The Mekong River runs through Cambodia and Vietnam where it flows out into the South China Sea. This hugely important river is home to a number of floating villages throughout Cambodia and Vietnam. However changes in the river levels and the effects of pollution threaten these established communities and there place in society as well as how they utilise the space around them.
On a boat trip of the Mekong River in July this year I got to see, firsthand, how these floating communities function and how the people interact with the unusual space around them. Within minutes I witnessed a young boy going to the toilet over the side of his floating home, into the river, I saw his neighbour washing her dishes in the same water. Then a young woman passed, in a boat, holding a small baby, who she was feeding with water straight from her palms from the murky water of the river. The poor sanitation of the river causes the people from the villages numerous stomach and intestinal disease because they use the same water to cook, clean, bathe and drink.
Another cause of pollution to the river is from improperly discarded rubbish and pollution from the boats that run up and down all day. The river suffers from unstable water levels, caused by global warming and a nearby dam. The river can sporadically turn from having low water levels to causing large areas of flooding. The quality of the water has worsened rapidly over the past years and therefore affects the number of fish that are able to survive within it. This, in turn, has had a great impact on the livelihoods of the community. The community is largely supported by fishing; however with nothing to catch the economy of these small villages is crumbling.
The government has the task of supporting these villages so they can hold onto their traditional way of life and keep their place on the river as well as their place in history. There was an attempt to incentivise the people to move onto dry land but it failed, Tim Creswell explains why the villagers may have been unable to adapt to life on land ‘within nation states oppressed groups attempt to arrest their own identities’. Now an effort is being made to educate the community and its younger generations. They are taught about sanitation and safe water use. There is also a huge project underway to equip all floating villages with a floating community waste sanitation systems – a floating toilet.
Unfortunatly other problems that are affecting the livelhood of the villagers are due to outside sources who use the Mekong River for dredging. Companies are removing the sediment from the base of the river, to use as a material, without thinking about the effect it has on the surrounding landscape. The change in river flow and collapsing banks effects the people who live on the water and on land.
If a combined effort is made by the villagers, the government and the people on the other side of the globe who see images (like mine) of the villagers a change can be made to save the only place these people call home. Thrift (2003) reminds us to look beyond and around the images we see, wherever you are, because so many images like this one compete for our attention and alter our understanding of the space between us and the issues. We must remember that although a great amount of space stretches between us and the floating villagers, the pollution of the Mekong River indirectly effects us and the planet we all live on. Geography studies the places within places and how each mini habitat effects the next one up.
Cresswell, T. (2004) Place: A short introduction. Blackwell, Oxford Thrift, N. (2003) Space: The Fundemental Stuff of Human Geography. In holloway, S. Rice, P and Valentine, G (eds.) Key Concepts in geography. Sage, London http://www.ges.gla.ac.uk:443/staff/rthomas accessed 09/10/12