MRC Transboundary Dialogue, Issue 10
Vientiane, Lao PDR, 19th Oct 2017
IWRMP's quarterly eNewsletter tells stories on the transboundary water resources management initiatives.
Issue 10: July - September 2017
New Books: Mekong Transboundary Water Challenges Identified for Collaborative Planning
Front covers of three new books on fisheries management issues in the Mekong and Sekong Rivers, water resources management in the Mekong Delta, and water resources management in the Sesan and Srepok River Basins. ©MRC
Exploitative fishing practices, uncoordinated development of water infrastructure, and insufficient monitoring and sharing of hydro-data are among the major challenges facing Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam in managing their shared water resources across the Mekong borders, say new studies examining barriers to ensuring sustainable management of the Mekong’s water.
Stepping up collaborative efforts to address impacts of the hydro-infrastructure development and other water-related issues must be a priority in these countries, according to findings and recommendations in three reports produced by the National Mekong Committees of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam, under the MRC’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project (M-IWRMP).
"Managing the Mekong’s precious water and its related resources is complicated and requires regional cooperation. The three countries need to further strengthen collaboration to identify and agree on solutions, and prepare coordinated planning and management mechanisms to tackle the challenges they are facing,” said An Pich Hatda, MRC’s Director of Planning Division.
Published in early September, one of the reports jointly produced by Cambodia and Lao PDR examines fisheries management issues in the Mekong and Sekong Rivers along the borders of the two neighbors. It identifies exploitative fishing practices, habitat degradation, and lack of fisheries data and their sharing as the main obstacles that need to be addressed.
Another joint report from Cambodia and Viet Nam places emphasis on water resources management in the Mekong Delta across the two territories. Issues identified include lack of strategic transboundary management plan of flood and drought control, uncoordinated development of water infrastructure and limited monitoring network on hydrological, meteorological and water quality data.
In the report focusing on water resources in the Sesan and Srepok River Basins, Cambodia and Viet Nam cite insufficient monitoring and assessment of water flow, lack of flood forecasting and warning mechanisms, and limited mitigation measures to address the impacts of hydro-infrastructural development as key barriers to managing the basins’ water resources.
These reports were produced based on literature reviews, consultations with national and local stakeholders and field surveys. They also provide strategic recommendations, including reinforcing bilateral collaboration and empowering the coordination mechanisms in order to respond to the challenges identified.
Building on these studies, the countries will work together on a bilateral basis to develop joint cooperation schemes to address some of the issues.
With financial support from the World Bank, the MRC’s M-IWRMP will continue to assist these lower Mekong countries in fostering more sustainable water development and management and maximising benefits to the livelihoods of the riverine communities.
Lessons from Mekong Bilateral Water Cooperation Shared with Stakeholders in Thailand
A project management specialist of the MRC facilitates a group discussion at a regional forum in Sakon Nakhon. ©MRC
Frequent dialogue to understand each other, attention to different needs of the concerned countries, and strong commitment to joint actions are some of the main lessons learnt from bilateral projects of water cooperation among the four Mekong countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, according to a regional forum organised by the Thai National Mekong Committee.
Transboundary water resources management in the Mekong sub-basins along the borders have been experimented on a bilateral basis through the Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Project of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) since late 2013. The four countries have launched five bilateral projects, each focusing on fisheries, delta, lake, river, or wetland resources management, to develop cross-border cooperation to address common resources management issues such as water quality degradation and insufficient data sharing for flood and drought control.
The regional forum “Lower Mekong Transboundary Cooperation: Joint Actions Joint Solutions” in Sakon Nakhon was held from 12 – 14 September to share achievements of the bilateral projects and explore lessons for future collaboration in the extended areas among the Mekong countries, in particular between Thailand and its neighbors. About 200 participants from community-based river basin networks, academic institutions, public agencies and international organisations based in Thailand attended the forum.
Among the five bilateral projects, Thailand has been paired with Cambodia over lake governance and with Lao PDR over wetland management. Cambodia and Viet Nam have worked on delta resources management and hydro-development issues, while Lao PDR collaborates with Cambodia for fisheries matters.
