Unlike floods, which provide many benefits to the Mekong Basin’s agriculture and ecosystems, drought only brings socio-economic hardship to riparian countries, especially the riverine communities.
Yields of rice and other lifeline crops plummet as a result of water shortages and saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta. Annual fish catches decline. Vegetable gardens fail, reducing the availability of cheap food, while farm production costs soar due to higher water bills. Water levels become critically low, making transport of goods and services at some parts of the river difficult and at other points impossible.
The MRC’s Drought Management Programme (DMP) assisted the riparian countries by preparing vulnerable communities for increasingly frequent and severe drought events through monitoring, analysis and implementation of regional drought adaptation and mitigation strategies.
As climate and weather patterns become more volatile, drought events in the Mekong Basin have become more frequent and intense with growing potential to cause devastating damage to the region’s food security and economies. Those communities that were unprepared have suffered the most.
Working with other MRC programmes, the Drought Management Programme helped riparian countries prepare their communities for the unpredictable. This includes developing a greater understanding of the region’s drought conditions as well as analysis of drought risk and vulnerability for regional drought projection and mitigation policy.
The data on water levels and rainfall the MRC collects regularly from observation stations across the Mekong and its tributaries recognises trends and provides synthesised science-based insights into the river’s hydro-meteorological conditions.
Together with support for the application of drought monitoring tools that allow for early detection, drought information helps national counterparts to identify and understand the key patterns and causes of drought and ultimately improve their long-term agriculture plans as well as proactive and emergency responses to drought events.
Using historical data and trends, policy-makers will be able to better plan the use and management of waters that affect agriculture, fisheries and navigation.
The effects of floods and drought in the region are magnified because the affected communities are generally poor and vulnerable, and recurrent cycles of extreme events keep them that way. Helping these people withstand the negative effects of floods and drought will improve their living standards and lift them out of poverty.
The MRC is taking collaborative actions, embarking on broad views and adaptable strategies to address the multi-faceted issues of drought that affect agricultural outputs, water and land use.
Drawing on local knowledge of drought, demonstration activities under the MRC climate change adaptation initiative and other activities of MRC programmes, enable drought mitigation and adaptation agencies to work with local populations on developing drought coping strategies that include drought resistant crops and water storage to tide farmers over during the dry season.
In 2016-2020, the MRC will continue to identify indigenous knowledge and coping strategies as a baseline and starting point of developing adaptation planning that could be scaled up to a larger region. Through pilot projects at demonstration sites, it works together with people to show them how they can absorb the effects of disastrous events. This is an effective process where the local populations can share knowledge, practices and continuously learn to improve their plans and outcomes.