MRC Unveils 10-year Strategy and 5-year Action Plan to Balance Basin Development and Management

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MRC unveils basin development strategy

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) yesterday released a new ten-year Basin Development Strategy (BDS) for the Mekong River Basin and a five-year Strategic Plan (MRC SP) to enable Mekong countries to address emerging challenges and improve the overall state of the basin.

The BDS 2021–2030, approved by the Council of Ministers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, focuses on five priority areas: improved ecological functions of the Mekong River for a healthy environment and productive communities; improved access to and use of water and related resources for community well-being; development sustainability for inclusive economic growth; resilience against climate and disaster risks; and enhanced regional cooperation from a whole-of-basin perspective.

“The strategy is aligned with the Mekong governments’ priorities and needs for achieving a stronger and more resilient Mekong River Basin through proactive planning and coordinated management, and thus ensures a balance between economic development and environmental protection,” said Dr An Pich Hatda, MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer, speaking at the official launch of the BDS and MRC SP on Monday. The launch event also commemorated Mekong Day, when the MRC Member Countries signed the Mekong Agreement on 5 April 1995.

The new BDS is based on recent assessments of the significant impacts caused by water and related resources developments and infrastructure, including dams, that have changed flow regimes, affecting sediment transport and magnifying bank erosion. These impacts have in turn led to a decline in natural fish populations, the degradation of environmental assets and floodplains, and the reduction in replenishment of the Mekong Delta. Climate change has further added to the severity of the impacts, bringing more uncertainties and risks, including frequent droughts and floods.

The Strategy also lays out a programme of recommended measures that all national and regional stakeholders can implement to achieve its strategic priorities, including through their own initiatives and programmes.

The MRC will make a substantial contribution to the BDS strategic priorities implementation through its SP 2021–2025, which includes 95 activities and 86 expected deliverables. A new key direction for the MRC’s work will be to proactively assess and identify new storage options and new flow and environmental limits, and to recommend basin-wide joint investment projects that will have multiple benefits for flood management, drought relief, energy security, and environment protection.

Work will also be carried out to ensure that new power generation plans consider the full range of viable generation sources, including the integration of water-energy options and the complementary use of wind and solar energy. These measures will increase sustainability while addressing potential climate risks.

The MRC will also explore how the operations of water infrastructure projects throughout the basin should be coordinated to enhance their benefits and limit their adverse environmental impacts on the Mekong mainstream. The Commission will continue to work with broader stakeholders and Mekong-related platforms, especially the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation on water, to ensure timely notifications, coordination, and adaptation support to the changing river.

Under the new MRC SP, the MRC expects to invest over USD 60 million over the next five-year, of which about 40 percent of the fund will come from the MRC Member Countries. Along with the required financial resources and in order to achieve the MRC SP targets, it will require inspired leadership from the MRC bodies, and active cooperation and support from partners and stakeholders.

The next MRC SP will be prepared in 2024 to contribute to the remainder of the BDS for 2026–2030.

The BDS and MRC SP build upon exhaustive studies on the state of the Mekong River Basin, including its development challenges and opportunities, lessons learned from previous strategies, and extensive consultations with the six Mekong countries, development partners, regional governments, CSOs, the private sector, and other institutional actors.

Since its establishment in 1995, the MRC has prepared five versions of the MRC SP and three versions of the BDS, each with a five-year timeframe. The shift to a 10-year timeframe for the BDS is driven by the need to align with the Sustainable Development Goals and the basin’s sustainable development needs and current water security issues, which can only be addressed at the basin scale through cooperation between all six riparian countries and the communities living in the Mekong region.

The BDS can only be achieved when all relevant actors work together for a Mekong River Basin that is economically prosperous, socially just, environmentally sound, and climate change resilient.