Vientiane, Lao PDR, 18 Oct 2018
Issue 14: July - Sept 2018
A new booklet entitled “An Introduction to MRC Procedural Rules for Mekong Water Cooperation” has been published in English and four riparian languages to help understand how the regional intergovernmental organization promotes rule-based water cooperation among its member countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The A5, 20-page small booklet is the first public information material to explain the Mekong River Commission’s complex procedural rules for cooperation in a simple language. It introduces the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which created the MRC as a platform for water diplomacy and a knowledge hub on water resources management, and its five sets of procedural rules to materialise the agreement. It explains how these procedural rules have supported regional cooperation and sustainable development of the lower Mekong basin.
The procedural rules, known as the MRC Procedures, were developed over the years by the member countries to guide their cooperation. They include the Procedures for Data and Information Exchange and Sharing (PDIES) which support data sharing among the four countries; the Procedures for Water Use Monitoring (PWUM) that require the development of a monitoring system of water use in the Mekong River system; the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) that facilitate the cooperation of water use over various water infrastructure developments; the Procedures for the Maintenance of Flows on the Mainstream (PMFM) to monitor and maintain adequate water flow of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers; and the Procedures for Water Quality (PWQ) to safeguard the quality of the Mekong water with a standardized monitoring system. These procedural rules altogether provide a systematic and unified instrument for the implementation of the agreement.
“The booklet is the first of its kind to introduce in a simple language the complex procedural rules for the intergovernmental water cooperation,” said Pham Tuan Phan, CEO of the MRC Secretariat. “We hope it would help the public to understand that the Mekong countries cooperate based on the agreed procedures to achieve more equitable and sustainable development of the basin.”
The MRC’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project promotes the application of those rules within the region through transboundary bilateral projects among the member countries.
In the booklet, each set of the procedures is presented with its overview, a summary of rules and a brief explanation of how those rules have been applied for water cooperation. Maps, visual charts and photos also accompany the text to help comprehend the complex rules.
The booklet has been printed and distributed to the interested parties through the member countries and the MRC’s regional public events.
Officials and community members of Thailand’s Songkhla Lake basin and Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake pledged on 17 August to continue their friendship and joint learning in the future even after their bilateral outreach project on lake resources management ends this year.
The pledge was made at the wrap up meeting between the two sides in Hat Yai, Thailand, following a four-day field visit to the three communities of the Songkhla basin by the Cambodian team.
“We’ve built such a strong friendship between the two lakes, especially between people and people, including children,” said Chatchai Ratanachai, an environmental professor who led the Thai team of the bilateral project for the last five years. “This is our last meeting, but our relationship will not end here. We’ll continue our good friendship for the years to come.”
The project began in October 2013, with an aim to improve lake resources management and livelihoods through peer-to-peer learning between the two lakes and community outreach work. Since then, the two sides made a couple of reciprocal field visits to meet their counterparts to observe what issues they face and how they address those issues. With help from the communication team of the Mekong River Commission, they also created a number of video clips on local issues and local solutions, and exchanged videos to show their counterparts’ way of life to their fellow villagers.
During the final field visit of the Cambodian team to Songkhla, the 20-member delegation visited three pilot sites of Songkhla: Thale Noi, a northern tip of the lake working on adaptation of climate change; Chong Feun, a Muslim fishing village renowned for its successful microfinancing and community development; and Tahin, a simple but thriving community with natural resources-based income generation activities.
The visitors were wowed by success stories of those community sites. In Thale Noi, they walked through an eco-village with a web of elevated footpaths that protect the village from flooding, where tourists could observe how villagers prepare fishing gears and making mats and other handicrafts from Sedge. In Chong Feun, they learnt how a community’s saving group grew from 180 members with a total of 1,800 baht in savings to more than 10 million baht in savings with over 1,000 members in 30 years, and how it helped improve community fisheries conservation. In Tahin, they saw how palm trees thrived the village with sweets and skin care products made of those trees in the last 20 years.
All these success stories started from a small trial by a community leader who tirelessly helped their village rise and share the benefits of improvement among themselves. Over the years, they received praises and supports from charities, universities and the government to expand their activities further.
“We learnt many things during the exchange visits,” said Wat Botkosal, Deputy Secretary General of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee who led the delegation. “We observed successful stories of alternative income generation, effective microfinancing, and strong fisheries conservation. We can compare these with Cambodia, and find a way to improve livelihoods of Tonle Sap lake communities.”
The Tonle Sap Authority (TSA), which coordinates the work of line ministries to improve lake governance and has led the bilateral lake project, has a plan to continue its support for community development of the pilot site in Battambang province, and information sharing through forums on water solutions between Tonle Sap and Songkhla. “We’ll not waste our new knowledge learnt from our Thai friends,” said Sin Viseth, TSA’s head of Exploitation and Conservation Control.
The lake project is part of the five transboundary initiatives among the MRC member countries under the Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project, which promote a holistic approach to develop and manage water resources in the Mekong basin. Funded by the World Bank, all five transboundary initiatives are slated to complete by the end of this year.
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.
While the lake project team visited its Thai counterpart, Songkhla Lake, for their last peer-to-peer learning, three other project teams of Cambodia concentrated on drafting and revising joint reports on their respective projects to document the processes of developing new bilateral water cooperation along the borders with Lao PDR and Viet Nam.
The Mekong-Sekong Fisheries project team has been finalising a joint action plan to collaborate for the management of fisheries in the border provinces, while the Mekong Delta team and the Sesan-Srepok rivers team were busy finalising the design of cross-border coordination mechanisms to improve data and information exchange over shared water resources. The two project teams collaborating with Viet Nam were also preparing a working paper of the national action plan on how and when they exchange data and do other joint activities. The two teams are planning to organise a sub national stakeholder workshop for affected communities and local authorities in late October to discuss the proposed coordination mechanisms and action plans.
Fisheries experts and officials of the Lao National Mekong Committee and relevant ministries organised on 14 September a two-day annual national workshop on transboundary fisheries management in the Mekong and Sekong Rivers in Pakse, Champassak.
Inviting local stakeholders such as community representatives and provincial officials, the workshop shared the progress of the bilateral fisheries management project with Cambodia. The officials presented findings and knowledge gap about the five species of white migratory fish the project team has been monitoring, and discussed needs for technical capacity building and further research on the species to complete the implementation of a joint fisheries management plan. The workshop also afforded an opportunity to identify the roles and responsibilities of relevant local stakeholders in the management plan.
The workshop helped to increase awareness of their important roles in the joint fisheries management plan the project team is currently finalising. The results will be shared at an upcoming joint workshop with Cambodian counterparts in late October.
Meanwhile, the Lao wetland management project team completed its work in June, and submitted its final report for endorsement.
Having completed national activities related to the two bilateral projects with Cambodia and Lao PDR, respectively, Thai project teams were focusing on documenting their project scopes and peer-to-peer learning processes on lake management and wetland management.
The Songkhla Lake project team also welcomed its Cambodian counterparts from Tonle Sap Lake in mid-August, briefing on how their communities engage in the improvement of natural resources-based livelihoods and environmental preservation.
Two project teams for the Mekong Delta and the Sesan-Srepok rivers management have also completed all planned national activities, including local consultations. The two teams therefore concentrated on finalising joint reports documenting the national action plan on how to collaborate with Cambodian counterparts to exchange data on water resources management in the concerned provinces for coordinated planning. The two teams also prepared for an upcoming joint workshop on bilateral collaboration slated for late October.