The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future

Osborne, Milton. The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.

To follow up on: “Between 1969 and 1997 Cambodia’s total forest cover has been reduced by 30 percent. If the present rate of logging continues the country’s forest reserves will be exhausted by 2003” World Bank Report 1998

Length: 4 800 km
Drainage Basin: 795 000 sq km

Mekong – Alternate Names
Thailand: Mae Nam Khong ‘Mother of the Waters’
China: Dza Chu ‘River of Rocks’
China: Lacang Jiang ‘Turbulent River’
Cambodia: Tonle Thom ‘Great River’
Vietnam: Song Lon ‘Great River’
Vietnam: Song Cuu Long ‘Nine Dragons River’

From Publishers Weekly
“The Mekong River, which begins in windswept, upland Tibet and runs through China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, has a rich history, the subject of Osborne’s pathbreaking, ecologically informed chronicle. Beginning with the fifth-century Khmer empire and the magnificent Angkor temple complex, his brisk narrative moves on to a colorful account of 16th-century explorers, missionaries and merchants who vied for supremacy in the region. Osborne retraces the French Mekong Expedition of 1866-1868, which he calls a heroic, epic endeavor, but he also emphasizes the bloody repression and inequities fostered by French colonialism. From 1966 onward came multiple tragedies–years of relentless American bombing, the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, massacres of Vietnamese living in Cambodia, imposition of harsh communist regimes–and Osborne, a former Australian diplomat, U.N. advisor and author of seven books on Southeast Asia, graphically records the human costs to the Mekong region’s inhabitants. The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s rice basket, thanks to centuries of canal building, and the fish in Cambodia’s Great Lake, linked to a Mekong tributary, provide 60% of Cambodia’s protein intake. Although China’s hydroelectric dam-building projects pose the threat of declining fish catches and disruption of subsistence agriculture, China has shown scant concern for the environmental consequences. Clear-felling of timber, disastrous floods, pollution and an AIDS epidemic also threaten the Mekong civilizations. Although Osborne’s amalgam of travel, reportage and history is not quite the full-bodied cultural saga the river deserves, his book is a pulsating journey through the heart of Southeast Asia.”

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