Sharing experiences of those bilateral projects, representatives of the four Mekong countries laid out a few key points that have made their projects successful.
“The most important thing is that the two countries are now aware of transboundary issues and committed to solving those issues together,” said Phai Sok Heng, Cambodian consultant to the Mekong Delta project. He continued that frequent meetings and discussions to understand each other was a key factor to find common issues and explore joint solutions through cooperation. “We’ve met so many times to discuss and work together for common goals, and finally started understanding our counterparts more. Without this understanding, it was impossible to explore effective collaboration.”
Project members of other countries also echoed a similar view and shared the challenges they encountered during the project execution. “It was difficult to communicate between the two countries when they had different interests,” said Vietnam’s Senior Programme Officer Tran Minh Khoi, recalling lengthy discussions held to agree on joint transboundary issues in the face of hydropower and irrigation development. “How to consolidate different needs of the two countries was the biggest challenge.”
Sakon Nakhon is a center of the Nam Kam river basin that has been matched up with Lao’s Xe Bang Hieng basin for mutual learning on the integrated planning and management of wetland resources. Lao consultant Daovinh Souphonphacdy said that even though the two countries are at a different economic development stage, they could still learn from each other on how to better manage wetlands. “In our case, similar culture and customs have helped us understand each other better,” she said.
During the forum, 200 participants had an opportunity to further discuss in a smaller group how to apply those lessons for basin management in other parts of the Mekong Basin, in particular in wetland management, fisheries, climate change adaptation, and flood and drought management.
Patcharee Saiboonyuan from the Nam Hueang river basin working group in Leoi, Thailand, was pleased to have that opportunity. "The information provided by the bilateral projects was very helpful for us because they could be applied to other working groups like us," she said after the forum, elaborating that her group is now looking into a possibility to collaborate with Lao counterparts to address forest fire issues along the river. “We’d like to work on forest fire prevention with Lao people. Collaboration between the government and the government might take some time to develop, but cooperation between people and people in the local area should be easier. The lessons shared by the bilateral projects are encouraging.”
The Mekong IWRM Project aims to facilitate transboundary dialogue at regional, national and sub-basin levels, and promotes IWRM principles of coordinated planning and management of water resources for sustainable development. Its bilateral projects are funded by the World Bank, and slated for completion in March 2018.
Mekong Countries Reaffirm Bilateral Water Cooperation along Borders
Representatives of the 4 countries and project personnel of the MRC Secretariat post for a picture at the end of the meeting. ©MRC
Representatives of four Mekong countries reaffirmed at a meeting their commitment to expedite their five bilateral projects that promote transboundary dialogue and improve coordinated water resources management along the borders.
In late August, the Mekong River Commission invited all project teams from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam for a project coordination and management meeting in Da Nang to discuss the progress of each project and challenges facing the bilateral teams to develop bilateral water coordination mechanisms and action plans.
“The MRC Secretariat has its responsibility on the one hand, and the countries have theirs on the other hand. If we put both hands together, we can achieve our goals in completing our projects,” said An Pich Hatda, Director of the MRC’s Planning Division, during his opening statement, encouraging the participants to constructively contribute to the discussion and address the confronting issues.
The five projects are part of the MRC’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project, currently funded by the World Bank. Addressing water resources management in fisheries, delta, lake, river and wetland, the four countries are trying to establish better coordination mechanisms at local levels to tackle joint priority issues, such as severe flood and drought, decreased fish stocks, and impacts of hydropower and other development.
As the five projects are slated for completion by March 2018, the representatives discussed how to expedite the implementation to complete their projects on time.
During the meeting, the countries said they were committed to completing all outputs as fast as they could, but reported on some difficulties. They reported on some constraints and challenges in assessing how the existing national coordination mechanisms, for example, in water flow data sharing and flood warning could be a basis for extended bilateral cooperation mechanisms, without having frequent bilateral meetings and field trips to consult with local stakeholders. They further stated they wished to get the projects extended to deliver concrete and quality outputs to help establish transboundary cooperation mechanisms between provinces and provinces along the borders.
