Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, 26th Jan 2011
Lower Mekong countries today agreed to adopt a set of strategic priorities for the basin-wide sustainable development of water resources, introducing a five-year action plan that addresses both economic opportunities and potential environmental and social impacts.
The Basin Development Strategy was endorsed at a three-day meeting here in Ho Chi Minh City by water and environment ministers of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. It is a product designed and owned by the countries after consultations with other regional stakeholders.
“The adoption of this strategy is a milestone achievement. This is the first time that the four members of the Mekong River Commission have set out how we will share, utilise, manage and conserve water resources in the basin,” said Dr. Pham Khoi Nguyen, Viet Nam Minister of Natural Resources and Environment and current Chairman of the governing body of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a regional inter-governmental advisory organization that facilitated the consultations and the making of the strategy.
This Strategy comes at a time of significant changes in the region, where rapid, large-scale development activities of the basin’s water resources, including hydropower generation and intensified irrigated agriculture, are taking place, which together with the consequences of climate change, will modify the Mekong’s flow regime.
“It is a timely agreement to seek balanced benefit sharing, conserve the environment and ensure the wellbeing of people in our basin,” added Dr. Nguen.
The strategic priorities set out immediate national and regional priority actions and will be reviewed every five years. For example, it recommends that development and sustainable management plans at both levels be prepared and endorsed by the end of this year. It includes raising sustainability considerations in hydropower development, expansion of irrigation for agriculture, and setting priorities for flood risk reduction, management of the fisheries resource of the Basin and increasing river trade.
The Strategy is the first of a kind that is tailor-made for large and resource-rich river systems like the Mekong, defining holistic and transboundary approaches for current and proposed developments.
Acknowledging significant socio-economic opportunities, the strategy shows that these development initiatives have impacts which must be managed and mitigated nationally and regionally. The roadmap therefore includes a need to seek options for the countries to share these risks.
The plan, aligned with the declaration of the first MRC summit last year, removes longstanding bottlenecks to realising opportunities for sustainable development such as the use and protection of limited flows during the dry season. It is the first time the four countries have arrived at a common understanding of each other’s plans and have drawn initial conclusions, moving from cooperation on knowledge building towards collaboration on water development and management.
“With this strategy, each country, from now on, has a guide to use as a framework to look at its own plans and see what should be added or changed to harmonise with regional planning,” said Phetsamone Southalack, responsible for MRC’s basin planning programme.
“The strategy gives immediate attention to the needed transboundary cooperation. This can lead to, for example, certainty and security of the basin’s natural dry season flows, reduced flood peaks and minimised impacts on wetlands, sediment and nutrient supply,” he added.
The MRC is the inter-governmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin. In dealing with this, it looks across all sectors including fisheries sustainability, agriculture opportunities, the freedom for navigation, flood management and the preservation of the environment. In providing its advice, the MRC aims to facilitate a broad range of dialogue among governments, the private sector and civil society.
The Basin Development Strategy is part of the goals of the Agreement for Regional Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin signed by the four countries in 1995. It is also part of the MRC’s commitment to regional cooperation under the Agreement which calls for the formulation of such a plan.
Mr Surasak Glahan, Communication Officer
Tel: 090 670 3527 (Ho Chi Minh mobile number) or +856 20 555 28726 (Vientiane mobile number)
Ms Tiffany Hacker, Communication Officer (Office of the Secretariat in Vientiane)
Tel: +856 21 263 263 Ext. 4703 or +856 56120695