Mekong River Commission Secretariat

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Official Launch of Aids to Navigation System on the
Mekong River between Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham

Speech by
Jeremy Bird, CEO, Mekong River Commission Secretariat

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
14 May 2009

Excellency Mr. Tram Iv Tek, Minister of Public Works and Transport
Excellency Margaret Adamson, Australian Ambassador to Cambodia
Excellency Mr Rudi Veestraeten, Ambassador of Belgium to Thailand
Excellency Mr Sin Niny, Vice Chairman of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee and Member of the MRC Joint Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Much of the work that the MRC does is at the policy and governance level, so it is particularly pleasing to be here today – on the river – to demonstrate that this is an organization that also has a very visible and practical impact on the lives of ordinary people in the Mekong region.

The Mekong River flows through six countries and to ensure our vision of sustainably developing and utilising this resource, it is vital that we have a consistent system of aids to navigation along the river. As a trans-boundary organization, the MRC is the appropriate body for implementing projects such as this one that requires regional coordination and coherence.

Although thousands of tonnes of cargo steam up and down the Mekong river system every day - the river is currently underutilized as a means for cross border and international trade. The project we are launching today will take us one step closer to improving this situation.

But it is not just the shipping companies and external markets that benefit from improved river navigation. The river is also a highway for ordinary people. We know that more than one third of the riverside populations of Cambodia and Lao PDR live more than 10 km away from reliable road access, meaning that river transport is an essential part of their lives.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Mekong and its tributaries are vital every day links for transport, development and commerce. In many cases, rivers are the only link to the outside world for remote rural populations in the basin.

The river is important for small-time producers getting their goods to markets, to farmers, to children going to school and to whole communities accessing social services.

However, the river can be dangerous. And in encouraging increased river use – which is the policy of the MRC – we also have to accept that there is also the increased risk of accidents.

Indeed, besides the human risk, there is also the risk of, for example, an oil spill on the Mekong, or other dangerous substances. That could have devastating trans-boundary environmental impacts. Properly marking the channels, a process that we begin today with the launch of the first buoy, reduces the risk of these kinds of incidents. We are also looking into procedures and building of capacity to address the risk of accidents.

I would like to thank all those concerned with making this day happen. Most importantly, I must say how grateful the MRC is to the Governments of Australia and Belgium for their support to the Navigation Programme.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The buoy we are launching is the first of dozens that will not only make river travel easier – but together with other navigation aids that MRC has helped to produce, will also help to firmly entrench it as a means for economic growth. And that is indeed worth celebrating down here on the river today.

It is traditional to say "bon-voyage" at a boat launch, but I'm not sure what you say to an anchored buoy that is not going anywhere. Anyway, I thank you all for being here to help us celebrate the work done to make the river a safer place and to say "bon-voyage" to all those vessels that will be sailing past these buoys in the future. This is the first day of what we hope will be a long life for the buoys on the Mekong River.

Thank you




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