Watershed Management

Maintaining adequate water availability and quality requires appropriate and sustainable management of upstream watersheds. In this context, applying the precautionary principle is of key importance in the Mekong region because many upstream watersheds, at least from a water resources point of view, have presently only minor or no problems with sustainable management. However, it can be predicted that the present situation will deteriorate rapidly, due to the following forces:

  • Impacts associated with rapid economic development
  • Population growth
  • Increased urbanisation
  • Extensive hydropower and mining development
  • Land use changes
  • Deforestation
  • Tourism
  • Climate change

The cumulative impact of the above threats on these critical watersheds could have detrimental effects on the Basin that over 60 million people depend on for food security and livelihoods. Integrated Watershed Management is therefore vital to addressing these threats and maintaining the health of the river system.

Watershed Management Project

The Watershed Management Project (WSMP) aims to improve planning and coordination for the sustainable management of watershed resources at national and regional levels through relevant organisations in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) riparian countries.

The core issue of the WSMP is the sustainable management of upstream watersheds. In addressing this issue, the WSMP focuses less on technical aspects of watershed management, and more on its institutional requirements, because the efficient cooperation of all sectors involved and the participation of all relevant stakeholders are necessary preconditions for watershed management.

The project provides services in the following core areas:

  • Policy analysis and advice: Support to national and local working groups, introduction to and further development of methods and instruments for improved analysis, planning and implementation of sustainable management of resources, and support of a regional policy dialogue.
  • Information and Knowledge Management: Documentation of experiences made in pilot watersheds, in similar programmes undertaken by different development cooperation organisations, and in riparian countries, and specifically information exchange at the regional level through workshops, meetings, and Intra- and Internet-based information systems; and
  • Capacity Development: Logistic and organisational support, seminars, workshops, and training courses.

The project is active mostly at lower administrative levels (district and provincial), however, it closely involves the national sector line agencies (ministries, National Mekong Committees). Acting at this level is seen as complementary to, and is coordinated with, other activities of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) that target higher administrative levels (national, international).

Furthermore, watershed management is increasingly undertaken in a more participatory and integrated manner, focusing on multi-stakeholder participation and linking social, technical and policy concerns.


The following projects are related to the Water Management Project:

  • Implementation of Watershed solutions project;
  • Up-Scaling and Replication projects;
  • Establishing a self-sustaining training network;
  • Consultation mechanisms for IWSM;
  • Strategy and portfolio development; and
  • Linkage to financial assistance from KfW (German Development Bank) to develop a model to ensure watershed functions of the Nam Ton Project area is secured and livelihoods are improved in a sustainable manner.

Key Achievements

Below are some of key achievements of the Project since its inception:

  • Watershed policies and strategies have been developed, watershed issues and activities discussed and evaluated in common and open forums, data collected and analysed and resource inventories of the watersheds (watershed profiles) written.
  • A number of key products for institutional capacity building related to watershed management have been developed, including: a comprehensive Watershed Management (WSM) Resource Kit; a manual for practitioners; a watershed management training manual; and, knowledge management tools for Integrated WSM;
  • Watershed ‘Plans of Action’ have been compiled for integration into the normal planning processes at district and province levels or for implementation using other sources of financing. In 2009 watershed committees of pilot watersheds were supported in making these plans operational;
  • Watershed issues coming out of the watershed profiles were prioritised and earmarked for either implementation with external funds or integration into regular socio-economic planning systems at province, district or commune level;
  • MRC and the four member countries have developed a joint conceptual understanding of Integrated Watershed Management;.
  • Watershed Management has become a key function in operationalising Integrated Watershed Management on lower administrative levels.
  • With the acquisition of financial assistance for watershed management, the topic has become more eligible for further funding support.

Critical watersheds. Source: MRC

Development Partners

Key development partners to this Project include:

  • Germany, through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH
  • Germany, through the (KfW-Development Bank)

The MRC WSMP (in partnership with GTZ) in its current form is scheduled to end in May 2011. Future activities to be implemented in the area of watershed management are currently under discussion and formulation by MRC and development partners.