MRC Transboundary Dialogue, Issue 10
IWRMP's quarterly eNewsletter tells stories on the transboundary water resources management initiatives.
Issue 10: July - September 2017
Exploitative fishing practices, uncoordinated development of water infrastructure, and insufficient monitoring and sharing of hydro-data are among the major challenges facing Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam in managing their shared water resources across the Mekong borders, say new studies examining barriers to ensuring sustainable management of the Mekong’s water.
Stepping up collaborative efforts to address impacts of the hydro-infrastructure development and other water-related issues must be a priority in these countries, according to findings and recommendations in three reports produced by the National Mekong Committees of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam, under the MRC’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project (M-IWRMP).
"Managing the Mekong’s precious water and its related resources is complicated and requires regional cooperation. The three countries need to further strengthen collaboration to identify and agree on solutions, and prepare coordinated planning and management mechanisms to tackle the challenges they are facing,” said An Pich Hatda, MRC’s Director of Planning Division.
Published in early September, one of the reports jointly produced by Cambodia and Lao PDR examines fisheries management issues in the Mekong and Sekong Rivers along the borders of the two neighbors. It identifies exploitative fishing practices, habitat degradation, and lack of fisheries data and their sharing as the main obstacles that need to be addressed.
Another joint report from Cambodia and Viet Nam places emphasis on water resources management in the Mekong Delta across the two territories. Issues identified include lack of strategic transboundary management plan of flood and drought control, uncoordinated development of water infrastructure and limited monitoring network on hydrological, meteorological and water quality data.
In the report focusing on water resources in the Sesan and Srepok River Basins, Cambodia and Viet Nam cite insufficient monitoring and assessment of water flow, lack of flood forecasting and warning mechanisms, and limited mitigation measures to address the impacts of hydro-infrastructural development as key barriers to managing the basins’ water resources.
These reports were produced based on literature reviews, consultations with national and local stakeholders and field surveys. They also provide strategic recommendations, including reinforcing bilateral collaboration and empowering the coordination mechanisms in order to respond to the challenges identified.
Building on these studies, the countries will work together on a bilateral basis to develop joint cooperation schemes to address some of the issues.
With financial support from the World Bank, the MRC’s M-IWRMP will continue to assist these lower Mekong countries in fostering more sustainable water development and management and maximising benefits to the livelihoods of the riverine communities.
Frequent dialogue to understand each other, attention to different needs of the concerned countries, and strong commitment to joint actions are some of the main lessons learnt from bilateral projects of water cooperation among the four Mekong countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, according to a regional forum organised by the Thai National Mekong Committee.
Transboundary water resources management in the Mekong sub-basins along the borders have been experimented on a bilateral basis through the Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Project of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) since late 2013. The four countries have launched five bilateral projects, each focusing on fisheries, delta, lake, river, or wetland resources management, to develop cross-border cooperation to address common resources management issues such as water quality degradation and insufficient data sharing for flood and drought control.
The regional forum “Lower Mekong Transboundary Cooperation: Joint Actions Joint Solutions” in Sakon Nakhon was held from 12 – 14 September to share achievements of the bilateral projects and explore lessons for future collaboration in the extended areas among the Mekong countries, in particular between Thailand and its neighbors. About 200 participants from community-based river basin networks, academic institutions, public agencies and international organisations based in Thailand attended the forum.
Among the five bilateral projects, Thailand has been paired with Cambodia over lake governance and with Lao PDR over wetland management. Cambodia and Viet Nam have worked on delta resources management and hydro-development issues, while Lao PDR collaborates with Cambodia for fisheries matters.
Sharing experiences of those bilateral projects, representatives of the four Mekong countries laid out a few key points that have made their projects successful.
“The most important thing is that the two countries are now aware of transboundary issues and committed to solving those issues together,” said Phai Sok Heng, Cambodian consultant to the Mekong Delta project. He continued that frequent meetings and discussions to understand each other was a key factor to find common issues and explore joint solutions through cooperation. “We’ve met so many times to discuss and work together for common goals, and finally started understanding our counterparts more. Without this understanding, it was impossible to explore effective collaboration.”
Project members of other countries also echoed a similar view and shared the challenges they encountered during the project execution. “It was difficult to communicate between the two countries when they had different interests,” said Vietnam’s Senior Programme Officer Tran Minh Khoi, recalling lengthy discussions held to agree on joint transboundary issues in the face of hydropower and irrigation development. “How to consolidate different needs of the two countries was the biggest challenge.”
Sakon Nakhon is a center of the Nam Kam river basin that has been matched up with Lao’s Xe Bang Hieng basin for mutual learning on the integrated planning and management of wetland resources. Lao consultant Daovinh Souphonphacdy said that even though the two countries are at a different economic development stage, they could still learn from each other on how to better manage wetlands. “In our case, similar culture and customs have helped us understand each other better,” she said.
During the forum, 200 participants had an opportunity to further discuss in a smaller group how to apply those lessons for basin management in other parts of the Mekong Basin, in particular in wetland management, fisheries, climate change adaptation, and flood and drought management.
