TIME In Progress

From Afghan Dust to the Meandering Mekong

After spending the majority of the last three years covering the war in Afghanistan, I came to a point where I felt the Afghan dust was corroding the curiosity in my eyes. I needed to wander again and I found myself in Vientiane, Laos, on the bank of the meandering Mekong River.

After spending the majority of the last three years in Afghanistan, I reached a point where I felt the coarse Afghan dust was corroding the curiosity of my eyes. I needed to wander again.

I found myself in Vientiane, Laos, on the bank of the meandering Mekong River—a river experiencing significant change that threatens its existence. The government of Laos is proposing several hydroelectric dam projects that would affect the flow of the Mekong and the fish species that traverse it. China has already built hydroelectric dams on the river—an action that’s impact has yet to be assessed. Global warming, already affecting many regions of the world, slowly melts the glaciers that feed the Mekong at it’s source, posing an additional threat to the Basin. Fish stocks are depleted and Chinese influence is increasingly exerted amongst the progressive cries of development and globalization. An entire way of life is at stake for the millions of people relying directly and indirectly on the river.

It’s unknown what economic and environmental consequences these changes will ultimately have on the river and the social landscape that surrounds it. No matter the course, change will be dramatic in the Lower Mekong River Basin.

With this, I made the decision to document the region at this critical time of transition. As a photographer, I’ve struggled to match the river’s deliberate pace. Covering Afghanistan has been hard, fast and without rhythm—it’s left me impatient and reliant on schedules, routines, and permission. Along the Mekong, I feel free.

Adam Ferguson is a frequent contributor to TIME. Represented by VII Network, Ferguson has covered conflict for several years, primarily in Afghanistan.

Previously, Ferguson’s Witness to a Civilian Casualty was featured on LightBox.

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