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  Home   MRC News Speeches Statement by MRCS CEO Dr Olivier Cogels

Statement by Dr Olivier Cogels,
CEO Mekong River Commission Secretariat
on the occasion of the

International Conference on the Mekong River Commission,

Hanoi, Vietnam 24 April 2007


Ladies and Gentlemen


I am delighted to be here today to discuss the most pressing challenges of the Mekong River Basin and to consider how together we can strengthen MRC’s leading role in the sustainable development of Mekong’s water and related resources for contributing to poverty alleviation and economic growth in the region.

Today we have already heard a great deal about the working relationships within the Mekong Region and about one of our most important strengths: regional cooperation. Now it is my turn to discuss with you on how we can better work together for the benefit of the people of the basin. As the CEO of the MRC Secretariat, I will try to summarise as best as possible what I believe are converging views of the MRC member countries, such as expressed already in our Strategic Plan 2006-2010.

But first let us take a look at the bigger picture. Water resources development is always intrinsically linked to economic growth and regional integration. South East Asia is a region on the upswing. The bonds of ASEAN are helping many of the less developed nations to find their feet in the world and their entry into the World Trade Organisation is bringing new markets and better prospects for the emerging economies of the region.

The future is bright, but there are still many challenges facing the region – and the biggest of these is still the fight against poverty, and more particularly poverty in rural areas, which is directly related to land and water issues.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals call for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental stability. It is now time to realise that in order to achieve these goals in Southeast Asia, taking into account the consequences of climate change on floods and droughts, we must start making better use of the region’s shared resource, its water. This will allow us to meet its present and future development needs and improve the livelihoods of a very large proportion of the Mekong people. In this basin, tens of millions of poor farmers and fishermen still suffer from severe droughts and floods and have very limited water storage and capacity to control and manage flow regimes and the distribution of the water in space and time. Indeed, in this basin, the water storage capacity per capita is very low: twenty times lower than in the United States.

To meet the development needs of the basin there is a need for more investment in the water sector, both in infrastructure and in human and institutional capacities for:

  • Increased food security through more efficient drought management and irrigation;
  • More active and efficient river transportation through increased freedom of navigation;
  • Appropriate development of the basin’s important hydropower potential to help meeting the increasing need for sustainable energy;
  • Maintenance and development of productive fisheries;
  • Better protection against floods, including flash floods, and last but not least;
  • Prevention of river pollution from agricultural and industrial development and transportation of dangerous goods.

All of us around this table have already taken up these challenges and there are thus many excellent projects underway in the region focusing on the development and management of water related resources. The building blocks for efficient use of the Mekong water are therefore in place and we can expect an increasing number of initiatives, including from the private sector. Unfortunately, many of these building blocks are scattered and un-coordinated. The MRC, with its solid institutional basis, its technical expertise and knowledge base, its 50 years of experience in regional cooperation, is ideally situated to bring these building blocks together.

Through the 1995 Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin, the MRC brings with it the strengths of regional cooperation and coordination. Our Joint Committee, our Council and our Dialogue meetings offer a platform for our members and dialogue partners to engage more and more in exchanges of information on major development needs, strategies, and integrated solutions. We have the mechanisms to bring about lasting agreements and plans which will orient the future of the region.

There is a great opportunity at hand today for all development actors to exploit the complementarities and the comparative advantages of our institutions. And if we are to achieve our poverty alleviation and development goals, we all need to cooperate more systematically and improve the coordination and integration of our various water related activities under the umbrella of one, well-coordinated regional partnership framework. We need one common strategic vision and one integrated programme on sustainable water development within our region, so we can make the best use of our complementarities, develop our synergies and avoid duplication of our efforts.

We indeed need to remain well aware of the serious risks which might result from uncoordinated actions and investments which do not take into account the basin dimension to the extent necessary. There are serious risks for the most vulnerable people and the environment in ecologically sensitive areas such as the Tonle Sap system, the Mekong delta, and the many areas suffering from severe droughts. There are also political sensitivities to be borne in mind as many of investment opportunities are transboundary in nature, having implications in more than one country.

