Mekong Commission visits China dams and will discuss future cooperation

Vientiane, Lao PDR, 7th Jun 2010

A delegation of Lower Mekong government officials and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat will visit dams in China this week for the first time and this will be followed by meetings in Beijing to discuss future cooperation between China and MRC. The visit comes after Beijing expressed its commitment to continue strengthening cooperation with MRC at the First MRC Summit meeting held in Hua Hin, Thailand in April.

Representatives from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam will visit the upper Lancang-Mekong river dam sites in Yunnan Province with Chinese officials early in the week. The MRC says that it will then send a delegation to meet with the Chinese Government in Beijing to discuss options for increasing China’s participation in the activities of MRC, which is responsible for helping its member countries manage water resources in the Lower Mekong Basin.

China has been a Dialogue Partner of the MRC since 1996 and cooperates with the inter-governmental Mekong river basin organisation on a number of levels, including by providing upstream hydro-meteorological data during the wet season, which the MRC says plays an important role in its flood forecasting. Later in the month, China will host a training course on flood management and disaster risk reduction for government agency staff from the other five Mekong Basin countries.

“This visit to the dams in China follows on from two visits made to Yunnan by MRC modeling and hydropower experts who, together with Chinese agencies, are providing essential input into a Strategic Environmental Assessment of proposed mainstream dams in the mainstream of the Lower Mekong Basin. It is one more example of an increasingly strong cooperation and will lead to a better understanding of the consequences of upstream developments on the river downstream,” said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC. “Through the assessment, the MRC is reporting on both the risks and opportunities associated with hydropower development on the mainstream.”

The MRC says that the visit to the Xiaowan and Jing Hong dams is symbolic of closer ties which could lead to greater sharing of planning and operational data and information data and joint working arrangements in line with the mandate of the MRC under its establishing treaty, the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

“Chinese officials have provided the MRC with information on the planning and design of upstream hydropower projects and confirmed that the natural minimum flow downstream will not be reduced and that adequate standards of water quality will be maintained,” said Mr. Bird. “This commitment is very similar in principle to what has already been agreed to among Lower Mekong countries under the procedures of the 1995 Agreement'. Greater cooperation between MRC and China will is also needed to help to prepare people in the Lower Mekong Basin for any future changes in flow regime that will result from upstream dams, including increased water levels in the dry season once projects are fully operational and changes in sediment concentrations.”

These increased discussions follow earlier announcements by China that it is committed to strengthening cooperation with the MRC. Particular topics highlighted in a statement made by the Head of Delegation at the Hua Hin Summit in April included navigation; tourism; the Strategic Environmental Assessment for hydropower; environmental protection; climate change; agriculture and irrigation; flood prevention and disaster mitigation; and the exchange of technical staff.

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Notes to Editors

Other proposed areas for cooperation between the MRC and China that will be discussed during the delegation’s visit:

Staff exchange: During the First MRC Summit, MRC confirmed its readiness to host an expert from a Chinese agency on a staff exchange programme. Similarly, opportunities for reciprocal exchange visits of MRC staff to relevant Chinese agencies would be welcomed by MRC.

Thematic areas of cooperation: Specific areas of cooperation in thematic areas will be further explored through the relevant specialists in the following areas: flood and drought management; navigation trade and safety; sustainable hydropower; fisheries management and aquaculture; sediment management; tourism; agriculture; and irrigation. Other important areas to consider in the short term include climate change modeling and adaptation.

China has been a Dialogue Partner of the MRC together with Myanmar since 1996 and has regularly attended the annual Dialogue Meetings and provided information on the status of upstream developments. Thematic areas of cooperation undertaken since 2008 include study tours for MRC and Member Country experts to the Chanjiang (Yangtze) River Commission to learn about flood management systems and techniques; a joint workshop on navigation safety held in Jing Hong, joint working arrangements between MRCS and the Ecosystem Study Commission for International Rivers (ESCIR) on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of Proposed Hydropower Projects on the Mekong Mainstream; presentations by Chinese specialists to various multi-stakeholder forums of the MRC's Basin Development Plan (BDP) Programme and Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower (ISH); and a visit of MRC's modeling team to China for discussions on model comparisons with Chinese counterparts. Most recently China's MWR has offered a training course on Flood Control and Disaster Mitigation for staff from MRC Member Countries and MRCS and, as a result of the extremely low flow conditions in the Lancang-Mekong River in 2010, China has shared hydrological data during this season as a special measure of cooperation.

The summit meeting and preceding international technical conference mentioned in the story above took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Hua Hin between 2 and 5 April 2010 and marked 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. A full summary of discussions and outcomes of the summit can be seen at: http://www.mrcsummit2010.org/ 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 Yunnan Province in China 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.

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.

For More Information

Mr. Damian Kean, Interim Communication Advisor
Tel: +856 56120695 or +856 21 263 263 Ext. 4703
Email: damian@mrcmekong.org

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

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