The ASEAN integrated river basin management (IRBM) project was launched in Manila, Philippines, to develop practical and innovative ways for communities, industries and governments to work together to revitalise the rivers of Southeast Asia.

The five-year regional project focuses on reducing pollution and preserving the flow of water into East Asian seas, according to the ASEAN regional action plan on combatting marine debris, plastic accounts for 80 per cent of all marine debris.

Supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the project will establish functional IRBM mechanisms in the major river basins of six ASEAN member states: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

“It will integrate knowledge about the vital connection between rivers and seas. Best practices and pitfalls shall be shared for other rivers to emulate and avoid,” said Inthavy Akkharath, chair of the ASEAN working group on water resources management.

The February 17 launch was inaugurated by Carlos Primo David, undersecretary for Integrated Environmental Science and supervising undersecretary of the DENR River Basin Control Office of the Philippines.

“Effective governance will allow us to continue to utilise the water and other ecosystem services that river basins provide despite the threats of extreme events and climate change,” he said.

“Water use among ASEAN countries is growing rapidly, while water quality and quantity challenges threaten to derail much-needed economic growth,” said Selva Ramachandran, UNDP resident representative to the Philippines.

“We’re glad to help address the critical issue of freshwater governance in river basins beyond national jurisdictions, while also addressing transboundary issues such as pollution, watershed management, climate change impacts and disaster risks,” he added.

“The project is a testament to ASEAN’s collective and forward-looking action to improving water resources management in our region,” says Ekkaphab Phanthavong, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

“Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), the implementing agency of the project, will work closely with the governments and stakeholders of ASEAN members to improve source-to-sea governance, as well as build the capacity to plan and strengthen river basin management mechanisms,” said a February statement from the ASEAN secretariat.

“We view this project as a natural extension of PEMSEA’s work on integrated coastal management – as rivers are natural conduits to our coasts and open seas,” said Aimee Gonzales, PEMSEA executive director.

“We are excited to institutionalise the use of the integrated river basin management approach. We will produce state of the river basin reports – which will be the first of their kind in the region – and test innovative solutions in select pilot sites within the identified river basins, while mainstreaming gender equality and social inclusion from the design, planning and all the way to implementation at the regional, national and river basin level,” she added.

The launch was organised in conjunction with a project inception workshop and the first meeting of the project’s steering committee.

The event was attended by representatives from the ASEAN working group on water resources management, ASEAN secretariat, UNDP, PEMSEA, and other implementation partners.