New report calls for action to protect key waterway of Southeast Asia
Vientiane, Lao PDR, 15 March 2022 — With the vital Mekong River now impacted by both water-infrastructure projects and climate change, a new report calls for urgent “water diplomacy” to protect Southeast Asia’s largest river and promote sustainable development for millions across the region.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) – which brings together Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam – today released its “Achievement Report” for the MRC Strategic Plan 2016–2020. The report marks new heights in Mekong cooperation, as it spotlights the major accomplishments, actions taken, and key indicators that have raised region-wide awareness of how development and increasingly severe flooding and drought all impact the Lower Mekong River Basin, both positively and negatively.
These activities have spurred Member Countries to take coordinated, unprecedented steps – including with the two neighbors upriver, China and Myanmar. The 174-page report also aims to publicize the lessons learned. Among the lessons – now applied to the MRC Strategic Plan 2021–2025 and Basin Development Strategy 2021–2030 – the report recommends that timely data and scientifically-rigorous knowledge should drive planners and policymakers in their decision-making and execution.
Still, more must be done today to implement measures and manage water resources, says Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwon, who in 2021 served as Chairperson of the MRC Council.
“In the Lower Mekong River Basin, the impact of climate change presents profound implications for the social and economic well-being of our constituents, which represents an ongoing challenge for policymakers,” says Wongsuwon, who is also Chairperson of the Thai National Mekong Committee. “Water diplomacy is increasingly important in our region, particularly with respect to the growing number of hydropower and other water infrastructure projects and development activities.”
To that end, the MRC revised its Indicator Framework for five factors in River Basin Management: environmental, social, economic, climate change and cooperation. Together, these indicators produce a fuller picture of the status and trends in development impact, and opportunities.
The report cites the specific example of its Regional Flood and Drought Management Centre, which in 2017 was expanded to include drought forecasting. This capability to forecast has since helped to save lives and protect property for people living in the Basin. Particularly noteworthy is that this improved forecasting is the product of deepening regional relationships, especially with Beijing. For the first time, China has agreed to share its dry-season hydrological data.
Dr An Pich Hatda, the then-CEO of the MRC Secretariat, notes other significant partnerships in the report’s preface: “We have secured a partnership with the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Water Centre and improved our partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.” Such cooperation already reaps benefits. Last year, the MRC and ASEAN convened their inaugural “Water Security Dialogue” to inspire innovative solutions to the emerging challenges for water security.
Indeed, Mekong riparians now fully steer MRC’s efforts. Prior to 2016, a foreign CEO was at the helm, with numerous international staff in the Secretariat; in 2016, the MRC named its first CEO from a Member Country, Dr Pham Tuan Phan. Moreover, one sign of successful institutional reforms is that today the entire team – led by current CEO Dr Anoulak Kittikhoun – is comprised of professionals from the four nations. At the 3rd MRC Summit in 2018, not only did the quartet’s prime ministers reaffirm the MRC’s unique mandate and mission, but China and Myanmar pledged their cooperation.
Looking forward, one highlight of the Strategic Plan 2021–2025 is the joint Basin-expert groups that represent all six Mekong countries. The groups contribute technical support for proactive planning; integrated monitoring and information systems; and coordination of Basin operations. Building on the regular, institutionalized stakeholder engagement and communication of the past five years, the MRC continues to promote an open, inclusive Prior Consultation process, enabling the public to participate proactively. These interactions led to the successful consultation of three new hydropower plants.
Note to Editors:
The MRC is an intergovernmental organization established in 1995 to boost regional dialogue and cooperation in the Lower Mekong River Basin. Based on the Mekong Agreement among Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, the MRC serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy and knowledge hub – to manage water resources and support sustainable development of the region.