Lower Mekong countries on January 26 agreed to adopt a set of strategic priorities for the basin-wide sustainable development of water resources, introducing a five-year action plan that addresses both economic opportunities and potential environmental and social impacts.
The Basin Development Strategy was endorsed at a three-day meeting in Ho Chi Minh City by the water and environment ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, the four member countries of the Mekong River Commission.
It is a product designed and owned by the countries after consultations with other regional stakeholders.
“The adoption of this strategy is a milestone achievement. This is the first time that the four members of the Mekong River Commission have set out how we will share, utilize, manage and conserve water resources in the basin,” said Mr. Pham Khoi Nguyen, Vietnam’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, and current Chairman of the governing body of the Mekong River Commission.
MRC is a regional inter-governmental advisory organization that facilitated the consultations and the making of the strategy.
The strategy comes at a time of significant changes in the region, where rapid, large-scale development activities of the basin’s water resources, including hydropower generation and intensified irrigated agriculture, are taking place, which together with the consequences of climate change, will modify the Mekong’s flow regime.
The Vietnamese environment minister added, “It is a timely agreement to seek balanced benefit sharing, conserve the environment and ensure the wellbeing of people in our basin.”
The strategic priorities set out immediate national and regional priority actions and will be reviewed every five years.
The three-day meeting in Ho Chi Minh City included the 17th meeting of the MRC Council, and the 15th meeting of regional stakeholders, such as the Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Program, World Bank, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Delegates at the 17th meeting of the MRC Council pose for a group photo (Photo: Chinhphu.vn)
“With this strategy, each country, from now on, has a guide to use as a framework to look at its own plans and see what should be added or changed to harmonize with regional planning,” said Mr. Phetsamone Southalack, who is responsible for MRC’s basin planning program.
“The strategy gives immediate attention to the needed transboundary cooperation. This can lead to, for example, certainty and security of the basin’s natural dry season flows, reduced flood peaks and minimized impacts on wetlands, sediment and nutrient supply,” he added.
During the three-day meeting, a breakthrough in sustainable hydropower development was made with the launch of an innovative new assessment tool that helps identify the most sustainable sites, designs and operation rules for hydropower development in the lower Mekong River Basin.
The ADB, MRC and WWF launched the Rapid Basin-wide Hydropower Sustainable Development Tool.
“This is a breakthrough in sustainable hydropower development because it allows for hydropower projects to be assessed within the basin-wide context, rather than on a case-by-case basis,” said Marc Goichot, senior infrastructure advisor for WWF Greater Mekong Program.
“The sustainability of hydropower projects cannot be assessed in isolation from one another. Their cumulative impacts need to be considered and this is the only way to ensure the ecosystems and the services they provide are conserved,” he added.
Currently, there are over 100 hydropower projects proposed for the lower Mekong River Basin that encompasses parts of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the MRC.
The tool is to be used by stakeholders such as government agencies and regulators, river basin organizations, developers, financial institutions and civil society groups. The tool uses existing social, environmental, cultural, economic and financial information on a river basin to make the rapid assessment.
According to the MRC, the tool is designed to assess existing and proposed cascades of hydropower projects within a sub-basin or multiple projects within a basin of a tributary; a single hydropower project and its relationship to a tributary basin; a sub-basin as a whole that has hydropower potential; and trans-boundary issues for basins shared by different countries.