Tackling the Issues of Youth in the Mekong

Tackling the Issues of Youth in the Mekong

Om Vanna, a Cambodian environmental activist presents her environmental works to the group of young Mekong environmental activists from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Photo: Seiha Tiep/Oxfam

Nature can survive without us but we can’t live without nature
Om Vanna, 25

Whilst the natural resources in the Mekong are shrinking day by day, a group of young Mekong environmental activists from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam came together in a two-day regional reflection workshop in January organized by Oxfam’s Mekong Youth program to discuss the challenges they face and find ways to cope with the issues.

Om Vanna, a 25 year old female environmental activist from a youth organization called Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), said without any hesitation in front of other youth in the region that “Nature can survive without us but we can’t live without nature."

However, Vanna said the current issues that youth and communities also face are the limitations of knowledge and awareness on how to protect natural resources. As a result, this means they can often appear to be in-active and disinterested to participate in the protection of Mekong Resources. The fact is they are interested but need to know how to protect their natural resources.

Ko Thaike, a Burmese campaigner for protecting the natural resources including rivers and fish shares his concerned over the hydropower developments could contribute to high risk for livelihood and environment. Photo: Seiha Tiep/Oxfam.

A young campaigner from Myanmar who fights to protect the natural resources including rivers and fish, Ko Thaike, said “local people never destroy their own resources and environment. They’ve never caused any problems for their river, it is only outsiders.”

The group of young Mekong environmental activists from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam put together the action plans for promoting a better environment along the Mekong mainstream. Photo: Seiha Tiep/Oxfam.

Other young environmental activists participating in the workshop also expressed their concern over the recent increase in hydropower construction projects along the Mekong river, which are having a huge impact on the livelihood of communities and have caused the reduction of fish and agriculture products from river gardens.

Approximately 717 million young people aged 15 to 24 are living in the Asia-Pacific region and they are about 60 percent of the world youth population, according to UN ESCAP.

This high proportion of youth in the region could be the key to ensuring the sustainability of natural resources because they are full of energy, innovative ideas and motivation, especially when they are experiencing the challenge of an environment where natural resources are being destroyed, according to Oxfam’s youth officer, Thavin So.

As suggested in the workshop by Oxfam’s Water Governance advisor, Hans Van Poppel, “the earlier we involve youth, the better it is.” Hans said it is a good strategy to engage with youth organizations and support them to increase their understanding of the issues. As a matter of natural logic, Hans said we know youth will take over governance from the present generation and they should be well informed and prepared.

Since 2014, Oxfam has engaged around 7000 young people and about 3360 of them are young women in the Mekong region. The program helps create opportunities for youth groups like Thaike and Vanna to increase their leadership skills in water resource management; provide a flexible and supportive environment for young women and men, and strengthen the participation and leadership of young people in decision making processes on Mekong Water resource management.

During the workshop Thaike and others identified a slogan to represent their belief:  “THE MEKONG RIVER IS OUR MOTHER” and they urged the Asian governments to listen, consult, and respect the rights of local communities who often are affected by the big development companies.

“Youth is very important for every country. They are the future of the country. We hope governments will listen to young people more when they make any decisions on the natural resource or hydropower investment projects,” said Thaike.