This is where the MRC can play to its strengths. The mandate of the MRC charges it with the responsibility of leading the cooperation for the sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin’s water and related resources and our organisation is unique in its legal mandate to provide a platform for real regional cooperation and joint planning. The MRC is the only institution which, together with its partners, can achieve a real regional consensus on major water related projects and programmes.

We have the legal and structural mechanisms in place for inter-country agreement on joint and basin-wide development through the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement and procedures dealing with water quantity and quality among others. With a strong leadership of MRC, based on strengthened partnership with other regional initiatives, we can bring about success in this region with a coordinated, sustainable and peaceful approach.

We also need to be aware of the need for increasing our capacity to do our job. I am glad that Madame the Minister Ulla Tornaes has kindly approved support in this respect .

With the strong and generous support of its very active donor community, the MRC has spent the past decade building up an exceptional information and scientific knowledge base and developing an enabling environment for regional planning and programming for water resources development. This knowledge base is one of the key added values of MRC and should remain one of its main assets, but let us not forget that MRC has not been created only to be a data and information provider. The time has now come for MRC to use its knowledge base and expertise for concrete action, serving more directly its member countries and their line agencies through demand-driven technical assistance in their priority areas of interest. A stronger service-oriented MRC has a lot to offer to its member countries and partners as a promoter, coordinator, and supporter of sustainable development, with a proven capacity to enhance regional cooperation, integration and stability, promoting IWRM as the guiding principle for water resource development and management in the basin.

Through our well-established dialogue partner mechanisms, I am very pleased to see that we can also engage more and more with our upstream partners, China and Myanmar in a very constructive cooperation at technical level. A stronger country-owned MRC becomes a more and more trustful and useful partner and the Dialogue Partnership is thus a good framework within which we can further develop our cooperation, stepwise and in a pragmatic manner. I can honestly say our relationship with China has never been healthier. I am convinced that we will continue to increase confidence and trust as we progress to positive and constructive cooperation leading to more tangible benefits for the Mekong people. Just recently we started to discuss new areas of cooperation including sharing expertise in modelling and computerised systems. Potential interest to cooperate in the sector of navigation has also been identified.

As we can see, the challenges are enormous and it is obvious that MRC alone is too small to achieve its ambitious mandate. That’s where partnership comes in. MRC has already close interaction and cooperation with many development partners, development banks, private sector, NGOs and regional frameworks such as GMS, ASEAN, ACMECS, etc. And we are enthusiastically pursuing the consolidation of these growing partnerships. In particular, cooperation with development banks has increased significantly in recent years. I may briefly mention here our cooperation with the World Bank and the GEF within the Water Utilisation Programme, with the ADB in identifying investments for flood management. With WB and ADB within MWARP, with KfW on watershed management, with AFD on hydrometerological monitoring systems. We also support JBIC in the identification of investment projects and we will soon also engage discussions with the European Investment Bank.

The MRC is in the right place at the right time with the right capabilities to promote and coordinate the regional water programme for the Mekong basin, implemented by the countries themselves in cooperation with donors, investment banks, the private sector and other stakeholders. This is the spirit of our Mekong Programme or partnership programme such as it has been set out in our Strategic Plan 2006-2010.

I would thus call on you all here today to join forces and to concentrate our coordinated efforts under the umbrella of this Mekong Partnership Programme for us to work together within a common framework, making the best use of each other’s strengths and capabilities to forge an alliance which will bring about lasting and truly sustainable development in our basin. I therefore propose that we align our memoranda of understanding in this vein, so that we can have one successful regional water programme in the Mekong Basin.

With this partnership and through dialogues such as the one we are enjoying today, we will be able to strengthen MRC for the benefit of the poorest people of the region. It is only with a strong MRC in the driving seat of sustainable development that we can meet people’s needs while keeping the balance and providing the necessary safeguards for an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River Basin.

Thank you for your kind attention.


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