Patcharee Saiboonyuan from the Nam Hueang river basin working group in Leoi, Thailand, was pleased to have that opportunity. "The information provided by the bilateral projects was very helpful for us because they could be applied to other working groups like us," she said after the forum, elaborating that her group is now looking into a possibility to collaborate with Lao counterparts to address forest fire issues along the river. “We’d like to work on forest fire prevention with Lao people. Collaboration between the government and the government might take some time to develop, but cooperation between people and people in the local area should be easier. The lessons shared by the bilateral projects are encouraging.”
The Mekong IWRM Project aims to facilitate transboundary dialogue at regional, national and sub-basin levels, and promotes IWRM principles of coordinated planning and management of water resources for sustainable development. Its bilateral projects are funded by the World Bank, and slated for completion in March 2018.
The five bilateral projects are coordinated by each member country’s National Mekong Committee (NMC), which takes an active role in facilitating the work of line agencies and local working groups for the execution of those projects. Here’s a brief report from the four NMCs.
Accelerating national efforts to complete the bilateral projects by early next year, Cambodian teams of the Sesan – Srepok and the Mekong Delta water resources management projects worked on the development of bilateral cooperation mechanisms to address transboundary water issues such as impacts of hydropower development and climate change.
On 12 July, the Ministry of Water Resources Management held a national consultation workshop to discuss with officials of line ministries the needs for bilateral information sharing and coordination mechanisms to improve water cooperation in the Mekong Delta. They assessed the existing schemes for information exchange, and identified financial and resources constraints for data sharing between Cambodia and Viet Nam. Participants reminded the project team that the two countries need to agree on the type of data, methods of data collection and analysis, and purposes of information exchange among other issues. The project team continued to work on the preparation of a joint coordination framework for the two bilateral projects.
Meanwhile, the Cambodian National Mekong Committee co-hosted a joint fish release day on 7 August in Stung Treng to increase public awareness of fish conservation and fisheries laws. More than 400 people participated in the event, where a number of fish were released, and five high school students received awards for their outstanding drawings at a picture contest on fisheries and environment.
In addition, the Tonle Sap Lake team for the sister-lake communications project held a workshop in early July in Siem Reap to consult with relevant stakeholders a draft report on its three community-based pilot projects of climate change adaptation, women’s empowerment and fisheries conservation. The team noted a few recommendations made by the 23 participants.
While the Xe Bang Hieng wetland project team focused on the preparation for the regional forum on transboundary water cooperation in Sakon Nakhon, the Mekong – Sekong fisheries project team held a national workshop on 23 August in Pakse to prepare for the development of a cross-national fisheries management plan.
The team shared with 18 participants from Attapeu and Champasack provinces the knowledge of the five migratory white fish species it monitors and discussed significant knowledge gaps on fisheries management at the provincial level. Following the national workshop, the team participated in the joint transboundary fishery management workshop on the Mekong and Sekong river basins, also held in Pakse, where Cambodian fisheries officials also joined for bilateral discussions.
The Songkhla Lake Basin working group for the sister lake project organised an annual public forum on 18 August to celebrate the value of lake’s natural resources and to improve community-based lake management.
The forum held at the Prince of Songkhla University provided a platform for locals, academics, government officials and other interested parties to discuss the water management issues and potentials of Songkhla. This year, the forum focused on natural disaster, fisheries management and water governance. More than 270 people participated in the event, where they discussed that more effective law enforcement, stronger university networks, and more integrated government agencies are necessary. The forum also suggested to initiate a campaign for the lake basin to be a World Heritage site.
The Nam Kam wetland project team, meanwhile, focused on the preparation of the regional public forum to share the lessons learnt from the bilateral transboundary projects. The forum was successfully held in Sakon Nakhon in early September with more than 200 people participated from across Thailand. The forum was originally scheduled for late July, but it was postponed due to an unexpected disaster of heavy storms and severe floods.
In preparation for the development of cross-border coordination mechanisms to jointly manage water resources in the Sesan – Srepok river basins and the Mekong Delta, the Vietnamese project teams conducted a number of consultations with relevant stakeholders in the project sites of bordering provinces.
The Mekong Delta project team held a working session with relevant departments and hydro-meteorological centers in mid-July in Ho Chi Minh City to debrief the results of the joint workshop held earlier in Vientiane. This afforded an opportunity to discuss existing provincial mechanisms on data sharing. In early August, the team further held a national stakeholder workshop in Can Tho City to present the findings of transboundary water management issues and potential solutions. A total of 41 people from relevant departments, provincial hydro-meteorological centers and civil organisations participated, and discussed existing and potential coordination mechanisms for cross-border data sharing.
In September, the team met with various local stakeholders from four provinces in the delta to explore current cooperation frameworks between those provinces and their Cambodian counterparts. The two dialogue meetings provided the team to learn about existing water cooperation schemes with their counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Sesan – Srepok river basin project team also organised a national stakeholder workshop in late July in Ho Chi Minh City where 14 participants from relevant provincial departments, hydropower companies and civil society provided their feedback on the transboundary water management issues identified in the joint study. The team also organised a dialogue meeting in late September to explore new transboundary data sharing and cooperation mechanisms with representatives of the hydropower companies and relevant departments of four provinces in the Central Highlands where the two rivers originate.