Upon discussions, the MRC’s M-IWRMP coordination team responded that it would relay the needs for extension to the World Bank and provide necessary support for the project teams to continue quality work to establish bilateral mechanisms and action plans.
“We’re very committed to completing our projects to have better coordination mechanisms between the countries,” said Viengsai Sophachanh, who is the national focal point for M-IWRMP at the Lao National Mekong Committee Secretariat, a comment similarly shared by representatives from the other three countries. “I hope the World Bank would continue supporting our projects, so that we could address priority water resources management issues for our people,” he continued.
Informative Brochure on Mekong Bilateral Cooperation Released
Informative Brochure on Bilateral Cooperation among Mekong Countries Released
The Mekong River Commission's new brochure Transboundary Dialogue under Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project provides a snapshot of five bilateral projects being implemented by four Mekong countries to address cross-border water resources issues in the Lower Mekong Basin.
In a dozen pages, with plain languages and photographs, the brochure describes the focus of the projects designed to strengthen regional cooperation for better management of water and related resources, in particular fisheries, wetland, delta, lake and river basin, in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam.
It emphasizes the challenges that put water resources under increasing pressure from, for example, urbanization, infrastructure development and climate change that affect riverine communities beyond national borders. It notes that although the four countries have developed several methodologies and tools to address the issues, more could be done through transboundary dialogue and cooperation initiatives established under the projects.
The brochure highlights the projects’ expected outcomes, results achieved so far, and the next steps to be taken by these countries to tackle the challenges, including the development of action plans and incorporation of lessons from the projects into national development plans.
With financial support from the World Bank under the MRC’s M-IWRMP, the brochure is now available in English and Thai on the website, to be followed by Khmer, Laotian and Vietnamese. More than 3,000 copies will be printed and distributed for public dissemination.
Cambodian-Lao Fishers Jointly Monitor Migratory Fish in the Border Provinces
Joint fish monitoring sites in the Mekong – Sekong river basins ©MRC
In an effort to develop a joint fisheries management plan for the Mekong and Sekong river basins along the border, fishermen in Cambodia and Lao PDR have begun monitoring migratory fish species in both rivers to develop a fisheries database.
Fisheries experts from the two countries reported in late August in Pakse that six fishers each from Cambodia and Lao PDR had been collecting data on the five species in strategic locations along the borders. The five species are those vulnerable to development and overfishing as well as important for riverine communities for their food security and income generation.
Under the monitoring scheme, the designated fishermen caught fish with special gillnets, identified fish species using a fish catalogue, measured fish weight and length, and recorded relevant information on logbooks. These fisheries data were to be shared across the border, analysed together and used for the development of a joint fisheries management plan, according to the experts.
The monitoring is part of the Mekong – Sekong Fisheries Management Project between the two countries under the Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project, which promotes regional and bilateral water cooperation through cross-border dialogue. Like four other bilateral projects in the Lower Mekong Basin, the fisheries project aims to address trans-national issues such as exploitative fishing practices and impacts of hydro-development and climate change, and facilitate bilateral multi-sectoral planning and management of water resources.
During a joint workshop of the fisheries project in Pakse, the fisheries experts discussed challenges they faced in the monitoring, including fishers’ lack of understanding in monitoring methods and physical difficulties to set gillnets and access to sampling sites. They also discussed critical issues on how to standardise databases for data entry and analysis by the two countries.
“We had good discussions on the fisheries data collection and sharing. It is the first step for our transboundary collaboration on fisheries management, which will eventually develop a joint fisheries management plan with a management body proposal,” said Watt Botkosal, Deputy Secretary General of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, at the end of the workshop. “This is very important for us because transboundary collaboration will help improve the livelihoods of our people.”
The fisheries project began in July 2014 with technical support from the Mekong River Commission. The transboundary fisheries team is expected to write up a joint fisheries monitoring report and develop a joint management plan early next year.
Tonle Sap and Songkhla Lakes Strengthen Community-based Lake Management
Lake representatives of Songkhla and Tonle Sap meet in Hat Yai to discuss mutual learning on community-based lake management. ©MRC
In an effort to consolidate lessons learned from the counterpart’s experience, representatives of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake and Thailand’s Songkhla Lake met in early July in Hat Yai to discuss way forward to create healthy lakes with improved community-based governance.
