Climate change threatens many in Mekong region: WWF

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Changing weather patterns and rising seas are already affecting many people in Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong Basin and climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions more, a report released on Monday shows.

A Cambodian man rows a boat during floods near the Mekong river in Kampong Cham province, 130 km (80 miles) east of Phnom Penh, during floods August 16, 2008. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Intense floods and droughts, coastal erosion, higher seas and heat waves in coming decades threaten rice, fruit and coffee crops and fisheries on which many of the basin’s 65 million people depend, says the report by global conservation group WWF.

“Across the region, temperatures are rising and have risen by 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years,” says the report issued on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in the Thai capital.

“While rainy seasons may contract over parts of the region, overall rainfall is expected to rise. This means more intense rain events when they occur,” it says, threatening crops and triggering floods and landslides.

The basin runs from the Tibetan plateau in China, to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where the Mekong empties into the South China Sea.

The delta produces about half Vietnam’s rice crop and 60 percent of its shrimp harvest. But rising seas and salt water intrusion threaten harvests and would likely displace farmers.

“Large human populations living in low-lying coastal areas and floodplains make the region highly vulnerable to floods, saltwater intrusion, and rising sea levels,” the report said, referring to Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Hanoi.

Delegates from about 180 nations are meeting in Bangkok to try to agree on steps to expand a global effort to fight climate change. The officials are trying to refine a negotiating text that will form the basis of a new climate pact the United Nations hopes will be agreed in December.

Trying to help poorer nations adapt to the impacts of climate change is a key part of the puzzle.


In the Thai capital about 2,000 farmers, fishermen and indigenous people protested in front of the U.N. conference center on Monday demanding rich nations step up efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate justice now,” the crowd chanted, as some beat bamboo drums attached with posters reading: “Protect mother earth, no to corporate greed.”

Indigenous people from countries including the Philippines, Malaysia and Nepal joined the protest.

“We’ve come to bring the farmers’ voice to the U.N.,” shouted a representative from a farmers’ group in Indonesia as farmers in green shirts milled around the gate of the U.N. building.

Developing countries accuse the rich of failing to take the initiative in agreeing to deep emissions cuts and want them to pledge billions in funds to help them adapt to climate change and to green their economies.

Eight protesters in black suits marched with masks of each of the G8 leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama. On the back of the masks were pictures of demons.

The WWF report said more frequent and damaging droughts and floods would lead to major damage to property and loss of life. Access to water would also become tougher in the dry season.

“Warmer temperatures have contributed to declining crop yields. Storms, floods and droughts are destroying entire harvests in the Mekong basin.

“Water scarcity will constrain agricultural production and threaten food security,” it added.

Additional reporting by David Fogarty; Editing by Jerry Norton