The Mekong River is a vital resource for every country through which it passes. China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam rely upon these waters for agriculture, fishing, and transportation. In recent years water use has been abused and downstream populations have had to deal with pollution and unreliable water levels.

China and others have used the river for sewage and garbage disposal, which can be seen downstream by the numerous and colorful plastic bags adorning the tree limbs along the river, deposited there at high water and remaining there indefinitely. Up to 10% of the plastics reaching the world's oceans comes through the Mekong Delta.

China has built nearly a dozen dams along the Mekong River, and there is a danger that it might use the water flow for political leverage in future. The Jinghong Dam, the nearest Chinese dam upstream of the Thai border, has caused huge fluctuations in river levels, affecting people's livelihoods downstream by disrupting the river's natural cycle. It is impacting the ecosystem, disturbing the migratory patterns of fish as well as riverbank plants and local agriculture downstream.