The two lakes have been working together to learn from each other on how to manage the lake resources in a more sustainable way through field visits and communication activities. With a country-based technical analysis of pressing issues in the two lake basins, which have been prepared and shared in advance of the meeting, 11 representatives of both lakes reported each other how they wish to consolidate what they have learned from the field visits and other joint activities, and to put them together with technical analysis into a joint report on mutual learning of community-based lake management.
“An overarching theme for the lakes project is peer-to-peer learning on community-based lake management,” said Piriya Uraiwong, a project coordinator of the Mekong River Commission who oversees five bilateral projects between the four Mekong countries on transboundary dialogue. “You have done various joint activities for the last few years, and recently prepared a good analysis of lake management issues of the pilot sites in three topics – fisheries, climate change adaptation and women’s empowerment. It is time to consolidate what you’ve learned from each other into one joint report and prepare yourselves to put them into practice.”
The lakes project is one of the five bilateral projects under the Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project that facilitates multi-sectoral planning and management of water resources through transboundary dialogue, with the application of MRC’s procedural rules and tools on water use negotiations, river flow monitoring and data sharing. Cambodia and Thailand have jointly developed the lakes project to learn from each other and strengthen good governance of lake management with the involvement of lake communities.
Since its establishment in late 2013, the lakes team has conducted exchange visits to the selected pilot sites to observe local practices of community-based fisheries management, climate change adaption and women’s empowerment, and organised video exchange to capture unique management practices and show those videos to others in their own communities for peer-to-peer learning and discussions.
During the workshop this week, the two sides discussed further on key issues they wish to learn more about and good practices they want to incorporate into their own lake management, such as how to fend off illegal fishing, strengthen preservation efforts, and advance the involvement of youth and women in lake management.
By the end of the workshop, the two sides decided to continue work on the consolidation of mutual learning, and agreed to meet again later this year with a draft joint report.
Cambodia, Viet Nam Discuss Bilateral Water Coordination Schemes for Better Cooperation
Team members of the Mekong Delta and Sesan-Srepok projects between Cambodia and Viet Nam discuss way forward to set up cross-border coordination mechanisms to address transboundary water issues. ©MRC
Representatives of Cambodia and Viet Nam working on transboundary water issues in the Mekong Delta and the Sesan-Srepok river basins brainstormed in early July on potential coordination mechanisms to improve cross-border water cooperation between the two countries.
Twelve members from the Mekong Delta and Sesan-Srepok projects participated in a workshop held at the Mekong River Commission Secretariat in Vientiane, where the two countries tried to find better ways to manage the shared water resources along the borders. Among others, they discussed existing coordination mechanisms within and across borders in flood management, navigation control and water flow monitoring. These areas are cross-border priority issues in the project sites the two countries have agreed to improve water cooperation on.
“Both teams have had a good brainstorming to set up various mechanisms to address each one of the priority issues,” said Piriya Uraiwong, MRC’s water resources management specialist who coordinates the MRC’s bilateral projects. “I hope they would continue discussions and come up with various mechanisms to improve transboundary cooperation.”
The two projects are part of the Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project, which promotes the coordinated planning and management of water resources to support transboundary dialogue and water cooperation among the MRC’s four member countries with the application of MRC’s procedural rules and tools on water use negotiations, information sharing, and water flow monitoring. Under the M-IWRMP, the four Mekong countries set up five bilateral projects to improve water collaboration at provincial levels between the countries.
While the Mekong Delta faces challenges from upstream development and climate change, the Sesan-Srepok river basins see impacts of the development of hydropower dams and large-scale irrigation facilities.
Through the Mekong Delta and the Sesan-Srepok projects, Cambodia and Viet Nam have identified six priority issues each to work on in their respective project areas, including a lack of effective transboundary flood forecasting and warning systems, needs for new measures to mitigate socio-economic impacts from climate change and infrastructural development, and weak human and institutional capacities for water management at provincial levels to collaborate across borders. The two countries are now moving to work on lasting solutions to address those issues with the establishment of coordination mechanisms and action plans.
