Keynote Speech by

Dr An Pich Hatda
Chief Executive Officer, MRC Secretariat

on Basin Development Strategy (2021-2030) and its New Requirements
for Basin Management

at the 2nd Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum

7 December 2021, Beijing, via Video Conferencing

Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Participants,

I am deeply honoured of the opportunity to address this 2nd Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum, on behalf of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat.
At the outset, I wish to thank our Chinese friends, very much indeed, for extending the invitation to the MRC Secretariat.

In my talk today, I will be discussing the new 10-year Basin Development Strategy for 2021 and 2030 for the Mekong River Basin, as well as its New Requirements for Basin Management, as we step up to improve the overall Basin condition and balance environmental protection and water resources development.

The Basin Development Strategy, or BDS, is a blueprint that aims to engage all actors working on water resources in the Basin in a coordinated programme of work for the effective management of the entire river basin.

It recognises that pressure on the environment is increasing, the basin’s climate is changing, and the river flow regime is no longer the same. It also recognises that there are significant inequalities between different groups in the society. As a result, it calls for bolder leadership and far-reaching collective action, based on trust, good faith and enhanced cooperation among all the Basin countries through which the Mekong River flows.

As a result, in November 2020, the MRC Council of ministers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam came together in their annual meeting and approved the BDS. By approving the BDS, the Council underlined their commitment to bring about responsible development and ensure that social, economic and environmental improvements lead to better living standards for all the Mekong Basin countries and peoples.

This is why, for the first time, the BDS has taken a longer 10-year planning horizon and has sought to build a shared purpose and common direction for a cooperative action across the entire Mekong-Lancang River Basin.

In its development, the BDS had a strong guiding principle and went through a highly participatory and consultative process. For example, previous MRC and LMC declarations such as the Siem Reap Declaration of the 3rd MRC Summit, and the Phnom Penh Declaration of the 2nd Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting, served as the key founding principles.

For this reason, the BDS reflects the views of the four Lower Basin countries. It reflects their views on the many key challenges and opportunities for basin water resources management and development. It is a self-looking glass on what is needed to ensure that development is safe, responsible and harmonious for current and future generations.

So, what are the key areas of priority? What and how are we going to do to achieve these?

The BDS – as a collective vision for the entire Basin – focuses on five strategic priorities. They span across environment, social, economic, climate change and cooperation dimensions. Each of these areas reinforces and supports the other strategic priorities through 11 Outcomes and 30 Outputs, and contributes to relevant water-related Sustainable Development Goals across the basin.

The BDS encourages a focus on four other aspects.

  • First, a more proactive regional planning;
  • Second, a coordination of basin operation management;
  • Third, the modernisation of data and information acquisition, processing and sharing; and
  • Finally, more integrated Mekong-Lancang management arrangements.

With more proactive regional planning, we aim to identify new, positive solutions that basin countries have not previously considered. These are the supplementary investment projects and enabling activities that are made possible through regional cooperation, and that would not be possible or cost effective for any one country to do alone. These could be infrastructure and non-infrastructure investments that improve water, food, energy and ecosystem security.

With coordinated basin operation management, we aim to ensure that decisions on flow releases are supported by transparent data and information sharing between countries. We want to ensure that there is improved predictability of flow changes for basin communities. That operational decisions are made to help achieve multiple benefits for multiple countries, for multiple purposes – including for energy and food security, and environmental security and to mitigate the effects of severe floods and droughts.

In modernising data and information acquisition, processing and sharing, we look to ensure that our existing systems and tools for joint planning and decision-making processes are the best available and most cost effective technologies for the unique challenges we face. Our systems and tools need to reflect advances in technology and be fit-for-purpose for the increasingly variable operating environment – both due to increased flow regulation and due to climate change.

Distinguished Participants

More integrated Mekong-Lancang management arrangements mean that, in developing and managing the basin, we fully reflect the principles of IWRM. In accordance with these principles, the river basin is the correct administrative unit for planning and managing the water. It is within these principles that water resources and the land, which forms the river basin area, must be integrated, or in other words, planned and managed together.

Clearly, we can only do this with all the six basin countries, working together towards a shared purpose with common goals and objectives.

To support this effort, the BDS aims to strengthen cooperation among all basin countries and stakeholders. It does this by promoting at least five key areas:

  • First, common understanding on the potential future institutional arrangements for the entire basin management;
  • Second, the identification, assessment and development of significant joint investment projects and associated measures based on considerations of trade-offs, benefit sharing and risks;
  • Third, implementing the various Mekong water-related cooperation mechanisms and relevant partnerships in collaboration;
  • Fourth, convening Joint Basin Expert Groups involving representatives from all six riparian countries; and
  • Fifth, harmonising basin-wide stakeholder engagement and participation.

This strengthened cooperation is informed by a range of agreed directions including the 5-year Action Plan on Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation (2018-2022) and the projects within that plan identified by the basin countries.

These projects, including the establishment of a common Information Sharing Platform and the development and operation of a harmonised stakeholder platform can be well served by the MRC and the LMC Water Resources Cooperation Center, working closely together to support the countries in these efforts.

Distinguished Participants

As the focus shifts to the whole of the basin, there are many increasing challenges the basin countries need to address in the coming years. One of these significant challenged is determining the most effective and efficient institutional arrangements that are capable for supporting these countries in meeting their water resources development and management needs.

The BDS seeks to start this conversation by encouraging the countries to explore the potential options for whole-of-basin institutional arrangements. To also identify the pros and cons of different modalities and have an informed discussion about how best to work together to meet future challenges.

This includes consideration of the interaction and complementarity of the MRC and LMC Water, to minimise unnecessary duplication and ensure no gaps, with the support of our partners including through other water resources cooperation mechanisms.

Different institutional arrangements can support the countries meet different needs. However, future arrangements will need to be cost effective and efficient for basin countries. We cannot afford any messy set up. So, these arrangements will need to support continued, and where possible strengthened, political, strategic, and technical engagement at all levels between and among all riparian countries.

There are a number of measures we can put in place now to start this process, build further trust, and support our common goals. This includes, for instance, further joint studies and investigations, such as what we are doing on the changing hydrological patterns in the basin and the identification of adaptation measures.

Other initiatives could involve, for example:

  • the active participation of all countries and including the LMC Water Center in our Proactive Regional Planning exercise. This includes the sharing of data and information and technical support to help identify solutions to water security issues throughout the basin;
  • the integration of information sharing and decision support systems at the regional level along the entire river system and linked to national decision support systems in each country;
  • the strong commitment from all countries to engage in and contribute to the work of Joint Expert Groups to ensure the best technical capabilities are applied to our shared challenges and so that opportunities for technical exchange and capacity building are increased; and
  • coordinating and harmonising our stakeholder engagement efforts to ensure appropriate, targeted, and timely inputs from our various stakeholder groups.

Distinguished Participants

Whether we are talking about the Upper Mekong or the Lower Mekong, protecting the whole River System is our joint responsibility. This is the only way we can slow, and, hopefully, even reverse the environmental damages that are already hurting the river and people’s livelihoods.

I believe it is our joint, but perhaps differentiated responsibility, to ensure that the Mekong River can continue to support livelihoods and remain a beacon of peace and responsible development, in the region and for all.

That is because the Mekong River belongs to all who live in it, to those who derive benefits from it, and indeed to the whole world. A peaceful and sustainably developing Southeast Asia is, therefore, vital to all our future.

Thank you very much for your attention!