Harnessing Technology to Manage Flood, Drought Risks in Lower Mekong Basin

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Mekong River in Kratie, Cambodia (Photo - MRC)
Mekong River in Kratie, Cambodia (Photo: MRC)

The Lower Mekong region remains highly vulnerable to increased flood and drought.

To offset the increased risk, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and its partners are deploying innovative information and communication technologies to assist governments and communities manage extreme weather conditions.

Earlier this year the MRC and Korea Development Institute (KDI) launched a joint research project under the 2020-2021 Knowledge Sharing Programme (KSP). The project aims to demonstrate how high-tech solutions can support Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam minimize the impact of flood and drought. By using state-of-the-art satellite technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data, it improves mitigation strategies, response, and information dissemination plans.

“The changes to the hydrological cycle caused by rising global temperature and development activities can bring stronger and longer drought and flood to many parts of the world, and the Lower Mekong is no exception,” said An Pich Hatda, CEO of the MRC Secretariat, during a workshop held on Monday to conclude the 2020-2021 KSP.

“Climate change necessitates that countries prioritize, scale up their response mechanisms, and take advantage of cutting-edge technologies to facilitate more effective action in responding to these hazards,” he added.

At the final reporting workshop, officials from the four Lower Mekong Basin countries together with Korean experts discussed the findings and policy recommendations arising from the nine-month long project.

The policy report recommends developing map-based flood and drought monitoring systems by analyzing areas vulnerable to flood and drought. These countermeasures use AI, radar, and satellites as early-warning systems that incorporate built-in triggers to aid decision-making such as declaring a flood or a drought. Additionally, these technologies can collect high-quality hydro-meteorological data for an integrated basin-wide flood and drought management strategy.

The report suggests expanding real-time monitoring systems and standardizing quality control of collected data for effective information sharing and dissemination.

These recommendations are not the only tangible outcome of the joint MRC-KDI program. Throughout the project, the two organizations have built a network of experts who can provide advice and share information. By working closely together the two organizations have gained valuable insights and a deeper understanding of important issues.

“This is a good example of supporting knowledge sharing, a unique feature of Korea’s approach to regional development, and we wish to collaborate with the MRC in flood and drought management through future KSP,” said Dr. Chin Young Gon, Senior Advisor to the 2020–2021 KSP-MRC.

The 2020-2021 KSP is the second project of its kind to be implemented jointly by the MRC and KDI, with financial support from the Government of Korea. The first KSP was launched in 2017, as part of a Mekong-Korea Cooperation agreement. The agreement provided an opportunity to jointly collaborate on hydropower development, management, and river basin planning.

Following today’s discussion, the Mekong and Korean specialists will finalize the policy report and determine how best to implement the report’s recommendations.

The Lower Mekong region remains highly vulnerable to increased flood and drought.
The Mekong River in Phnom Penh (Photo: MRC)

Flood and drought remain key challenges for the Mekong region, causing more damage and fatalities than any other natural disaster. The repercussions of floods alone account for USD 70 million annually. These damages have devastating ecological impacts on affected communities and sectors. Recent MRC studies show that these trends will persist in the coming decades, requiring collective efforts to address the problems.

The MRC plays an important role in basin-wide coordination of flood and drought mitigation activities while encouraging a collaborative approach that benefits its four Member Countries.

In recent decades, the MRC has provided lower Mekong countries with a range of information, forecasts, and decision-support tools to better prepare for, monitor, and respond to flood and drought risk. It is currently working to enhance forecasting systems and capacity towards a better lead-time and improved accuracy and dissemination while boosting resilience against climate change.

These are among the main strategic priorities in the new MRC Basin Development Strategy 2021–2030 and the Strategic Plan 2021–2025 in strengthening the resilience against climate risks and extreme flood and drought. The KSP will contribute to achieving the strategic priorities.