At the upcoming summit of the Mekong River Commission, Cambodia will facilitate important discussions with other MRC member countries and high-level officials from China and Myanmar to ensure that public interest is protected through sustainable development and management of the Mekong River, writes Lim Kean Hor.
Water demand throughout the Mekong region is expected to soar, on the back of rising populations and ambitious initiatives put in place by Mekong countries to support their economic growth. The need for cooperation in sustainable management of the shared water and related resources of the Mekong River Basin has never before been more compelling.
The Mekong River is the largest river in Southeast Asia, flowing from its source on the Tibetan Plateau in China to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam through six countries – China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – who share water and related resources of the river. Its abundant natural resources support nearly 70 million people living in the basin, making sustainable development crucial for the environment and these communities.
While increasing demand for water use represents economic growth and expansion, it also puts the Mekong’s sustainability at risk, especially as a result of infrastructure development across the river system.
For instance, according to the Mekong River Commission’s “Study on Sustainable Management and Development of the Mekong River”, including the impacts of mainstream hydropower projects or the “Council Study”, there are particular trade-offs with other sectors across economic, environmental and social spheres. Specifically, hydropower development could cause a significant reduction in fish yields, soil fertility and farm productivity throughout the lower Mekong countries. This could also mean the Cambodia floodplains and the Tonle Sap system may become most vulnerable.
While some countries may stand to benefit substantially from hydropower generation more than others, vying for these diversified resources has been a source of conflict, negotiation and catalyst for peace and cooperation as the countries are willing to work together for mutual benefits, with support from multiple Mekong initiatives established to promote sustainable management and development of the Mekong River. One of these initiatives is a collaborative support from the MRC.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is the only inter-governmental organisation established with a full regional interest by the 1995 Mekong Agreement to assist the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to jointly manage their shared water resources in a sustainable and cooperative approach. Over the past 23 years, the commission has helped to address issues involving water and related resources management, ranging from water utilisation to fisheries, irrigation, agriculture, climate change and to navigation, striking a fair balance for all.
In its upcoming April 5 summit, the third of its kind, leaders from MRC member countries of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and high-level representatives from dialogue partners, China and Myanmar, will get together in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to revisit their commitment made four years ago and find the best possible ways to promote its effectiveness and reinvigorate regional cooperation for the trans-boundary management of shared water resources.
Specifically, the summit will discuss ways in which the MRC can strengthen the implementation of the 1995 Mekong Agreement and its role as the regional water diplomacy and knowledge hub. It will discuss how the MRC should work together to optimise opportunities and tackle challenges facing the river basin and bring more mutual benefits to its basin people while maintaining the ecological health of the river and environment.
As host of the summit and member of the MRC, Cambodia gives its utmost importance to this summit to make it a success. Cambodia will facilitate important discussions with other member countries of the MRC and high-level officials from China and Myanmar to ensure that the public interest is protected, and that the MRC’s role in providing a valuable platform for regional cooperation for sustainable development in various water-related sectors is further strengthened.
This is because the need for regional cooperation to protect the Mekong’s shared water and precious related resources is paramount.
H.E. Mr Lim Kean Hor is Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology and member of the Mekong River Commission Council for Cambodia.