Actions to address Mekong plastic pollution take shape
Vientiane, Lao PDR, 13 February 2020 – In a bid to reduce plastic waste and fight plastic pollution in the Mekong region, government officials and researchers from the four Mekong countries agreed to assess plastic waste leakage into the Mekong River system in order to inform the current state of plastic pollutants in the region and offer policy recommendations to address the challenges.
According to a study on export of plastic debris by rivers into the sea published in an academic journal Environmental Science & Technology in November 2017, the Mekong River was one of the 10 rivers that collectively carried between 88 – 95% of plastics into the world’s oceans. There were also other reports around plastic lifestyle that was proliferating across the Mekong neighborhoods without basin-wide countermeasures.
At this week’s regional workshop in Vientiane hosted by the Mekong River Commission Secretariat and United Nations Environment Program Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 50 government officials and university researchers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam were brought to discuss assessment methodologies to study plastic debris and its sources across the Mekong. It was held as part of a 10-month long UNEP’s “Counter-MEASURE” project that will conclude this March.
“The assessment will provide the four Mekong countries with scientific evidence and information on plastic debris, plastic pollution and its threat to the environment and people,” Ms. Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, the UNEP Regional Coordinator for Chemicals, Waste and Air Quality addressed the meeting that took place from 11 – 12 February.
The assessment will involve monitoring and collecting plastic debris and waste leakage in five sites located in major urban cities of the Mekong River, including Chiang Rai, Vientiane, Ubon Ratchathani, Phnom Penh and Can Tho where four Mekong universities will take lead.
Funded by the Japanese government, the Counter-MEASURE or the Project on Promotion of Countermeasures Against Marine Plastic Litter in Southeast Asia and India was launched in mid-2019 and is led by the UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. It aims to study land-based plastic leakage entering water ways, such as rivers and canals or drainages, into the sea in the Mekong River basin, and in Mumbai and the Ganges River basin in India.
In the Mekong, the MRC and UNEP implement this project as part of their larger technical collaboration both parties signed in January.
Dr. An Pich Hatda, the MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer, said the partnership with UNEP comes at the right time, as the member states are going to conduct national reviews on status and trends of plastic debris, including legal and institutional framework for plastic pollution management as part of the MRC’s annual work plan 2020.
“The reviews aim to provide a better picture and understanding of the plastic issues in each of the four countries,” he said, adding that the MRC will formulate a long-term activity to monitor, assess and provide policy recommendations to the Member Countries, using results from the national reviews and Counter-MEASURE project.
“We hope to incorporate the findings into our next Mekong State of the Basin Report to provide a fuller statement of past trends and present conditions within the basin and to track changes brought about by the Mekong cooperation.
“We also hope to develop a Mekong strategic framework for plastic pollution management and create networks across the four countries for the monitoring and management of the Mekong plastic pollution.”
Note to editors:
The Mekong River Commission is an intergovernmental organization for regional dialogue and cooperation in the lower Mekong river basin, established in 1995 based on the Mekong Agreement between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. The organization serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region.