A senior Lao official has reiterated the importance of not overlooking environmental preservation efforts in the Mekong Basin, while acknowledging the critical role that hydropower plays in supplying energy needs and fostering economic development.

The Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) 14th Regional Stakeholder Forum, held under the theme “Information Sharing for Transparency and Trust” is currently underway in Vientiane, Laos.

“In our pursuit of economic development, we must not overlook at the imperative of environment protection,” said Chanthanet Boualapha, Lao Vice-Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, as he addressed the forum on June 12.

“We are equally cognisant of the potential transparent impacts of hydropower development. It is crucial that we consider the balance of economic prosperity and environmental preservation, ensuring sustainable efficacy for generations to come,” he added.

The forum discussions focused mainly on the collective advancement of sustainable development and protection of the Mekong River and its resources.

Boualapha, who also serves as the alternate MRC council member for Laos, noted that his nation recognises the role of energy in the mix, just as many other nations do.

“As a member of the MRC, Laos stands ready to cooperate with our fellow member countries and stakeholders to navigate these challenges,” he said. 

He expressed Laos’ commitment to transparency and collaboration, noting that the presence of the developers of Lao hydropower projects at the forum underscores their dedication to open dialogue, information sharing and the building of trust among all stakeholders.

“We are all here to share and listen and to learn and to act. The MRC, alongside our development partners and civic society organisations, occupies an important role in steering regional development and cooperation,” he explained.

He called for a focus on the collaborative potential of harnessing the opportunities offered by the Mekong River for the collective well-being of present and future generations.

“The discussions we have here today will enable us to remain steadfast to the essence of the council and share information with transparency and trust. 

“This resonates not only within the MRC but also ensures the aspiration of every individual invested in the sustainable development of the Mekong River,” Boualapha said. 

MRC chief executive officer Anoulak Kittikhoun noted that the Mekong basin has changed dramatically for better or worse. He said some of the better news is that economic growth and development have been very high, with the water sector contributing a lot through hydropower and irrigation. He also acknowledged some fundamental challenges and changes.

“The Mekong is not like the Mekong of 10 or 20 years ago, and we need to accept this reality.

“I think in general, we know that climate change has impacted the basin a lot. For example, during the past 10 years, there have been many more drought events and drought years than the previous 10. This is scientific evidence. But we also know that there are a lot more storage in the basin, for hydropower projects, etc. 

“This has also influenced the natural flow [of the river]. We need to make it more regulated, but not too much so. The area is very large,” he said while responding to a question from a Cambodian participant.