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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

New Minister Reassures MRC of Lao Cooperation for Responsible Development of Mekong Basin

This Week

The new Lao minister of Natural Resources and Environment has assured the head of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat of her country cooperation and support to this intergovernmental organization.

Bounkham Vorachit, who was appointed Minister in March this year and is now the MRC Council Member for Lao PDR, told MRC Secretariat CEO An Pich Hatda during their online meeting last Thursday that the country was fully committed to the principles and objectives of sustainable development under the MRC cooperation.

“We fully support the MRC and are committed to working together with other members for the betterment of all the riparian countries and peoples of the Mekong,” Minister Bounkham told Dr. Hatda, who briefed her on a range of Mekong issues and MRC work.

While congratulating the Minister upon her new appointment, the CEO told her the implementation of a new ten-year Basin Development Strategy (BDS) for the Mekong River Basin and a five-year Strategic Plan (MRC SP) was well underway to enable Mekong countries, including Lao PDR, to address emerging challenges and improve the overall state of the basin over the next decade. Appreciating the CEO’s report that funding had mostly been secured to execute the MRC SP 2021–2025, the Minister emphasized the importance of effective implementation and support to all the four Member Countries. She also thanked the MRC’s ongoing and planned support to flood and drought forecasting in Lao PDR and other countries.

CEO Hatda noted the MRC was looking forward to hearing progress and update on the Lao commitment to implement the agreed Joint Action Plans (JAPs) for the Pak Beng, Pak Lay, and Luang Prabang hydropower projects that all had completed their official six-month prior consultant processes. The JAPs are the post-prior consultation process mechanism that provides an ongoing engagement for the MRC, related stakeholders, Lao PDR, and developers to exchange information, data, and feedback throughout their project development and operations process.

The CEO and the Minister discussed the importance of reassuring other Member Countries of their concerns around the Sanakham hydropower project currently undergoing the MRC six-month prior consultation process, which began in May last year. Due to Covid-19 pandemic and to have a meaningful public consultation, the six-month process has not been concluded yet.

CEO Hatda added the MRC Secretariat had been working closely with related Lao Ministries and the Lao National Mekong Committee Secretariat on a few key strategies that were pending for MRC approval. They include the Sustainable Hydropower Strategy, Preliminary Design Guidance 2020, and Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment. He said the MRC looked forward to these strategies and guidance being approved, as the MRC Secretariat and LNMC are working to ensure key issues Lao PDR raised are addressed and resolved.

The CEO informed the Minister that next year Lao PDR would be the host of the 4th MRC Summit and International Conference, which is organized every four years. But given the Covid-19 pandemic in the Mekong and elsewhere, he suggested the Minister consider organizing it in April 2023. In response, the Minister supported the proposal and would consult with other Member Countries.

CEO Hatda finally assured Minister Bounkham that the MRC Secretariat would work dedicatedly with Lao PDR as it would with other Members to support and advise the MRC in addressing the current and future challenges facing the Mekong River and the organization.

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