During the workshop, the two project teams reviewed existing mechanisms at management, technical and operational levels on specific areas, such as flood control systems and data sharing of hydropower operations, within their own countries. Both teams further discussed how they could possibly set up joint mechanisms to address each priority issue. The two sides further agreed that they would continue the exercise to develop joint mechanisms by the end of September. Based on the agreed mechanisms, the two bilateral projects will design a joint action plan to improve bilateral water collaboration on specific areas.
“These projects are very important to promote transboundary cooperation within the Mekong Basin, as they are more closely looking at specific water issues faced by the member countries at bilateral levels,” said Secretary-General of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee Te Navuth, who headed the Cambodian delegation to the workshop. “We moved ahead a lot, having discussed potential joint mechanisms to improve the dialogue between Cambodia and Viet Nam. In coming weeks, we will design joint coordination mechanisms, hold national consultations on them, and hope to come back to develop a joint action plan.”
Mekong Countries' Communications Teams Trained to Go Digital
Social media trainer explains participants during a practice session on the use of micro-video and design apps to create engaging posts for social media. ©MRC
In an effort to reach out to the concerned local populations, the Mekong River Commission invited digital savvy officials from the four Mekong countries to get trained on social media usage for better joint communications.
The two-day training on digital media strategy and effective use was held from 15 August at the MRC Secretariat in Vientiane, and attended by nine officials from the four National Mekong Committee Secretariats and relevant ministries.
Together with the MRC’s communication personnel, they learned from an international social media expert the latest trend in the use of social media in the region as well as among the international development organisations worldwide. They also learned how to utilise digital media to communicate key messages and to create more attractive posts for Facebook and Twitter with various apps. Through hands-on activities, the participants practiced and acquired new techniques to use micro-video and design apps, including Canva, Pablo and Ripl.
“All these skills and knowledge are important for the MRC and NMCs to communicate our work better to the target audiences. It would help build trust among stakeholders, and assist them to understand how the MRC works for regional water cooperation,” An Pich Hatda, Director of the MRC’s Planning Division and Officer-in-Charge of the MRC Secretariat, said before the participants.
During the intensive training, the participants also worked on the development of a joint digital communication strategy between the MRC and the national counterparts to strengthen their collaboration in external communications. Although each country has a differing digital media environment, all agreed to communicate more often, and share important MRC messages in local languages through their national communication channels.
“I hope that the MRC and NMCs will start working more closely to disseminate a wealth of our knowledge and promote our work together. Such collaboration will reinforce our water diplomacy and regional cooperation,” concluded the director.
Meanwhile, senior staff of the MRC and NMC secretariats afforded an opportunity to brush up their media interview skills. About 20 senior staff such as directors of the MRC’s technical arms and national line agencies participated in a two-day intensive training on crisis communications and media interviews held in Vientiane in mid-August.
Through message development sessions and mock interview sessions where participants were interviewed one by one in front of a video camera, the senior staff learned first-hand practical tips on effective message composition, likable body languages and favourable vocal expressions.
Many participants left positive comments on the training in a post-workshop survey, saying they found the workshop thought-provoking and the interview coaching and message design very useful.
The MRC plans to continue communications capacity development of the MRC staff and its national counterparts in coming months.
The five bilateral projects are coordinated by each member country’s National Mekong Committee (NMC), which takes an active role in facilitating the work of line agencies and local working groups for the execution of those projects. Here’s a brief report from the four NMCs.
Government officials discuss bilateral water coordination needs at a national consultation workshop in Kampong Cham. ©MRC/CNMC
Accelerating national efforts to complete the bilateral projects by early next year, Cambodian teams of the Sesan – Srepok and the Mekong Delta water resources management projects worked on the development of bilateral cooperation mechanisms to address transboundary water issues such as impacts of hydropower development and climate change.
On 12 July, the Ministry of Water Resources Management held a national consultation workshop to discuss with officials of line ministries the needs for bilateral information sharing and coordination mechanisms to improve water cooperation in the Mekong Delta. They assessed the existing schemes for information exchange, and identified financial and resources constraints for data sharing between Cambodia and Viet Nam. Participants reminded the project team that the two countries need to agree on the type of data, methods of data collection and analysis, and purposes of information exchange among other issues. The project team continued to work on the preparation of a joint coordination framework for the two bilateral projects.
