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  Home   MRC News Speeches Speech by DR OLIVIER COGELS

The International Forum on Water and Food

Chief Executive Officer, Mekong River Commission Secretariat.

Vientiane, Lao PDR
November 12 – 17, 2006

H.E. Mr. Khamlouat Sidlakone, Minister to the Prime Minister's Office
Chairman of Lao National Mekong Committee, Member of the MRC Council for the Lao PDR
Mr Jonathan Woolley, Programme Coordinator, Challenge Programme on Water and Food
Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen

Let me first say how delighted I am to be here among such a distinguished group of high level water management experts and researchers from around the world. We at the Mekong River Commission are particularly pleased that you chose our basin as the venue for this important forum on water productivity and food.

We are very well aware of the extremely important goals of the Challenge Programme on Water and Food, knowing that today more than 40% of the world’s food is already produced through irrigation, while water is becoming more and more scarce in so many parts of the world. We know the value of water and are aware of the importance of managing its use in the most efficient, the most productive, and the most sustainable way at all levels.

As you know the MRC agreed to be the coordinating institution for the Challenge Programme on Water and Food in the Mekong Basin back in 2002 and since then has enjoyed an excellent relationship with the CPWF. Today, we are part of its Steering Committee, we play a key role in its management team, and we have given our assistance and input in the implementation of a total of 10 CPWF research projects in the basin, including the Basin Focal Project and three small grants projects. We feel confident that outputs from these projects will contribute directly to our mandate of promoting sustainable development and cooperation in the Mekong River Basin.

We are convinced that the Challenge Programme on Water and Food is not only a very important programme at global scale, but also a programme which will be of great benefit to the people of the Basin.

The population of the Lower Mekong Basin is now around 60 million, but this is expected to expand to around 100 million by 2020, and the majority of these people will be the rural poor, those who suffer most when drought hits. If we are to meet the nutritional, socio-economic and developmental needs of this growing population we will need to increase food production in the dry season .We need to continue the development of an efficient and productive irrigated agriculture in the Mekong Basin.

We are still facing enormous related challenges in our basin, which we need to address within the broader framework of Integrated Water Resources Management, whereas the concern for the welfare of the poorest people in our region is the driving force behind the work of the Mekong River Commission. Meeting the UN Millennium Goals and alleviation of poverty is indeed the overarching goal of our new five-year Strategic Plan.

Our priority needs identified in our new Strategic Plan 2006-2010 are:

• Increased food security through more efficient land and water development and irrigation;
• Maintaining productive fisheries and enhanced aquaculture of indigenous species
• Appropriate development of the basin’s hydropower potential to help meeting the increasing need for energy;
• More active and efficient river transportation through increased freedom of navigation;
• Avoidance, minimization and mitigation of people’s suffering an economic losses due to floods and droughts
• Protecting the environment, natural resources, aquatic life and ecological balance of the basin

This increasing demand for water can only be met in an economically and environmentally sound way if we are able to increase significantly the productivity of water use in the basin at various levels. A lot of water is still available in the Mekong Basin system, but unfortunately it is not evenly distributed geographically or seasonally. More research is needed to ensure that the available water is used to its best advantage, in the most equitable way, taking into account the transectoral and transboundary implications. MRC is working toward meeting these challenges and it is through its association with organisations like CPWF that we ascertain how to adopt the appropriate technologies and water management practices.

We are working with CPWF for many reasons: because we recognise the importance of finding realistic answers to questions of water productivity and basin management; because we seek to learn from the experiences of other river basins; and because we believe that being a member of this partnership represents a powerful means by which we can better serve the people of the Mekong Basin.

As a knowledge-based, international river basin organisation, we put a great deal of emphasis on the importance of research and of bridging the gap between research and decision making at various levels. This is the reason we were so keen to host this forum. Furthermore, for me as a former director of the IPTRID programme, it is truly a pleasure to be here today to have the opportunity to again meet so many researchers in this field.

MRC shares many important partnerships with academic institutions and research organisations and we look to this research to help us expand our knowledge base and guide our policies, particularly for our Agriculture, Irrigation and Forestry Programme, our Fisheries Programme and our new Drought Management Programme.

Although MRC does undertake applied research work related to a range of hydrological, biological and environmental aspects of the river, we are not a research institute. Our role is to translate facts and figures into practical guidance for our members to enable them to make informed decisions on basin planning and regulation for the sustainable use of the water and related resources of the basin. To do this we need to know more about our own basin and the relationship between the people of the basin and their river system. And this is why we welcome any input from scientists and water experts such as yourselves.

This Forum represents an important moment in our collaboration, and a point where we have a chance to debate and learn what the CPWF has discovered since its inception.

We are looking to you and your research results to help provide us with constructive advice on how to better achieve our mission. Together with our Council members, Joint committee members, National Mekong Committees and line agencies, we will look for ways to turn this wealth of shared knowledge into concrete ways of helping the people realise the potential of their resources. The Mekong River Commission has already a long history, starting in 1957 with the Mekong Committee. With the very generous support of the donor community, we have gained a lot of experience in river basin management and will always be pleased to share our knowledge and expertise with all the other river basin organizations in the developing world.

We are all facing different challenges in our different regions but we have one thing in common, we know the value of water and how precious it is and we know it is important to be far sighted in our development plans. One thing the MRC has learned from its history is that a good spirit of cooperation, which we call “The Mekong Spirit”, is one of the most important stepping stones toward achieving shared objectives and achieving a mutually beneficial basinwide plan for the future.
We are keen to cooperate and share our knowledge also with all other countries and institutions which are facing similar challenges.

Later in this forum we will introduce you to some of our programme work. I hope symposium participants will find these presentations stimulate some useful discussion.

The MRC’s Vision is for an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River Basin. Looking at the range of topics we will be discussing in this conference I feel confident the research work we will be sharing will help us move closer toward achieving that vision.
Thank you for your attention



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