Bangkok, THAILAND, 26th Mar 2010
China has agreed to share hydrological data with countries in the lower basin says the Mekong River Commission (MRC), days before a high-level summit takes place in Hua Hin to discuss river management issues.
“China has indicated that it is prepared to begin providing the MRC Secretariat with data during this dry season from the hydro-meteorological stations at Jinghong and Man’an, starting this week,” said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC Secretariat at a press briefing in Bangkok today. “This is very positive news, as it shows that China is willing to engage with lower basin countries and cooperate in MRC’s independent analysis of the flow regime in the upper part of the basin”
The upstream data being provided this season builds on cooperation since 2002 for data sharing with China during the flood seasons which has helped improve the accuracy of flood forecasting in the wet season says the inter-government commission, which is charged with helping Mekong Basin countries manage water resources. As well as informing downstream states on the water flows coming from upstream, the information on water levels in the dry season will be used to inform boat operators on navigation conditions.
The news comes before Prime Ministers from the four Member Countries of the MRC are due to meet and sign a declaration reaffirming commitment to sustainably managing the water resources of the Mekong and cooperating to take regional action on climate change.
Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam will be commemorating 15 years since the signing of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which brought the Mekong River Commission into existence. China and Myanmar joined as Dialogue Partners to MRC in 1996. The initiative from China is part of a growing cooperation which includes areas of flood management, safety of navigation and environmental assessments of hydropower proposals.
The timing of the announcement before the summit bodes well for the discussions between MRC and the Chinese delegation at the Summit. It will also help to dispel criticism surrounding upstream dams in China that critics allege have contributed to the current dry conditions in northern Thailand and Lao PDR. Analysis already published by the MRC has shown that the low flows are caused by extremely low rainfall, rather than any man-made infrastructure on the river.
“China agreeing to share more data is a good example of regional cooperation,” said Mr. Bird. “It will clear ambiguity on this issue and further build the trust necessary to jointly address other critical issues facing the basin, such as food security and climate change,” said Mr. Bird. He added that last year, China informed MRC of their plans to limit impoundment of upstream dams to only the wet season thus avoiding any low flow impacts downstream.
In the past, the MRC has said that the Mekong region is one of the most vulnerable in the world to the long-term impacts of climate change and has reiterated that more frequent dry periods and more intense flooding can be expected in the basin if climate change predictions become a reality.
Along with climate change and hydropower, the countries at the summit will also discuss measures to further cooperate on monitoring and mitigating floods; river navigation; and how best to protect ecological health and the abundant biodiversity and fisheries resources of the Mekong Basin.
A report on the low flow conditions in the Mekong is available on the MRC website at http://www.mrcmekong.org/download/REVISED_Report-on-low-Mekong-Flows-5mar10.pdf
The summit meeting and preceding international technical conference will take place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Hua Hin between 2 and 5 April 2010 and mark the 15 year anniversary of the signing of the 1995 Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin, which established the independent Mekong River Commission as an international agency.
Attending and signing the declaration will be: Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Royal Government of Cambodia; H.E. Mr. Bouasone Bouphavanh, Prime Minister, Lao PDR; H.E. Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister, The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam; H.E. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister, Royal Kingdom of Thailand; and high level delegates from China and Myanmar.
The summit’s goals include:
Discussion Topics of the Conference:
A full agenda and the text of the Declaration will be made available on request on the 5 April.
The MRC is currently studying the influence of upstream dams in China on the Lancang-Mekong River, which is included in a broader Strategic Environmental Assessment of proposed hydropower projects on the mainstream Mekong. The MRC will use information presented by the study to improve its ability to guide Member Countries in their decision processes and dialogue.
The Mekong is one of the most active regions in the world for hydropower with eight existing or planned Mekong mainstream dams in Yunan Province in China (where the Mekong is called the Lancang River) and 11 proposed by Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand – all in various stages of investigation or feasibility study.
As set out in the 1995 Mekong Agreement, MRC Member Countries are committed to undergoing a formal consultation process prior to any decision on building dams on the river.
The process must balance the interests of people’s livelihoods, as well as the energy, fisheries, tourism, and navigation industries. Projects being studied for development in the lower Mekong Basin come to the Commission for consultation, with a view to assisting member countries to reach consensus on the critical and sensitive issues of their shared water resources and the balanced development of the river.
Past studies undertaken by the MRC have shown that dams can have both a positive and negative impact, for example, MRC analysis shows that large storage dams in the upper Mekong basin can increase dry season flows and reduce flood levels, which can benefit water users. But at the same time the changed flow patterns can reduce fisheries yield. The largest impacts of the proposed mainstream dams in the lower Mekong Basin apart from local resettlement issues would likely be significant changes in fish passage and migration, aquatic habitats, sediment flow leading to erosion and loss of nutrients.
The MRC is the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin whose members include Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. In dealing with this challenge, it looks across all sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, flood management and preserving important ecosystems. Superimposed on these are the future effects of more extreme floods, prolonged drought and sea level rise associated with climate change. In providing its advice, the MRC aims to facilitate a broad range of dialogue among governments, the private sector and civil society on these challenges.
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