In developing the Basin Development Strategy (BDS) 2021-2030, 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

  • The natural flow regime of the Mekong has changed as a result of the hydropower dams constructed on the mainstream in the Upper Mekong River Basin and on tributaries in the Lower Mekong River Basin (and other factors), yielding both opportunities and risks. The construction of the first two dams on the mainstream in the Lower Mekong River Basin is also now complete and others are progressing through the planning process.
  • Floodplains are being developed and flood protection and river training are being taken up at many locations along the mainstream and in the Mekong delta for urbanisation, industrialisation and full-year irrigation. Industrial activities such as sediment extraction from river channels are increasing.
  • The potential for water-related emergency situations is increasing, including from dam breaks, sudden water level changes, and water quality incidents from increased navigation, development pressures and climate change. Natural disasters, such as flood and droughts, could become more frequent and severe in the future.
  • Developments outside the water sector are impacting water related resources. These include the construction of (international) roads, railways and power transmission infrastructure, the development of non-irrigated agriculture and mining activities, as well as deforestation and urbanisation.

Basin-Wide Opportunities

Compared to previous editions of the Strategy, this BDS 2021-2030 updates and broadens the sustainable development opportunities with environmental and social investment opportunities to include:

  • Hydropower development to promote energy security and cross-border trade, and contribute to flood and drought management and a low-carbon economy;
  • Irrigated and climate-smart agriculture development to improve efficiency, increase resilience against drought and improve household food and water security needs;
  • Navigation development as an integrated, effective, safe and environmentally friendly way to move people and goods;
  • Leveraging the value from regionally significant environmental assets to rehabilitate forested areas in watersheds and preserve, restore and leverage the remaining wetlands and riverine habitats;
  • Flood and drought mitigation as a development opportunity in its own right or as part of other water sector investments;
  • Sustainable livelihoods to reduce inequities and achieve greater social inclusion of vulnerable communities in conjunction with joint and significant national projects; and
  • Fisheries and aquatic resources including fish stock enhancement and sustainable aquaculture to support food security.