The Mekong River basin, which supports an estimated 60 million people, is one of the most important environmental and economic regions in Southeast Asia. The greater Mekong subregion (GMS) is home to a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial species as well as historic/cultural sites, making it a prime tourist destination. The region also is rapidly becoming industrialized. Numerous industrialized countries have located factories in the GMS. Although economic development and conservation of natural resources frequently are opposing agendas, we have to find a means to make them more compatible.
This region is particularly important because of the abundance of water supplied by Mekong River. This water must be managed in appropriate manner. In developed countries, environmental engineers have applied highly sophisticated water and wastewater treatment processes. However, such processes consume immense amounts of fossil fuel and may fall short of sustainability in the near future. The water management processes employed in industrialized countries may not be appropriate for the GMS.
Moreover, the risk of floods and the potential for contamination from industry, agriculture and fisheries are concerns that must be addressed in any plans for the region. Exacerbating the difficulties in planning for water management is the fact that the Mekong River is an international river, running through 6 countries in Southeast Asia. Control of the river as a means of transport of waterborne disease is yet another concern, aggravated by limited epidemiological and immunological information. A novel approach to sustain the water environment in the Mekong River basin needs to be developed.