Ecology and livelihoods


Livelihoods of people living in rural parts of the Mekong Region are closely tied to the Mekong, Ayerwaddy, Salween, Chaophraya, Red and smaller river systems. Livelihood refers to the economic, cultural and other dimensions of ways in which people make a living and create meaning in their lives. Rivers and the ecological functions that they serve play an important role in livelihoods. Appreciating the livelihood significance of hydropower and other aspects of water-based development requires a close understanding of the riverine ecology. Disturbance of the ecological functioning of river systems has implications for fisheries, agriculture, access to clean water for domestic uses as well for the ability of communities to continue to live along rivers that have long served as a lifeline.

Key governance issues:

  • Determining environmental flows from dams and other water regulating infrastructure
  • Measuring catches and consumption of fish
  • Full-cost accounting of ecological values of river systems
  • Retrospective evaluation of livelihood impacts of ecological changes resulting from water resource development
  • River restoration

Current critique and debate:

The livelihood impacts of dams and other water resource development are one of the most contentious issues of large projects. There are several inter-related dimensions of debate. First, the extent of impacts is often underestimated in environmental and social impact assessment as a result of overly simplistic studies of the human ecology of the areas and communities affected. Second, the scoping of impacts is overly constrained geographically and in terms of inter-related resource systems, missing the complex interconnectedness of riverine ecology at different scales. Third, the complex nature of rural livelihoods is missed in overly simplistic assumptions or claims about the dependence of rural communities on their natural environments.

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