The Mekong River Commission (MRC) council approved two initiatives to protect the Mekong River by strengthening regional cooperation.

“The governing body of the Mekong River Commission last week approved a pair of major initiatives aimed at better coordinating and improving region-wide efforts to monitor and safeguard the health of Southeast Asia’s largest, most vital waterway,” MRC said in a November 28 press release.

On November 23, in preparation for the MRC council’s 29th meeting, representatives of the MRC member countries, which include Cambodia, Lao, Thailand, and Vietnam, approved a re-designed river monitoring network.

Its function is to support the four governments as they collect scientific data and track issues like hydrology, water quality, discharge, sediments, fisheries, and ecological health.

On November 24, at the 29th meeting, the council approved a multi-year work plan from 2023 to 2024 to assist the national agencies working to implement the overarching strategic plan from 2021 to 2025.

The press release said the strategic plan spans five crucial areas: maintaining its ecological function, enabling inclusive access and use of its water and related resources, enhancing the optimal, sustainable development of the water and related sectors, strengthening resilience against climate risks, like floods and droughts, and strengthening cooperation among all MRC countries and stakeholders.

It will kick-start the second important phase of the strategic plan, said Vietnam’s Minister of Natural Resources and EnvironmentTran Hong Ha.

“It is a key component of the concerted efforts and perseverance of Member Countries to work toward a sustainable and healthy Mekong River Basin,” said Ha, who is also the MRC council chairperson for 2022.

Within the multi-year work plan for 2022, 158 tasks were laid out, of which 123 were completed by this past October, said MRC Secretariat CEO Anoulak Kittikhoun.

What drives such progress, Kittikhoun told the council, is his team’s “sheer passion and love for our organisation, knowing the great challenges the Mekong is facing and the little time we have.”

As for the core river monitoring network (CRMN) from 2018 to 2019, the MRC identified various inefficiencies in how each of the four-member countries was addressing challenges to the Mekong.

The press release said issues arose such as a lack of regional and national network integration, leading to redundancies and indirect use of most monitoring data, concerns over human and technical capabilities, reliability and capacity of systems, and the costs of updating equipment as a strain on national budgets, and ineffective alignment and integration among monitoring stations and their activities.

After an internal review of all such functions, the redesigned CRMN strives to not only ameliorate these issues, but addresses the spectrum of transboundary riverine-related challenges, one that transitions the MRC from a solo monitoring to an integrated system.

In a statement that followed a joint session between the MRC council and a development partner consultative group, the partners congratulated the MRC on securing approval of strategies, tools and activities that will contribute to the sustainable management of the Mekong River Basin.

The partners cited the “MRC’s efforts to enhance the cooperation with diverse stakeholders, including from civil society” and encouraged the organisation to formalise engagement with these stakeholders.

The group encouraged more sharing of information and data, especially on tributary dams, and the MRC’s overall focus on “transboundary” issues that involve so many stakeholders, and affect tens of millions of Mekong citizens such as water-resources development and coordination of dam operations.

In 2023, Cambodia will assume the MRC council chairmanship, with Lim Kean Hor, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, serving as its chairperson.