Social dimension

The social dimension of the MRC Indicator Framework reflects the MRC’s intention to promote social development and the well-being of all riparian States as reflected in Chapter 1 of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which reaffirms the Member Countries’ “determination to continue to cooperate and promote in a constructive and mutually beneficial manner in the sustainable development, utilization, conservation and management of the Mekong River Basin water and related resources for navigational and non-navigational purposes, for social and economic development and the well-being of all riparian States, consistent with the needs to protect, preserve, enhance and manage the environmental and aquatic conditions and maintenance of the ecological balance exceptional to this river basin”. Three strategic indicators supported by eight assessment indicators have been selected to measure whether these objectives are being met.

↓ Scroll down to view the three strategic indicators supported by eight assessment indicators

Note: The selected findings presented here should be interpreted considering the assumptions, methodologies and data sources of the SOBR 2018. For complete assessments, consult the SOBR 2018 report.

Living conditions and well-being

Assessment indicators:

  • Food security
  • Water security
  • Health security
  • Access to electricity

The Overall living conditions and well-being in LMB have improved significantly over the last fifteen years. All countries have experienced improvements in food security with greater access to adequate levels of nutrition, declines in undernourishment and levels of malnutrition. Indicators of water security have generally improved, including access to potable water supplies. Although drought susceptibility remains a problem in some areas, this may be off-set by a decline in dependence on agriculture for livelihoods.

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Figure description: Despite higher levels of undernourishment in Lao PDR and Cambodia, due to larger populations in Thailand and Viet Nam, the absolute number of undernourished people is highest in Thailand (2.4 million), then Viet Nam (2.1 million), with around 2 million and 1.1 million undernourished people in the Cambodian and Laotian portion of the LMB. Thus, despite the relative abundance of dietary energy supply in both Thailand and Viet Nam, based upon these figures undernourishment remains a problem. As with other indicators, in the case of Thailand and Viet Nam care needs to be taken in the interpretation of national level indicators. Nevertheless, given the socio-economic characteristics of the Thai and Vietnamese portions of the basin, if anything the undernourishment figures are likely to be under-estimates.

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Figure description: All countries have improved water access substantially, although Thailand performs best with close to 100% of the population enjoying access to basic drinking water services in 2015, a little over 90% of the population in Viet Nam also had access to drinking water services in 2015, and the figures for Lao PDR and Cambodia were 80% and 75% respectively. Drinking water services in rural areas are marginally less extensive, in 2015 97% of Thailand’s rural population had basic drinking water services, in Viet Nam 91%, in Lao PDR 73% and Cambodia 70%.

There are some indications that damage due to flooding is increasing, although again this may be the result of greater investment in the region putting more capital assets at risk. Health security indicators have also seen improvement in terms of improved access to basic sanitation and access to health services.

Health outcomes have seen significant improvement with declining mortality rates and increased life expectancy. Access to electricity has also improved rapidly; Thailand and Viet Nam have close to 100% access even in rural areas, and Lao PDR has improved access significantly in recent years. Cambodia has made improvements in electrification but continues to perform badly, with low levels of service particularly in rural areas.

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Figure description: According to recent figures 100% of households in rural and urban areas in Viet Nam and Thailand had access to electricity in 2016. In Lao PDR, 87% of the total population and 80% of the rural population had access to electricity in 2016. Cambodia lags well behind with only around 50% of the total population having access to electricity, this drops to 34% in rural areas. However, these figures possibly overstate population access to electricity as they do not report the affordability of electricity, the quality of supply (which may be intermittent in many rural and remote areas) or households which rely on off-grid electricity provision. Updated figures from the Electricity Authority of Cambodia suggest that by 2016 58% of households had an electricity connection, and by 2018 that figure had increased to 72% (EAC 2018).

Nevertheless, there remains significant variation in performance between LMB countries largely reflecting the differing stages of development. There is also likely to be substantial sub-national variation in performance which is not picked up by these largely national level indicators.

Employment in MRC water-related sectors

Assessment indicators:

  • Employment rate in MRC water-related sectors
  • Economic security
  • Gender equality in employment and economic engagement

Employment in MRC water-related sectors is assessed in terms of economic security and gender equality in employment and economic engagement. Insufficient data have been made available to fully address the requirements of the Indicator Framework or to explore the assessment indicators to the depth they merit.

The main water-related economic sectors in the LMB are agriculture, fisheries, and navigation and to a somewhat lesser extent, hydropower, tourism, and forestry. Employment in water-related sectors in the LMB remains high, although the importance of direct employment, particularly in agriculture, is declining as work opportunities in other sectors (often services and manufacturing located outside the LMB) develop.

Employment in capture fisheries also remains important for livelihoods, although often as a source of secondary or supplemental employment. Tourism also stands out as an important source of employment in the LMB, and one that is likely to grow rapidly. Employment in navigation is also likely to be significant in some parts of the basin, such as the delta, and has the potential to grow rapidly in the future.

At the same time, the poverty rate has fallen dramatically across all LMB countries, approximately halving in the last decade and by around three-quarters since the turn of the century. This indicates increased economic security across the basin and is probably linked closely to changes in patterns of employment and improved productivity.

Evidence on gender equality in employment and economic opportunity is limited. Gender disaggregated data on employment in agriculture and related sectors points to small but persistent differences in male and female employment patterns. However, the implications of these differences are difficult to interpret with regard to gender equality. The Gender Parity Index (GPI) for primary school enrolment, on the other hand, is a concrete indicator of continuing gender disparities in the region, with boys clearly getting preferential access to primary education, particularly in Lao PDR and Cambodia. Understanding this geographic variation is critical to achieve a better understanding of the causal factors determining these outcomes, and ultimately the design and targeting of appropriate policy interventions. Moreover, the availability of sub-national data would allow the development of more accurate estimates of indicator values for the LMB than is currently the case when using national level data. Using national level data is particularly problematic for Thailand and Viet Nam, where their respective populations within the LMB only constitute a small share of their total populations.

Primary enrolment Gender Parity Index (GPI) from LMB country national level data (2003-2016)

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Figure description: All LMB countries have experienced significant and persistent gender differentials in primary school enrolment, with a greater level of male than female enrolment. However, all countries have also improved between 2003 and 2016. Viet Nam shows the best performance with gradual improvement in female enrolment between 2003 and 2016 and a GPI exceeding one in 2016. Thailand has shown less improvement over the period, and in 2015 seems to have experienced a relative decline in female enrolment after a GPI exceeding one in 2014. Cambodia and Lao PDR have also seen gradual improvement, however, GPIs in both countries indicate continuing gender differentials in primary enrolment rates.

Description of GPI: The gender parity index (GPI) for gross enrolment ratio in primary education is the ratio of girls to boys enrolled at primary level in public and private schools. Values of less than one indicate a higher proportion of boys enrolled in primary education than girls, and values greater than one indicate a higher proportion of girls than boys enrolled.