The Story of Mekong cooperation

Opening of Mekong Committee office in Bangkok by Dag Hammarskjold(left), Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1959

Like the mighty Mekong River that reaches thousands of kilometers, the knowledge and experience gained studying the lower river basin stretches far as well, back over 50 years when the United Nations founded the Mekong Committee.

At the time it was the largest single development project the fledgling United Nations organisation had ever undertaken.

No international river body had ever attempted to take on such encompassing responsibilities for financing, management and maintenance of water resources.

Back then, as it is now, the Mekong was considered one of the world’s great untamed rivers and there were signs of interest to capitalise on its economic potential.

The knowledge base of the Mekong has been growing exponentially from those early days back in the 1950’s, when teams of experts travelled up and down the river and its tributaries on boats, jeeps and even on the backs of elephants, measuring and sampling and cataloguing a treasure trove of natural resources. The hundreds of surveys and studies from this work was the beginning of the information storehouse that is today maintained and supplemented by the successor of the Mekong Committee, the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

The 1995 Mekong Agreement, which established the MRC, was a coming-of-age for this river basin agency. No longer under the umbrella of other organisations, the management responsibility of the Commission is in the hands of its four Member Countries; Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The Articles of the 1995 Agreement have retained much of the original 'Mekong Spirit', but have shifted the focus from development of large-scale projects to sustainable development and management of natural resources.

Over the last 50 years much has been learned about pros and cons of development and its impacts and people are coming to see nature and the environment as a complex web of interacting systems that we must learn to manage cooperatively.

Management of water resources is seen by many to be a critical global issue in the 21st century. The nations of Southeast Asia who conceived and nurtured a Mekong Committee may prove to be visionaries for the rest of the world.

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