The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is expected to play a bigger role in promoting regional economic growth in the Lower Mekong River Basin and protecting the mighty river that is coming under increasing threats, according to the CEO of the MRC Secretariat.
“Apart from strengthening regional cooperation, the MRC Summit will call for policy innovation, and application of a new development approach and modern technology to boost economic growth while maintaining environmental sustainability,” the CEO, Dr Anoulak Kittikhoun, said when interviewed by Lao reporters on Tuesday ahead of the 4th MRC Summit, which kicks off
with its international conference in Vientiane this weekend.
Taking the theme “Innovation and Cooperation for a Water Secure and Sustainable Mekong”, the Summit, which takes place from April 2-5, will see leaders from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand renew their political commitment to the MRC’s mandate, which promotes regional cooperation and responsible Mekong development in the four riparian states.
High-level representatives from China and Myanmar, and some 600 attendees representing development partners, non-governmental organisations, academia and the private sector, will also take part in the meeting to discuss the current state of regional development, and challenges and opportunities in the Basin.
According to the State of the Mekong Basin report published in 2019, many environmental indicators in the Mekong turned red, notably in relation to water flow and sediment transport, flood plains, wetlands, watersheds and biodiversity.
Dr Kittikhoun, who is the first Lao national to serve as the top leader of the MRC Secretariat, said that in order to address the ongoing challenges, the MRC needs to engage in more information sharing and coordination of water infrastructure projects and to be more proactive in regional planning to develop joint investment projects.
It is also necessary to have more engagement with China and Myanmar so that the six nations can join hands to protect the Mekong River, he added.
“Good cooperation with Dialogue Partners has been achieved. For example, China has agreed to provide year-round hydrology data to the MRC.”
“This marks a significant milestone in regional cooperation,” he said, adding that water flow data availability enables the MRC to provide flood and drought forecasts more effectively so that riparian communities will be prepared to accommodate changes.
The Mekong River Commission was established in 1995 under the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Although China and Myanmar are not MRC members, the two upriver nations – due to proactive MRC diplomacy – have cooperated with the Commission in many initiatives such as the ongoing Joint Study to understand the changing river conditions and have demonstrated their intention to strengthen collaboration with the Lower Mekong countries.
According to Dr Kittikhoun, the MRC has achieved a number of successes in providing technical support for regional cooperation to sustain Mekong development, including completion of the Mekong Basin Development Strategy - a blueprint strategy for the whole basin.
The four member states have endorsed the MRC guidelines for hydropower development along the Mekong. This is to ensure that the cross-border impacts of future infrastructure development will be minimised, while ensuring a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability.
By Ekaphone Phouthonesy