The Mekong River Commission Council yesterday approved a five-year strategy until 2025 which allows Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to prepare for and manage drought collectively.
The approval comes as the MRC’s preliminary data analysis shows that severe to extreme drought is expected to hit countries in the lower Mekong basin, while the Mekong water levels have dropped to their lowest points in living memory or at least since the last 60 years.
The analysis noted that Cambodia and Thailand would be hardest hit compared to Laos and Vietnam.
Water Resources and Meteorology Minister Lim Kean Hor, who is also Chairperson of Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said at yesterday’s MRC council meeting in Phnom Penh that the strategy is part of the commission’s ongoing efforts to assist member countries to deal with present and future droughts that have both national and transboundary impacts.
“As the countries in the region gear up for drought preparedness and mitigation, this strategy will help to reduce the vulnerability of people and water resource systems to drought, improve the adaptive capacity of our governments and advance our information sharing, forecasting and early warning systems,” he noted.
According to MRC, the five-year strategy is set to focus on priority areas that have been assessed as “poorly functioning” and requiring “immediate action” to address drought.
They include drought indicator monitoring, which covers ground, soil moisture and crop condition monitoring and dry season flow monitoring; drought forecasting and early warning; capacity building in drought assessment and planning; mitigation measures; and information sharing systems.
Te Navuth, permanent vice chairman of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said at the meeting that according to previous hydrological reports, Cambodia is lucky to receive more rain than other countries of the Mekong River upstream during which the Kingdom’s reservoirs are filled up to capacity which allows it to conserve more water.
He noted that in addition, the Ministry of Water Resources has also implemented water-saving measures, such as instructing farmers to cultivate dry-season rice only once, which will help Cambodia deal with drought.
“Through these measures, we believe that we have enough capability to deal with drought and ensure water security to irrigate the crops during the upcoming dry season,” Mr Navuth said.
Somkiat Prajamvong, head of Thailand’s delegation to the meeting, said that while there are positive developments in managing problems facing the basin, challenges still remain such as climate change, more frequent and severe floods and drought, as well as ecosystem degradation.
“These challenges are striking and prolonged in Thailand and other Mekong countries, emphasising threats to our living quality and economic growth” he said. “To cope with these challenges, Thailand stands ready to join hands with all MRC member countries in developing and implementing the planned and other activities under the integrated water resources management principles”.
Jean-Bernard Carrasco, representative of the development partners group, said that in light of the historic low level of the Mekong River observed this year, basin-wide joint planning and data-sharing is becoming more relevant than ever.
“Sharing of near real-time and historical data on river levels, sediment and flows upstream and downstream of all reservoirs and in all seasons should facilitate more informed discussions between all riparian countries,” he noted.
Mr Carrasco added that development partners also encourage the MRC and its dialogue partners to ensure a healthy and productive ecosystem across the entire basin to support community livelihoods and sustainable development.