Last Days of the Mighty Mekong. By Brian Eyler.

AuthorYeophantong, Pichamon
PositionBook review

Last Days of the Mighty Mekong. By Brian Eyler. London, UK: Zed Books, 2019. Softcover: 365pp.

Popularly described as the lifeblood that courses through mainland Southeast Asia, the Mekong River has constantly been under threat--whether from the forces of unbridled modernization, human encroachment or the increasingly visible effects of climate change. In addition to sustaining over 60 million people within the basin, the Mekong also serves to nourish a complex ecosystem that underpins the region's unique biodiversity. Given the river's centrality to Southeast Asia's natural environment and socioeconomic development, one might expect a flurry of cooperation between the riparian governments and other stakeholders to protect the river and its resources. And yet, the challenges which the Mekong now faces are ones that similarly bedevil other transboundary rivers: contending interests, power asymmetries and weak institutional governance.

Brian Eyler's Last Days of the Mighty Mekong is a very welcome contribution to the ever-expanding literature on the Mekong River and the politics that surround its governance. Written in engaging and compelling prose, Last Days paints a dynamic picture of the lives, livelihoods and ecosystems that have become intimately intertwined with the river's--at times, unnatural--ebbs and flows. Through thought-provoking anecdotes and quotes from prominent activists and Mekong experts, Eyler succeeds in weaving together a narrative that, while well-known to those working on the Mekong's governance, is nevertheless steeped in interesting observations and an important insight: although the construction of hydropower dams is undoubtedly an, if not the most, exigent threat to the river, the personal choices of individuals and their consequences can also serve as critical variables that can "disrupt and potentially bring an end to the social and ecological nexus" (p. 19) undergirding the Mekong and the invaluable services it provides.

Indeed, one of the notable themes of Last Days is that of "connectivity" (p. 338), understood here not only as the hard infrastructure which Mekong governments and regional organizations like the Asian Development Bank are seeking to build, but also in terms of the environmental and sociocultural flows that intersect within the basin. Over the course of ten chapters, Eyler travels from the Tibetan village of Yubeng down to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Each chapter reveals a rich tapestry of...

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