Meanwhile, the Cambodian National Mekong Committee co-hosted a joint fish release day on 7 August in Stung Treng to increase public awareness of fish conservation and fisheries laws. More than 400 people participated in the event, where a number of fish were released, and five high school students received awards for their outstanding drawings at a picture contest on fisheries and environment.
In addition, the Tonle Sap Lake team for the sister-lake communications project held a workshop in early July in Siem Reap to consult with relevant stakeholders a draft report on its three community-based pilot projects of climate change adaptation, women’s empowerment and fisheries conservation. The team noted a few recommendations made by the 23 participants.
The Mekong - Sekong fisheries team discuss transboundary issues with provincial officials in late August in Pakse. ©MRC/LNMC
While the Xe Bang Hieng wetland project team focused on the preparation for the regional forum on transboundary water cooperation in Sakon Nakhon, the Mekong – Sekong fisheries project team held a national workshop on 23 August in Pakse to prepare for the development of a cross-national fisheries management plan.
The team shared with 18 participants from Attapeu and Champasack provinces the knowledge of the five migratory white fish species it monitors and discussed significant knowledge gaps on fisheries management at the provincial level. Following the national workshop, the team participated in the joint transboundary fishery management workshop on the Mekong and Sekong river basins, also held in Pakse, where Cambodian fisheries officials also joined for bilateral discussions.
Over 200 people from communities, academics and governments celebrate the life of Songkhla Lake at a forum on 18 August. ©MRC/TNMC
The Songkhla Lake Basin working group for the sister lake project organised an annual public forum on 18 August to celebrate the value of lake’s natural resources and to improve community-based lake management.
The forum held at the Prince of Songkhla University provided a platform for locals, academics, government officials and other interested parties to discuss the water management issues and potentials of Songkhla. This year, the forum focused on natural disaster, fisheries management and water governance. More than 270 people participated in the event, where they discussed that more effective law enforcement, stronger university networks, and more integrated government agencies are necessary. The forum also suggested to initiate a campaign for the lake basin to be a World Heritage site.
The Nam Kam wetland project team, meanwhile, focused on the preparation of the regional public forum to share the lessons learnt from the bilateral transboundary projects. The forum was successfully held in Sakon Nakhon in early September with more than 200 people participated from across Thailand. The forum was originally scheduled for late July, but it was postponed due to an unexpected disaster of heavy storms and severe floods.
Provincial officials share their experience in water cooperation with Cambodian counterparts at a dialogue meeting in Ho Chi Minh City. ©MRC/VNMC
In preparation for the development of cross-border coordination mechanisms to jointly manage water resources in the Sesan – Srepok river basins and the Mekong Delta, the Vietnamese project teams conducted a number of consultations with relevant stakeholders in the project sites of bordering provinces.
The Mekong Delta project team held a working session with relevant departments and hydro-meteorological centers in mid-July in Ho Chi Minh City to debrief the results of the joint workshop held earlier in Vientiane. This afforded an opportunity to discuss existing provincial mechanisms on data sharing. In early August, the team further held a national stakeholder workshop in Can Tho City to present the findings of transboundary water management issues and potential solutions. A total of 41 people from relevant departments, provincial hydro-meteorological centers and civil organisations participated, and discussed existing and potential coordination mechanisms for cross-border data sharing.
In September, the team met with various local stakeholders from four provinces in the delta to explore current cooperation frameworks between those provinces and their Cambodian counterparts. The two dialogue meetings provided the team to learn about existing water cooperation schemes with their counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Sesan – Srepok river basin project team also organised a national stakeholder workshop in late July in Ho Chi Minh City where 14 participants from relevant provincial departments, hydropower companies and civil society provided their feedback on the transboundary water management issues identified in the joint study. The team also organised a dialogue meeting in late September to explore new transboundary data sharing and cooperation mechanisms with representatives of the hydropower companies and relevant departments of four provinces in the Central Highlands where the two rivers originate.