Beyond the Mekong

Screaming for Mercy, All Along the Mekong

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Beyond the Mekong | Environment | Southeast Asia

Screaming for Mercy, All Along the Mekong

A conversation with the veteran British journalist and filmmaker Tom Fawthrop.

Screaming for Mercy, All Along the Mekong
Credit: Luke Hunt

British journalist and filmmaker Tom Fawthrop has delivered his latest documentary on the plight of the Mekong River amid ongoing dam construction, climate change, and a drought that appears to have ended with this year’s heavy rains.

“A River Screams for Mercy: Murdering the Mekong” follows efforts by local activists demanding a moratorium on dam construction, but their calls too often fall on deaf ears among authorities who stand to profit.

Working for a range of publications – including Mongabay, The Ecologist, The Diplomat, China Dialogue, and the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog – Fawthrop has covered Southeast Asia since 1979, reporting on conflicts and peacemaking in Cambodia, Timor-Leste, and the Philippines.

But in recent his years his focus has settled on the Mekong and the plight of 70 million people who rely on the river for their daily protein, with his investigations also conducted as a researcher for Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.

His documentary work has been broadcast by Channel 4 in the U.K., SBS in Australia, and Al Jazeera TV.

Fawthrop spoke with The Diplomat’s Luke Hunt about the dangers confronted by environmentalists which have substantially increased since the disappearance in Laos of the community development worker, Sombath Somphone, 10 years ago.

“Simply to be an environmentalist is to be labeled a dissident,” he says.

Of particular concern is yet another cluster of dams to be built across the river in Laos, which were initially designed to turn the tiny landlocked country into the “battery of Asia” through hydro-power electricity.

But technological advances on an industrial scale in solar, wind and other alternative power sources could make those dams redundant before they are even completed.