MRC Council Acts to Strengthen Regional Cooperation, Protection of Mekong

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The governing body of the Mekong River Commission last week approved a pair of major initiatives aimed at better coordinating and improving region-wide efforts to monitor and safeguard the health of Southeast Asia’s largest, most vital waterway.

On 23 November, in preparation for the MRC Council’s 29th Meeting, representatives of the MRC Member Countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam) approved a re-designed Core River Monitoring Network, whose prime function is to support the four governments, as they collect scientific data and track key issues like hydrology, water quality, discharge, sediments, fisheries, and ecological health.

The next day, at the 29th Meeting, the Council approved a Multi-Year Work Plan (MWP) for 2023–2024, to assist every national agency working to implement the overarching Strategic Plan 2021–2025.

The Strategic Plan spans five crucial areas for the Mekong River Basin: maintain its ecological function enables inclusive access and use of its water and related resources; enhance the optimal, sustainable development of the water and related sectors; strengthen resilience against climate risks, like floods and droughts; and strengthen cooperation among all MRC countries and stakeholders.

The MRC Council Chairperson for 2022, Dr. Tran Hong Ha, highlighted the MWP’s significance. It will “kick-start the second important phase of the Strategic Plan,” said Dr. Ha, who also serves as Vietnam’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment. Moreover, it’s a key component of “concerted efforts and perseverance of Member Countries to work toward a sustainable and healthy Mekong River Basin.”

Within the MWP for 2022, 158 tasks were laid out – of which 123 were completed by this past October, according to the MRC Secretariat CEO, Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun. What drives such progress, Kittikhoun told the Council, is his team’s “sheer passion and love for our organization, knowing the great challenges the Mekong is facing and the little time we have.”

As for the Core River Monitoring Network (CRMN), in 2018–2019, the MRC identified various inefficiencies in how each of the four Member Countries was addressing challenges to the Mekong.

Issues arose such as: a lack of regional and national network integration, leading to redundancies and indirect use of most monitoring data; concerns over human and technical capabilities, reliability and capacity of systems, and the costs of updating equipment as a strain on national budgets; and ineffective alignment and integration among monitoring stations and their activities.

After an internal review of all such functions, the redesigned CRMN strives to not only ameliorate these issues, but addresses the spectrum of transboundary riverine-related challenges – one that transitions the MRC from a silo monitoring to an integrated system. It’s with the CRMN, the MWP, and other initiatives in mind that the organization’s Development Partners praised MRC progress.

In a statement that followed a joint session between the MRC Council and the Development
Partner Consultative Group, the partners “congratulate(d) the MRC on securing approval of
strategies, tools and activities that can contribute to the sustainable management of the Mekong River Basin.”

Among the commendable progress, the partners cited the “MRC’s efforts to enhance the cooperation with diverse stakeholders, including from civil society” and encouraged the organization to formalize engagement with these stakeholders.

The group also encouraged more sharing of information and data, especially on tributary dams, and the MRC’s overall focus on “transboundary” issues that involve so many stakeholders – and affect tens of millions of Mekong citizens – such as water-resources development and coordination of dam operations.

In 2023, Cambodia will assume the MRC Council Chairmanship, and Mr Lim Kean Hor, the
country’s Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, will serve as its Chairperson.