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Mekong under threat: MRC

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Fishermen plying their trade on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh in July last year. Heng Chivoan

Mekong under threat: MRC

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) called for urgent action to protect the river for the benefit of the millions of people throughout Southeast Asia who depend on it. The Mekong is severely impacted by water infrastructure projects and climate change, it said.

On March 15, the MRC issued a 174-page report highlighting its major accomplishments and actions taken, and giving key indicators that have raised region-wide awareness of how development and increasingly severe flooding and drought all impact the Lower Mekong River Basin.

“With the vital river now impacted by both water-infrastructure projects and climate change, the new report calls for urgent “water diplomacy” to protect Southeast Asia’s largest river and promote sustainable development for the millions across the region,” the MRC said in a March 15 press release.

The MRC confirmed that these activities have spurred its member countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – to take unprecedented steps along with their two neighbours upriver China and Myanmar.

The report recommends that accurate data and scientific knowledge should drive planners and policymakers in their decision-making and execution.

The press release quoted Prawit Wongsuon, chairperson of the Thai National Mekong Committee, as saying: “In the Lower Mekong River Basin, the impact of climate change presents profound implications for the social and economic wellbeing of our constituents, and represents an ongoing challenge for policymakers”.

He said that water diplomacy was increasingly important in the region, particularly with respect to the growing number of hydropower and other water infrastructure projects and development activities.

The report cited the specific example of its Regional Flood and Drought Management Centre, which in 2017 was expanded to include drought forecasting. This capability to forecast has since helped to save lives and protect property of the people living in the Basin.

According to the report, one thing that is particularly noteworthy is the improved forecasting, which it said is the product of deepening regional relationships, especially with Beijing. For the first time, China has agreed to share its dry-season hydrological data.

In 2021, the MRC and ASEAN launched the Water Security Dialogue to promote innovative solutions to emerging water security challenges.

So Sophort, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, could not be reached for comment on March 15.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said the Mekong River is an important source of livelihoods and economic activity in Southeast Asia. The river is home to the world’s largest freshwater fisheries industry, and is critical to food security in the region.

The Mekong River is a huge biodiversity habitat that provides protein for animals and the more than 60 million people living along it, he said.

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