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MRC unveils plans to balance Mekong basin development

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Fishing boats on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district in February. Hong Menea

MRC unveils plans to balance Mekong basin development

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) unveiled a new 10-year Basin Development Strategy (BDS) and five-year Strategic Plan (SP) to balance basin development and management to enable Mekong member countries to address emerging challenges and improve the overall state of the basin.

In a press release on April 5, the MRC said BDS 2021-2030 was approved by the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The strategy focuses on improving the ecological functioning of the Mekong River to maintain a healthy environment and productive communities. It also aims to improve access to and use of water and related resources by Mekong communities to enhance their wellbeing.

The development focus is on sustainability and inclusive economic growth; resilience to climate and disaster risks; and enhanced regional cooperation from a whole-of-basin perspective.

An Pich Hatda, MRC Secretariat chief executive officer, said: “The strategy is aligned with the Mekong governments’ priorities and needs for achieving a stronger and more resilient Mekong River Basin through proactive planning and coordinated management, and thus ensuring a balance between economic development and environmental protection.”

MRC said this new 10-year strategy is based on recent assessments of the significant impacts caused by water and related resource developments and infrastructure up-river, including dams that have changed the flow of water, affecting sediment transport and magnifying bank erosion.

These impacts have in turn led to a decline in the natural fish populations and the degradation of environmental assets and floodplains, with an overall reduction in the cyclical replenishment of the Mekong Delta.

“Climate change has further added to the severity of these impacts, bringing more uncertainties and risks, including frequent droughts and floods,” the MRC statement said.

MRC expects to invest over $60 million over the next five years, of which about 40 per cent of the funds will come from MRC member countries. They will work on making proactive assessments and the identification of new storage options and new water flow and environmental limits.

The will recommend basin-wide joint investment projects that will have multiple benefits for flood management, drought relief, energy security and environmental protection.

Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee (CNMC)’s deputy secretary-general Kol Vathana said on April 6 that the 10-year strategy demonstrates the efforts and attention of the four countries now that weaknesses in the Mekong River have been identified, warranting urgent solutions.

“The preparation of this strategic plan for the river basin is based on past experience through the assessment of weaknesses, the actual situation of the river basin and its water resources. This plan is a good thing,” he said.

Mak Bunthoeun, a coordinator of River Coalition Cambodia at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, supported the launch of the new plan. But he noted that it would require each country to implement the plan fully in order for it to work.

“What we need to look at is whether each country is willing to participate in the implementation of the plan, because it may [be viewed as contrary] to some countries’ interests,” he said, adding that information sharing is what MRC must address now to avoid future unwanted consequences.

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