scientists and river hydrologists were conducted. The role of China in the changes of the hydrological regime of the Mekong River was noted along with the limited power of the downstream countries from three of the world's largest dams placed recently in the mainstream of the Mekong. Many short-term and longer-term achievements arose as a result. The short-term achievements resulted in the form of the development of a network of university officials and university faculty working together to develop a roadmap which could be used to put together a scientific/social project evaluating the impact of the proposed acceleration of construction of dams along the Mekong. The main Mekong River was one of the few rivers in the world which had not been dammed. The proposed intensification of hydro-electric development of the Mekong threatened the hydrological, agricultural production with socio-economic consequences that are mixed but overall widely perceived by environmentalist groups as negative. The breakthrough came with the involvement of the Thai business elite with private discussions, which shows that, despite the large economic revenues to Thailand and to Laos mostly, the environmental consequences and the long-term adverse impacts are highly likely to tip the balance toward food insecurity and overall new and emerging socio-economic problems. The recommendation was thus made that, prior to embarking on a rapid development of the hydro-electric development of the Mekong, a careful and extensive scientific and socio-economic study ought to be undertaken. This recommendation pointed out that a moratorium on further damming of the Mekong River ought to be set in place until more is known about the outcomes. An important 10 year moratorium on further dam building along the main steam of the Mekong River was ratified at the ASEAN Summit. This project was a seed-type proposal. It enabled a post doc, Dr. Luciana Pires, a double minority, to gain experience in the grant writing process; it also enabled her to hone her skills in the planning of major international multilateral projects.