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MRC unites four nations to protect Mekong

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has served as a very important international cooperation platform as it has been able to bring together four nations with different interests to protect the Mekong River, according to the head of this international organisation.
“For the past 25 years, the commission has brought the four member countries together, despite their vested interests, to implement various basin-wide procedures, guidelines and strategies to develop, manage and protect the Mekong River,” the MRC Secretariat CEO Dr An Pich Hatda said.

He made the comment while giving an exclusive interview to Vientiane Times recently to mark the 25th anniversary of the MRC, the intergovernmental organisation representing Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam on April 5, 1995, signed the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin to develop and protect Southeast Asia’s mighty Mekong River. This Mekong cooperation agreement gave birth to the MRC.
Dr Hatda said that for more than two decades the region’s premier intergovernmental agency had achieved a lot of successes which had contributed to the maintenance of economic growth, environmental protection and poverty reduction in the four lower Mekong countries.
The key outcomes of the MRC include the broadening of monitoring and reporting systems on basin conditions and impacts. This has enabled the four members to become aware of the positive and negative effects of water infrastructure projects in the river.
Through this monitoring, he added, fundamental information on hydrology, sediment, water quality, fisheries and ecological heath has been made available for developing and safeguarding the river, which sustains some 65 million people.
When asked about the challenges the Mekong faces today, Dr Hatda said that growing demand for water for economic development posed  significant challenges for the protection of the river.
“We’ve faced difficult trade-offs between increased developments in the energy, transport and agriculture sectors, and the conservation and protection of the environment and local livelihoods,” he said, adding that the Mekong River today is not the Mekong River we once knew.
According to the MRC’s State of the Basin Report, released last year, the Mekong has experienced flow regime changes, a continual loss of wetlands, deterioration of riverine habitats, and a reduction in fish catches and sediment transport.
The MRC also reported that the 2019 drought had brought water levels in the Mekong to their lowest point over the last 60 years. Most parts of the basin had experienced an exceptionally low flow since June last year, it added.
Addressing these challenges would require evolving functions of the MRC and much stronger cooperation where different interests are aligned and advanced technologies are used.
“The MRC should evolve, from cooperation primarily on knowledge creation and sharing, to more pro-active basin planning – that is, assessing and recommending basin-wide projects not in the countries plans – and the coordination of infrastructure operations,” Dr Hatda added.
Member countries needed to adjust their regional and national interests, adopting pro-active regional development planning and coordinated management. They needed to work together, as a team, “with a shared goal and a common interest, and to honour their commitments to each other and to stakeholders,” the CEO said.
Members also needed to advance their current knowledge, data and information and uptake MRC products accumulated over the past 25 years.
“All of these will help tackle emerging development issues and meet the needs of members, while keeping a balance of interests among the countries involved, and between the development and protection of the environment and local livelihoods,” Dr Hatda said.

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
(Latest Update April 3, 2020)

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