France strengthens support for Mekong environmental management

Vientiane, Lao PDR/Hua Hin, Thailand, 27th Nov 2009

The Mekong River Commission announced this week that it is to receive over € 500,000 in support from the French government over the next two years to help efforts in environmental monitoring and management in the Mekong basin.

The funds are to be used by the MRC to assist its Member Countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam to monitor the ecological health and water quality in the river, research and better understand environmental impacts of potential development threats facing the river system.

“The livelihood and prosperity of a growing population living in the Mekong River Basin depends on a healthy environment,” said François-Xavier Duporge, French Development Agency (AFD) Country Director for Thailand at a ceremony to mark the donation in Hua Hin today. “Which is why the Government of France is pleased to offer this support to the MRC, so that it may further develop river health management strategies to better serve the people of the Mekong.”

“Thanks to AFD commitments in 2008, 2.5 million people will gain or improve access to drinking water and 2.4 million people will gain or improve access to appropriate sanitation. The MRC’s environmental programme will complement AFD’s work in this region,” he said

Although the basin is relatively unpolluted now, the MRC says that rapid economic development, coupled with increasing population pressure could lead to environmental degradation of the basin’s water resources if safeguards are not put in place.

“The lower Mekong River Basin has a population of more than 60 million and the great majority of the inhabitants are farmers and fishers, depending directly on the natural resource base for their survival,” said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC. “The integrity of the basin’s ecology is vital to their social, cultural and economic well-being. It is imperative to better understand the interconnectivity of environmental and social aspects and strengthen the monitoring systems in order to target management interventions. It is far more cost effective to prevent water pollution than to pay for clean up later.”

The MRC says that the Mekong River system faces several environmental challenges over the next decades, and it will use the additional funds to try and address these through research and modeling across a number of programmes. Water pollution and changing flow regimes, climate change, hydropower development, aquaculture, irrigated agriculture and forestry can all have an impact on the ecological systems within the river environment and in some cases threaten biodiversity and livelihoods.

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Notes to Editors

Aquatic health monitoring

The ecological wellbeing of the river, its major tributaries, and their associated floodplains, lakes and wetland habitats is of vital importance. The MRC biomonitoring programme was initiated in 2003 and currently monitors a total of 60 sites over a wide range of river settings and environments. Although the biomonitoring programme indicates that the water quality of the Mekong River and its tributaries is good compared to many large rivers in other parts of the world, in areas with high population densities and intensive human activities, such as agriculture, aquaculture and mining, impacts are evident.

Water quality monitoring

Healthy aquatic life in the Mekong Basin depends on water of good quality, with acceptable concentrations of dissolved oxygen and low concentrations of toxic ammonia. It is also important that pH values are not too low. Balanced concentrations of nutrients are needed to support aquatic primary production. The MRC monitors the quality of water in the basin at 87 permanent stations, taking samples on a monthly basis and providing this information to stakeholders in the Member Countries. See the 2008 Mekong Water Quality Report Card - http://www.mrcmekong.org/download/free_download/EP-Water-Quality-Report-Card-2008A.pdf for more information.

Wetland management

The Lower Mekong Basin contains rich and extensive areas of wetlands, estimated to cover 6–12 million hectares of the entire LMB. Wetlands are one of the most important contributors to the livelihoods of people in both rural and urban communities in the countries of the Mekong River Basin. The region contains a great diversity of wetlands that possess a range of resources, biodiversity, functions and important social, economic and cultural values.

The MRC is working to help riparian governments understand, research and manage wetlands across the region by:

  • Working together with other environmental organisations, such as IUCN and WWF to understand the behaviour of endangered species;
  • Cataloguing, documenting and working to help gain protection for endangered wetland dwelling birds; and
  • Helping Member Countries to understand the potential threats facing Mekong wetlands from proposed hydropower schemes; pollution; overfishing and other human activities

The MRC is responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin. In dealing with these challenges, 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.

For More Information

Ms Tiffany Hacker, Interim Communication Advisor
Tel: +856 56120695 or +856 21 263 263 Ext. 4703
Email: damian@mrcmekong.org

Mr Khy Lim, Communications Officer
Tel: +856 20 5622 8131
Email: khy@mrcmekong.org

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