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Frenchman Swims the Length of the Mekong River to Highlight Pollution

While many of Saigon’s canals have been scrubbed and cleaned, the Mekong River is in bad shape. To highlight the polluted state of the region’s most important waterway, one which is used simultaneously for drinking and a dumping ground for chemicals, a Frenchman recently swam the length of the river, documenting his journey along the way.

Rémi Camus started his 4,400km swim at the China-Tibet border, and found that while the river is relatively healthy upstream, the situation downriver was much worse due rampant dam construction and waste dumping, he told Thanh Nien.

“The Mekong River is really dirty,” he said during an interview in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang, where he took a break before a 79km swim toward the East Sea.

The shoreline is too rocky for factories in China, and Laos and Cambodia have lacked the resources to develop industry along it (so far), but this is not the case in Vietnam where 1 of the rivers 2 tributaries were found to be severely contaminated with pollutants like ammonium compounds and mercury “exceeding normal levels by up to 1,000 times,” according to studies by local environmental authorities.

Along his trip, he observed people drinking from the river as they had no alternative and followed suit. Camus plans to have a medical examination when he returns to France to see how imbibing river water has impacted his health.

He began to notice serious pollution in Laos and Cambodia when his feet began to swell, a symptom that became so bad in Vietnam that he was unable to wear his water shoes:

“Camus suspects his condition may have been caused by poor water quality, as he was totally fine during the two months he spent on the upstream portion.”

He blamed the countries through which the Mekong flows for short-sightedness:

“I think the Mekong River is a big competition between China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar. Big competition because they want to get everything from the Mekong River without sharing."

Camus started his river journey last October with help from around 15 French donors.

Four friends helped him build his riverboard which was equipped with bumpers and solar panels to charge his laptop and camera and he slept on a hammock strung between trees along the bank of the river. 

While his main goal was to raise funds to build a clean water source for river residents, at the very least, he said he's made many more people aware of the river’s worsening environmental healh.

[Thanh Nien]