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New Mekong River Commission chief Kittikhoun signals climate issue focus

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A man throws a fishing net into the Mekong River in Kohdach commune of the capital’s Chroy Changvar district in 2020. Hong Menea

New Mekong River Commission chief Kittikhoun signals climate issue focus

The new CEO of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat, Anoulak Kittikhoun, pledged to improve the inter-governmental organisation as he took office on January 17.

“I’m deeply honoured and humbled to be appointed to this esteemed position,” said Anoulak, as quoted in a press statement from the commission.

“My mission for the next three years is to facilitate cooperation among riparian countries on critical Mekong basin challenges and opportunities, further boost the MRC as a world class river basin organisation, and maintain and build new partnerships to support the first two endeavours,” he said.

MRC said Kittikhoun is the youngest CEO in its history. During his three-year term, he will oversee the implementation of the Mekong Basin Development Strategy 2021–2030 and MRC Strategic Plan 2021–2025 as the basin faces unprecedented challenges from climate change and erratic water flow.

Serving as the MRC’s Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer since 2016 has placed him in a strong position to deepen engagement between MRC member countries, dialogue partners, developmental partners and other stakeholders, it said.

Anoulak Kittikhoun is a Lao national, and a seasoned international development professional well-versed in Mekong affairs. He has twenty years of experience in previous senior leadership roles at the MRC and at the UN and related bodies, latterly serving as lead desk officer of the Asia and Pacific Division. He was the first international member of staff from Laos at UN Headquarters, MRC said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Anoulak Kittikhoun, the newly-appointed CEO of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat. MRC

His appointment as CEO, the first from Laos in the MRC’s 25-year history, was endorsed by the MRC Ministerial Council last November following a unanimous decision by the MRC Joint Committee.

On January 13, the commission urged the six Mekong countries - China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam – to urgently address regional low flows, water fluctuations and drought as the Lower Mekong River experiences record low flows for the third consecutive year.

It said during that the last three years flows in the Mekong mainstream have dropped to their lowest levels in more than 60 years. Year 2020 was the lower Mekong Basin’s driest year when rainfall was below normal levels in every month except October.

The call was made in a MRC Secretariat’s new 100-page long report entitled “Mekong Low Flow and Drought Conditions in 2019–2021”.

The report said that since 2015, the hydrological regime has changed, with increased dry season flow and reduced wet season flow caused by increased storage reservoirs in the basin.

“Together, these factors may have adversely affected fisheries and agriculture outputs, impacted people’s livelihoods, and threatened to disturb the Mekong Basin’s delicate ecosystems. Proactive cooperation is essential from all the MRC Member Countries, to jointly address these issues,” said An Pich Hatda, former CEO of the MRC Secretariat.

He said the six countries can take some immediate steps to mitigate the crisis, including establishing a joint notification mechanism on unusual water level fluctuations and exploring coordinated operation management of reservoirs and hydropower dams.

The six countries should examine options to build more storage to manage pressing drought and flood conditions, as well as an operational model for the whole Mekong Basin, he said.

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