Basin Development Strategy 2016-2020


A Dynamic Strategy: responding to change and uncertainty

The Basin Development Strategy for 2016-2020 (henceforth BDS 2016-2020) replaces the 2011-2015 Strategy. This updating reflects the dynamic challenges encountered in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB).  The Mekong, one of the world’s greatest rivers, is an exceptionally complex system with high intra-annual and inter-annual flow variability caused by the Southwest Monsoon, bringing both great risks and opportunities.  It is also a rapidly changing river because of its contribution to the rapid economic development of the basin countries, but also as a consequence of this development on the river itself, including the impacts of increasing population, urbanisation and industrialisation. Adding to these on-going changes are uncertain futures, particularly as a consequence of climate change.


A Collective Strategy: engaging riparian stakeholders

The BDS 2016-2020 takes as its point of departure the progress achieved under the previous Strategy, much of it through the implementation of the MRC Strategic Plan and the National Indicative Plans (NIPs) of MRC Member Countries during 2011-2015. A broad range of regional, national and local stakeholders have engaged in the implementation process,  leading to a reduction of knowledge gaps, the harmonization of regional and national planning, the leveraging of funding, and the institutional reform of the MRC.


A Responsive Strategy: responding to future trends and long-term outlook

Today, the LMB is home for 65 million people, 80% of whom live in rural areas dependent on agricultural livelihoods. Many are poor. But all countries are expected to have reached middle-income status by 2030. The Mekong contributes significantly to this growth through the opportunities it provides, including water and wastewater services, energy, agriculture, fisheries, transport and trade, and ecosystems services. But without coordinated development and effective management, the Mekong can also threaten continued growth through the risks that it brings, including the risks of floods and droughts, the deterioration of water quality, the reduction of sediment loads, and the overall deterioration of ecosystem services and biodiversity.

The BDS 2016-2020 recognises these trends, takes a long-term outlook, and examines longer term water resources development needs. It is assessed that the current national water resources development plans are sub-optimal from a basin-wide perspective. These plans fall short in protecting key environmental assets and protecting millions of increasingly affluent people against major floods. Finally, the distribution of the benefits, impacts and risks from planned basin development may not be viewed as equitably distributed.


A Basin-Wide Development Strategy: promoting cooperation now

Sustainable development within the LMB requires mitigating the risks and seizing the opportunities that the Mekong creates for the people of the LMB in a manner that conserves the river’s functions for future generations.  Achieving this goal is essential and urgent. National plans and actions cannot achieve this goal alone as they (1) cannot individually address the long-term water security and environmental needs of the Mekong basin, and (2) miss the significant opportunities for joint development that could be realised.

The BDS 2016-2020 focuses on how the sustainable development of the LMB can be achieved and national plans adapted to address longer term needs and provide a comprehensive response to climate change and other challenges. Experience from other regions indicates that joint management and development will be needed, along with cost and benefit sharing deals.

The significant and long-term investment that the MRC has made in data and knowledge will greatly facilitate the early identification of opportunities for joint development and benefit sharing. The development of such projects will lead inevitably to higher levels of transboundary cooperation, benefiting many sectors (such as food, energy, navigation, tourism, and flood protection), and thus advance ASEAN integration. 


An Implementable Strategy: establishing priorities

The BDS 2016-2020 maintains the development opportunities prioritised in the previous Strategy as follows: tributary hydropower development; expansion of irrigated agriculture; mainstream hydropower development; and other opportunities.


Actions are defined under 7 basin-wide strategic priorities which address longer term risks and opportunities. The strategic priorities are:

    • Reduce remaining knowledge gaps to minimise risks;
    • Optimise basin-wide sustainable development and cost and benefit sharing;
    • Strengthen the protection of mutually agreed environmental assets;
    • Strengthen basin-wide procedures and national implementation capacity;
    • Improve national water resources development;
    • Enhance information management, communication and tools; and
    • Increase cooperation with partners and stakeholders.


Basin Development Strategy Implementation: focussing on development and management

The actions presented in this Strategy for 2016-2020 focus on development opportunities, including a ‘help desk’ function to support the MRC Member Countries, and the promotion of ‘optimal and sustainable development’. Other actions focus on basin management, including the strengthening of water related monitoring based on the emerging MRC Indicator Framework for monitoring, assessment, and state of the basin reporting. The implementation of the MRC Procedures will increasingly be made country-driven, supported by nationally maintained databases, and more closely linked to planning and management at the national and regional levels.


Implementation of the Strategy: providing a clear roadmap

Currently identified and agreed development opportunities will be implemented at national and sub-national levels through national and local agencies and organisations and also through the private sector, taking into account applicable MRC Procedures, assessments and best practice guidelines, supported by the aforementioned ‘help desk’.

The strategic priorities and defined actions for 2016-2020 will be addressed by the MRC and other relevant actors in the basin. The MRC will prepare its Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 to implement the actions at the regional level. Each Member Country will update its National Indicative Plan for 2016-2020 to implement relevant priorities and actions at the national level.

The state of the basin report, updated every five years, will record and evaluate the positive and negative development impacts within the Mekong basin as a measure of the effectiveness of the implementation of the Basin Development Strategy. 



The BDS was prepared and coordinated by the former Basin Development Plan (BDP) programme from 2013 to 2015, working with other programmes, national Mekong committees and their line agencies. It was a two year process that involved numerous working sessions, national consultations, regional technical working group reviews, and regional negotiation sessions and finally formal JC and Council approval. 

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