Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Thor Chetha has called for the improvement of forecasting of worsening flood and drought conditions along the Mekong River, as well as for advanced warning systems for the millions of riverine residents who are directly at risk.

Chetha, the current chair of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) council, issued the calls during a November 30 visit to the MRC regional flood and drought management centre, located in Phnom Penh. 

Chetha praised the centre, as well as the MRC and its four member countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – for the substantial progress in monitoring, forecasting and communicating about the Mekong River, but urged even greater “collective efforts” to mitigate the impacts of flood and drought.

His own compatriots have been hit hard, as Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake – a vital source of food and livelihoods – has dramatically shrunk in recent years due to low Mekong flows, the MRC secretariat said in a December 5 press release. 

With such impacts in mind, he advocated for more timely, accurate information delivered via advanced technologies and innovation, as well as greater access to early information for the most vulnerable residents.

He also called for a sharper focus on flood management and protection measures, not just forecasting, especially in residential and economic areas, as well as tighter cooperation with upstream countries, it said. 

“The change in hydrological conditions, floods and droughts require our focused attention, closer monitoring and stronger action, with technological innovation and more linkages between the MRC secretariat and member countries.

“This centre’s operational capability should also be further strengthened, in the areas of its expertise and technological innovation,” said Chetha, who also chairs Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee.

The clock is ticking for more substantive action on this transboundary challenge, as both MRC studies and the UN’s 2021 intergovernmental panel on climate change assessment have predicted a future of climbing temperatures, rising sea levels and even drier droughts, noted the press release. 

Among the MRC responses, the agency has stepped up efforts to promote data sharing, from the research and content that it creates and disseminates, to broader efforts to redesign the core river monitoring network. 

“The network now generates and shares data that assesses basin conditions and regionwide trends, monitors operations of water infrastructure projects including mainstream dams, forecasts floods and droughts, and tracks how all of this affects the socio-economic conditions of vulnerable people whose livelihood depends on the Mekong,” added the press statement.

“We embrace your vision for an even more impactful regional flood and drought management centre,” MRC secretariat CEO Anoulak Kittikhoun told Chetha during the visit. 

“The MRC will continue to pursue our core principles of knowledge sharing, technological innovation and regional cooperation. That’s the only way we can tackle the challenges ahead,” he added.

During a November MRC council meeting, Anoulak reiterated that information sharing is at the heart of much of their work – from the hydrological data that upstream neighbour China now provides to downstream riparians, regarding its dry season water release and withholding, to the increased sharing of operational data by various hydropower projects.