MRC Public Forum to Discuss Development Challenges, Seek Joint Solutions

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Photo credit: Mekong River Commission

The Mekong River Commission will soon host its 13th Regional Stakeholder Forum, in which the MRC will not only provide updates on hydropower projects along Southeast Asia’s largest river but will feature the deepening cooperation with activists who speak for the interests of millions of fishing and farming families in the Mekong.

The 12–13 December Forum will be held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and simultaneously broadcast online. The 1.5-day event will open a window onto many of the challenges facing the river basin, as well as proposed solutions: from balancing the economic growth brought by water resources development; to minimizing any impact on either the ecosystem or riverine communities; and coping with the damage done by human and climate change.

While attendees will hear updates about several hydropower dams along the Mekong, they will also have the chance to share their insights, concerns, and opinions. Moreover, civil society organizations (CSOs) are co-designing the agenda of the Forum’s second day, a sign of their increasing input in shaping MRC priorities. That also reflects the MRC desire to solicit the broadest possible feedback and deepen engagement with CSOs, says the MRC Secretariat CEO, Dr Anoulak Kittikhoun.

“You cannot be better alone, but together,” says Kittikhoun. “The Mekong belongs to everybody, so it’s our collective responsibility to not only develop the river, but to safeguard it.”

Entitled “Co-Creating Solutions for a Healthy Mekong River Basin,” the event represents part of the MRC mission, which is for the intergovernmental agency – comprised of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – to serve as a transparent “knowledge hub” and facilitating “water diplomacy” platform.

Beyond the MRC officials and government representatives who will attend the 13th RSF, other participants will include hydropower developers, international partners, researchers, non-governmental activists and riparian community representatives.

While the MRC in the past may have been perceived as “on the opposite side,” in recent years it has strived to create space for common understanding, stakeholder engagement, and to amplify voices across the spectrum.

“I’m excited to open up more space for deeper engagement,” Kittikhoun continued. “We recognize the need to build trust and confidence, because you can’t work together without that trust and understanding of the challenges each side faces. Then, to work together to solve those challenges, for our one and only river.”

Among the key agenda items is for attendees to learn some early findings of the landmark “Joint Study” between the MRC and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Water Center, on behalf of the six riparian Mekong-Lancang countries.

That Joint Study, launched in June at the 12th RSF, aims to understand the changing water flow regime due to climate and developments; to enhance information sharing about the impact of reservoir operations on the Mekong’s water flow, water release and water quality; and to seek solutions to mitigate and adapt to impacts. Such data also serves as an early warning to the countries and communities downstream, which enables them to plan accordingly for any change, or take advantage of an opportunity.

Other agenda topics during this Forum will include: How the MRC’s Core River Monitoring Network is working to safeguard the Mekong’s health; updates on several hydropower projects, including the Don Sahong, Sanakham, Sekong A, and proposed Phou Ngoy projects; how hydropower development impacts fisheries and livelihoods, including mitigation measures, alternate sources of income, and other forms of “sustainable living”; and how to enhance the partnership among the MRC, CSOs and the private sector. Particularly, how to make decision-making more inclusive — with projects that specifically promote gender diversity and equality.

Interested participants can register online here to participate in the forum.