Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, Thor Chetha, stated the need for a unified strategy to address the challenges confronting the Mekong River.

The Mekong River Commission stated that the river is encountering difficulties attributed to the impacts of both development and a changing climate along the Southeast Asia’s largest river. 

His remarks came during the 30th annual meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) council, convened on November 24 in Siem Reap, to assess progress, outline future directions and reiterate a commitment to collaborative efforts.

The discussions centred on the actions taken by the MRC secretariat in collaboration with member countries, namely Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, to protect the Mekong River Basin over the past year. The meeting also outlined the collective initiatives planned for 2024.

In his role as the MRC council chair for 2023, Chetha expressed gratitude for the “continuous financial and technical support” from the MRC’s development partners. He also acknowledged the “unwavering commitment” of the organisation’s upstream dialogue partners, which include China and Myanmar.

Chetha, who is also chair of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, “underscored the necessity for a unified approach,” as stated in a November 29 press release by the MRC secretariat. 

He said that the future appearance and shape of the basin hinge on cooperation, charting a collective path, implementing outlined strategies and devising an actionable plan together.

The MRC pointed out that in recent years, challenges confronting the Mekong River have intensified due to climate change, floods and drought.

Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the MRC secretariat, identified five “alarming” trends facing the river during the meeting: water flow control, nourishing sediment, salinity intrusion, plastics pollution and climate-driven flood and drought.

“Amidst fundamental changes in the global system, we will ensure that the MRC functions as a platform for cooperation, not conflict—from our dialogue partners to our development and other partners,” he said.

Development partners also issued a joint statement that commended the MRC for a “landmark year” of activities that united the Mekong community.

The joint statement noted the crucial role of MRC leadership in fostering cooperation among member countries, dialogue partners, development partners and other stakeholders. This includes the application of innovative tools and technologies to address challenges across the Mekong region.

“As the Mekong River Basin faces challenges from the impacts of climate change and rapid development, the MRC plays a critical role in urgently advancing effective, innovative and inclusive approaches to transboundary resource management,” the joint statement said. 

“We welcome the goals to generate new knowledge and solutions for the challenges posed by changing flow, environmental asset limits and water-energy integration,” the statement added.

The release said that during the meeting, Germany committed €15 million (over $16.4 million) to support the trial implementation of the ecosystem window within the eagerly anticipated Mekong fund’s ecosystem element. This mechanism aims to benefit residents negatively affected, either directly or indirectly, by climate change and Mekong River development.

The German commitment to the Mekong fund trial’s ecosystem window aims to establish a grant-making facility. This facility will foster local community engagement in wetland and watershed biodiversity conservation and related livelihoods activities.

Canada also joined the commission as its latest development partner to address broader Mekong issues. The announcement highlighted Canada’s contribution of $2 million to the MRC’s general funding pool.

With Canada’s inclusion, the MRC now boasts 13 development partners, including Australia, Belgium, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the US.