Oxfam America's East Asia Program focuses on the countries of the Lower Mekong river basin – Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. In addition, we contribute to emergency relief programs in Myanmar, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Oxfam America's regional headquarters is located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Families in East Asia continue to face financial and food insecurities with the poorest struggling to get by on less than $2 a day. In Cambodia alone, people spend as much as 70 percent of their income on food; to cope with the rising food prices, many are skipping meals. The scenarios throughout the region are similar, but the causes varied—erratic weather due partly to climate change; little public investment in the agricultural sector; lack of adequate infrastructure and access to basic social services; and ineffective trade and agriculture policies. What are the outcomes? Instability and uncertainty for the poorest families.
Since 1998, Oxfam America has worked to improve the lives of the rural poor in East Asia by speaking out on relevant issues—on their behalf, and in coordination with local communities, civil society organizations, private sector, and governments. Oxfam America offers a broad perspective and experience with investigating problems, providing solutions, implementing programs, and advocating for policies that deliver positive impacts. Our approach focuses on empowering communities to become self-reliant, active citizens so that they are able to make the best decisions to solve their own problems.
In our work to assist communities throughout the East Asia region, Oxfam aims to put emphasis on the plight of women and ethnic minorities, who experience the greatest poverty in the region.
The Mekong under threat
The Mekong is the world's 10th largest river. Rising on the Tibetan plateau and passing through six countries, the Mekong defines Oxfam's work in East Asia. Today, the river's life-sustaining resources are being stretched beyond their limits.
Currently, the Mekong’s resources are being jeopardized by a number of factors:
- Rapid population growth—The population of the Lower Mekong Basin is expected to grow from the current 55 million to 90 million in 2025. As people demand higher yields from land, fisheries, and forests, they are inclined to turn to unsustainable farming and fishing techniques, including the use of dangerous pesticides and illegal fishing gear.
- Economic recovery—As larger economies in the region have recovered from the Asian financial crisis, the need for natural resources in the region has grown as well. This need has increased the demand for hydropower and logging.
- Excessive commercial activity—Large-scale logging, mining, and fishing operations are depleting resources at an unsustainable rate. Governments in the Mekong region permit and even welcome such operations to generate much-needed income.
- Aggressive infrastructure development—The erection of dams, expansion or re-direction of waterways, and other large-scale river development projects can affect people miles and even countries away. In the next decade, China alone has 22 dams slated to be built—the effects of which will ripple down the Mekong in the form of erosion, depleted fish stocks, erratic water fluctuation, pollution, and other problems.
Oxfam in East Asia
Oxfam America works to improve the lives of the rural poor in East Asia. During recent years, we have honed our focus on the Mekong and have emerged as an authoritative voice on behalf of poor people throughout the region. In our work with local communities, we offer broad perspective and experience of both problems and solutions.
In addition, we have been asked by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Mekong River Commission to consult on a host of policy issues, including river basin management, infrastructure development, fisheries, and forestry.
Our trans-boundary approach—which recognizes that river basin issues affect one country to the next—is the hallmark of our program.