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Mekong River Commission stations not operational

A sunset view across Cambodia’s Mekong River last year.
A sunset view across Cambodia’s Mekong River last year. Heng Chivoan

Mekong River Commission stations not operational

Less than half of the monitoring stations set up by the Mekong River Commission in Cambodia are operational due to a lack of financial commitment from the Cambodian government, officials said yesterday, jeopardising the collection of important environmental and hydrological data.

Though the stations were set up by the MRC, each Mekong country – Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos – is responsible for stations within their borders that collect a host of invaluable real-time data on hydrology, pollution and fisheries. The data is used, among other things, for forecasting and monitoring floods and droughts.

Currently, however, only five of Cambodia’s 12 stations are operational, the MRC confirmed, with the other Mekong countries also facing significant outages.

“It’s very sad to say . . . there were millions of dollars that were invested, and they were working, and then they were decentralised, and unfortunately at this moment in time only 15 out of 45 are working” across the region, MRC CEO Pham Tuan Phan said at a conference on resilient infrastructure in Phnom Penh.

What’s more, he added, those that remain functional are only working intermittently, limiting the amount of important data they are able to collect.

Tuan Phan said the information came to him in a report he received last month, and that the reason so few stations are operating is that countries have failed to allocate maintenance funding.

“And probably, also, member countries do not appreciate or do not focus on their ownership of those stations,” he added. “All the stations in Laos do not work.”

Reached for comment, Yin Savuth, the head of the Department of Hydrology and River Works at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, blamed broken machinery and a lack of technical experts, as well as budget constraints. The five that are running, he said, are not automated, meaning the ministry does not need specialised technicians to maintain them.

“Those stations used to be run on MRC budget, which expired in 2012,” he said. “The Ministry does not have the budget to run all of them,” he added, noting that “less than a million dollars” would be needed.

Tuan Phan, however, said maintenance costs were practically “nothing”, just around $80,000 per year.

“Yeah [it’s] nothing; that’s why I’m mad,” Tuan Phan said.

Currently, he said, the MRC is seeking to re-open the defunct stations as soon as possible and seek financing for the work later.

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