In developing the Basin Development Strategy 2016-2020 (BDS 2016-2020), the Member Countries and the MRC Secretariat identified a set of basin-wide development and management needs, trade-offs, challenges and opportunities. They are outlined as follows:

Basin Needs

  • Food and livelihood security: Agriculture and fisheries will continue to contribute to local food and income security. Sustainable hydropower development will contribute to employment and national poverty reduction.
  • Resilience against flood and drought: Infrastructural developments will reduce natural flood plain storage. Together with the impact of climate change, this will increase the severity of both mainstream floods and tributary flash floods. As cities and populations grow, more protection is needed to secure infrastructure, assets and lives. Greater drought resilience is also needed, especially in light of climate change impacts.  
  • Energy security: Regional energy demands will continue to grow and the need for national energy security will remain important for the Member Countries. Demand for hydropower is expected to remain high as a cost-effective source of renewable energy.  
  • Improved navigation: It is important to maintain freedom of navigation and enhance river-borne transport networks to support remote communities, facilitate shipment of bulk goods and strengthen regional interconnectivity. 

Basin Challenges

  • Environmental degradation from developments in water and non-water sectors: The MRC scenario and other assessments show that ongoing degradation of water quality, biodiversity, wetlands and environmental assets and depletion of fish stocks is likely to continue with developments in water-related sectors (intensive agriculture and aquaculture, hydropower and irrigation dams, flood control work, sand mining and navigation dredging, etc.) and beyond (e.g. industrialisation, urbanisation, deforestation, etc.).
  • Hydropower developments in the Upper and Lower Mekong River Basin: The construction of a hydropower cascade on the Upper Mekong in China is nearly complete, bringing both benefits and risks to the Lower Mekong. While hydropower development plans in Thailand and Viet Nam have mostly been completed, it remains central to the economic and poverty reduction strategy of Lao PDR, while Cambodia is also working on such development plans. Further anticipated development of hydropower has the potential to bring about large and transformative benefits, especially for the poorer countries in the region, but may also lead to significant costs and risks, especially to capture fisheries and sediment if not properly managed.
  • Climate change: Temperatures are set to increase and sea levels to rise, while rainfall and run-off patterns are expected to change. This could result in greater hydrological variability and, in the short term, increase the uncertainty associated with developments. Increased risk of flooding and drought is expected, with low-lying areas downstream particularly at risk.
  • Water-related poverty: Whilst long-term changes in the rural socio-economy may reduce the numbers of vulnerable resource users in the future, poverty reduction in the Mekong region remains a major challenge in the medium term and an indispensable requirement of sustainable development. Developments within the water-related sectors should contribute to this while avoiding or minimising harm to those whose livelihoods depend upon natural resources.
  • Gender mainstreaming is critically important for sustainable development in the Mekong River Basin. Men and women contribute and are impacted differently by water resources development and management. Better understanding of these differential effects is needed to enable gender-inclusive development strategies that contribute significantly to economic growth and poverty reduction, as well as to equity objectives. 

Basin-Wide Opportunities

Based on current assessments, and in light of identified needs and challenges, the development opportunities identified in the BDS 2016-2020 are: 

  • Tributary hydropower development
  • Expansion of irrigated agriculture
  • Mainstream hydropower development
  • Other opportunities: fisheries, navigation, flood and drought management, watershed management, tourism and environment