Vientiane, Lao PDR, 06 Nov 2019
Vientiane, Lao PDR, 6 November 2019 – Improving information management and sharing, moving towards coordinated operation of dams, increasing cooperation with Mekong related frameworks, creating more space for community engagement, and increasing efforts to protect environmental assets were some of the key priorities stakeholders recommended the Mekong River Commission take up in the update of the Mekong Basin Development Strategy (BDS) and Strategic Plan.
About 200 people representing civil society, academics, the private sector, governments, and development partners have gathered since yesterday in Vientiane at the 8th MRC Regional Stakeholder Forum. The two-day meeting aims to consult broader stakeholders on a development of the Mekong BDS for 2021-2030 and MRC Strategic Plan for 2021-2025. It is also to share information and consult stakeholders on the Lao PDR’s proposed 1,460-MW Luang Prabang project.
“Our Basin Development Strategy and Strategic Plan are to guide how we should address challenges the Mekong is and will be facing and prevent further environmental losses while maximizing development benefits for all,” said Mme Bounkham Vorachit, Vice Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Lao PDR and Alternate Member of the MRC Council for Lao PDR, as she opened the Forum yesterday.
According to the Mekong State of the Basin Report published by the MRC last month, the basin is facing both opportunities and risks. While there are increased economic growth, improved living conditions, poverty reduction and more cooperation efforts among riparian countries, challenges on the modification of mainstream flow regime, substantial reduction in sediment flows due to sediment trapping, continuing loss of wetlands, deterioration of riverine habitats, and growing pressures on capture fisheries are growing.
Dr. Kim Geheb, Principal Researcher at the Mekong Region Futures Institute, suggested the MRC to significantly augment and reinforce its work in socio-economic aspects in efforts to protect the environment and support sustainable livelihoods.
“The impacts of environmental change on the basin’s human populations and their economies are of critical and increasing importance. It is these impacts that are likely to carry greater weight for the member governments than environmental messages alone,” he said.
Dr. Tek Vannara, Executive Director of the Cambodia NGO Forum, said green energy or alternative energy options should be on the top agenda when it comes to energy development as they would be “cheaper and better when comparing with hydropower”.
With the rapid increase of infrastructure development in the Mekong mainstream, Dr. Vannara said the MRC should also create a mechanism for all mainstream and significant tributary dam developers in Mekong to share information about their dam operations to prevent possible losses and to mitigate flood and drought risks.
“This mechanism will facilitate fast information sharing by ensuring that dams are not adding more floods in the wet season or making the river drier in the dry season,” he said, adding this would create a condition for better river flow and sustaining important fisheries and ecosystems
The Mekong region is one of the highly dynamic geo-political regions experiencing rapid growth and development, with a dozen of major inter-governmental cooperation frameworks that have gone uncoordinated. In order to ensure synergies and better information sharing, the Forum participants suggested the MRC take a leading role in coordinating and engaging all these frameworks in the area of Mekong river basin management and development.
Dr. Lee Lai To, Senior Professor and Director at Thailand’s Mae Fah Luang University, said MRC should “engage all other extra regional powers, including the ASEAN, Lancang Mekong Cooperation, Lower Mekong Initiative, Greater Mekong Sub-region and others, apart from the MRC member countries” to ensure improved coordination among these frameworks.
In particular, there was suggestion for the MRC to continue strengthening cooperation with China to ensure effective upper and lower Mekong basin-wide river basin management – a suggestion that was also made by the Mekong State of the Basin Report 2018.
Dr. Nguyen Nhan Quang, former Director of Viet Nam’s Center for Promotion of Integrated Water Resources Management, said that “good cooperation with China is critical because China controls some 16% of the Mekong River flow”. He added the MRC has “a sea of knowledge dating back to 1957 and should be the main regional information gate. No mechanism should take this role”.
In an effort to open space for inclusive growth and transparent sharing of data and information, these experts also suggested the MRC, especially each National Mekong Committee, should create a mechanism whereby representatives of affected communities can have more voice in the planning and monitoring process of the MRC’s work.
“The new Basin Development Strategy 2021-2030 and Strategic Plan 2021-2025 should include concrete plans or mechanisms for communities or their representatives to participate in the planning and monitoring process of basin-wide work of the MRC,” Dr. Vannara of Cambodia NGO Forum said.
Dr. An Pich Hatda, MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer, said the Commission valued stakeholders’ recommendations and would make necessary effort to incorporate them and inform the stakeholders whether and how their comments were taken.
“The Mekong is a shared resource and it belongs to all who derive their livelihoods from its waters and aquatic ecosystems. We recognize everyone’s right to have their views heard, and we’re only better together through this dialogue process,” he said.
Today, the participants will continue to discuss Laos’ proposed Luang Prabang hydropower project, the fifth dam proposed on the Mekong mainstream to have been submitted to the MRC for Prior Consultation.
Note to editors:
The current 2016-2020 Strategy provides strategic direction for development planning within the region with a long-term view to deal with water security challenges. It is reviewed and updated every five years to ensure that decision-making on water and related resources is based on up-to-date knowledge and feedback from stakeholders. But this time, it will be done for 10 years.
Linking regional and national planning in the Lower Mekong Basin, the Basin Development Strategy identifies the needs and priorities that provide direction and support the Member Countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam in optimizing their development plans while minimizing the risks and effects to the environment.
The MRC is an intergovernmental organization for regional dialogue and cooperation in the lower Mekong river basin, established in 1995 based on the Mekong Agreement between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The organization serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region.
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For more information, please contact:
Mr. Sopheak Meas
Communication Officer for Press
Mekong River Commission Secretariat
p: +856-21-263263, ext. 4012
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