Japan has provided nearly $3 million in grants to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to fund the implementation of its new strategic plan to monitor the water level of the Mekong River and promote sustainable development.
Since 2019, the river has been suffering from significantly reduced water flows due to the construction of hydro-electric dams upriver in Laos and China.
In a press release issued from its offices in the Lao capital Vientiane on February 26, the MRC said the Japanese government had provided $2.9 million in support of its new strategic plans for promoting responsible and sustainable development in the region.
The grant will provide funding for the next four years (2021-2024). The MRC expects that the funds will enhance their capacity to monitor and assess the river’s environment and help the affected citizens of its member countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – adapt to the changes that are occurring with the river.
Speaking at the signing ceremony for the grant, Japanese ambassador to Laos Keizo Takewaka said: “[The grant] will help further the capacity of the MRC in providing the people of its member countries services such as monitoring and predicting the river’s water levels more accurately and effectively.”
The MRC’s primary activities include the operation of a network of stations that monitor the Mekong River, enabling it to predict water levels accurately. The new funds will go towards projects like setting up additional monitoring stations along the river.
The funds will also be used to provide the public with information on floods and droughts in the region with the goal of reducing their impacts on the population, according to the press release.
This new grant comes in addition to the $3.9 million in funding provided by Japan to the MRC to improve flood and drought prediction capacity last year. As a long-term development partner of the MRC, Japan has provided more than $21 million in support of their programmes.
The MRC noted in the press release that the diverse ecology of the Mekong River and its tributaries had provided livelihoods and food security to 70 million people living downstream along the Mekong River.
According to the MRC, the problem of low downstream water flow in the Mekong River in the years 2019 and 2020 negatively impacted all of the region’s countries and disrupted millions of people’s livelihoods.
On February 12 of this year, the MRC issued a press release expressing concern that water levels in the river had dropped significantly, changing the colour of the water in some stretches of the river. The organisation warned that this situation could impact agricultural production and wildlife populations in Cambodia and the other countries in the region.
In their report, the MRC detailed particularly worrisome water levels in the Mekong between the Jinghong hydropower station in China’s Yunnan province and the delta in Vietnam.
Cambodia and its portion of the Mekong are located squarely between those two points on the map – making up much of the trouble zone for low water levels that the MRC has identified.