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  Home   MRC News Speeches Opening Address by DR OLIVIER COGELS

ASIA 2006 - the International symposium on Water Resources and Renewable Energy Development in Asia

Opening Address by
Chief Executive Officer, Mekong River Commission Secretariat.

Bangkok, Thailand
30 November – 1 December 2006

Ms Alison Bartle, Aqua-Media International
Mr Kraisi Karnasuta, Governor of EGAT, Thailand
Prof Luis Berga, President, International Commission on Large Dams
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

Firstly I would like to thank the organisers of Asia 2006 for inviting me to make a welcome address at this important symposium and I offer my gratitude to the Government of Thailand for hosting this event. I would like also to thank Ms Alison Bartle and Mr Krasi Kanasuta for their interesting and informative opening remarks.

It is a great honour to be asked to address such an experienced group of professionals in the hydropower community from approximately 45 nations around the world and to have the opportunity to debate on what will continue to be one of the most challenging human undertakings of our century. We are here in a region where economic and industrial development is fast, while in rural areas, the poverty experienced by tens of millions of people remains a major concern, and where the daily life of poor people is strongly interrelated with the river system. This is why rapid hydropower development is needed, but this development should never be managed without consideration of the overall river system in which it occurs. I’m thus delighted to represent here the Mekong River Commission and to discuss the subject from the perspective of an International River Basin Organization which has to deal with one of the largest rivers in the world.

Over the past few decades the development of hydropower has had a huge and positive impact on humanity around the world. For many of your nations it has brought the answer to producing a clean, renewable and reliable energy source. For others it has been the springboard to new beginnings, bringing with it the revenues required for much needed societal development and poverty alleviation. I strongly believe this can also be true in our river basin, if we adopt a right and wise approach.

There is, for me, no doubt that for countries such as Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, the member states of the MRC, and also for our two dialogue partners, China and Myanmar, hydropower represents a cost efficient way of producing much needed power using one of their greatest resources – the water of the Mekong River system. I’m sure that all of us here are well aware of the needs to minimise environmental and social impacts, and I’m also confident that locally, these issues are more and more well handled. But I’m also convinced that in this region, like probably in many other regions in the world, it is of utmost importance to look into hydropower development at the scale of the whole river basin, considering carefully also the cumulative and trans-boundary implications, both positive and negative.

This is why it is important to approach this subject from a basin-wide perspective and why I would like to share my views on how an international river basin organisation such as the MRC is ideally placed to support hydropower development in a holistic and cooperative way.

Some of you may be surprised to see the MRC represented at a hydropower conference, and to hear the message we are giving. In the past we have sometimes been perceived as a being a very conservative organisation, more interested by environment protection than by economic development. Well I am here to tell you that is not the case.

Historically the development of hydropower has been high on the MRC agenda. Article 1 of our international agreement which outlines the areas on which our four Member States agreed to cooperate, includes hydropower as one of the main areas to be developed “in a manner to optimise the multiple use and mutual benefits of all riparians”. Our recently adopted Strategic Plan 2006-2010, is all about promoting the use of the river’s potential for sustainable development and economic growth. But we want to be sure it is the right kind of development. Development that is well co-ordinated, equitable, peaceful, carefully planned, that minimises environmental impacts and, most importantly, is for the benefit of all of the people of the basin, especially the poorest.

The Mekong River System has still a high potential for investment and development in the sectors of irrigated agriculture, hydropower, navigation, fisheries, flood management and tourism. The overall five-year goal of the MRC’s new Strategic Plan is thus to support our four Member States for more effective use of the Mekong’s water and related resources to alleviate poverty, while protecting the environment, contributing to the UN Millenium Development Goals. Later this morning, Dr Dao Trong Tu, our Director of the Operations Divisions will tell you more about the hydropower potential of the Mekong River Basin. Only 10% of the approximately 50.000 MW of potential has been developed in this basin.

The Mekong River system is one of the most bountiful in the world in terms of biodiversity and abundance of aquatic products. Fish production in this basin represents 3 percent of the total world production including oceans. It is the primary source of food and livelihoods for a substantial proportion of the basin’s inhabitants and we must ensure that this delicate balance is not endangered though thoughtless and poorly coordinated development. I’m personally convinced that it is be possible to achieve both objectives: developing the hydropower potential, while maintaining productive fisheries in this region. But this will need quite some efforts in terms of analysis, design, planning and international cooperation. In MRC, we have adopted a two-track approach which could be a model for many other river basin organisations in the world. On the one hand actively promoting development of the available water resources on the basis of very active trans-boundary cooperation and on the other hand strengthening the capacity to protect the environment and ecological health of the river.

Our region is fortunate. It does not have a lack of water; rather it has a lack of water resources development and management. While every year many areas still suffer from floods in the wet season, only months later others are also suffering from severe drought. Crops are destroyed and livestock die, leaving people with food shortages and economic losses, and, as always, it is the poorest who suffer most.

Well planned and managed hydropower generation is thus not only useful for energy production, but also has a key role to play in the regulation of the river. There is indeed an important need for more water storage in the basin. As you know, in this monsoonal climate huge amounts of water flow in the wet season, while the water in the dry season is extremely low. However the storage capacity per capita in this basin is also still very low - 10 to 20 times lower than in many developed countries.
Hydropower development has thus to be seen within the scope of a holistic and multi-sectoral approach to water resources development, applying as much as possible the concept of IWRM at the scale of a whole basin.

In terms of planning, one of the main missions of the MRC is to promote joint planning, looking at medium and long-term integrated development scenarios for the benefits of all Member States without forgetting including our dialogue partners China and Myanmar. This is what we call the Basin Development Plan. Our mission is also to support coordinated implementation of a common plan through a regional cooperation programme, which we call the Mekong Programme, a programme owned and managed by the countries themselves.

Using a range of sophisticated mathematical models, in cooperation with the World Bank, we are working with a range of integrated development scenarios based on high, medium and low levels of combined hydropower and irrigation development. This allows us to analyse benefits and cumulative impacts of these developments to enable member countries to work out the trade-offs which are acceptable for all concerned.

In addition to joint planning, we will continue to enhance effective regional cooperation mechanisms, strengthen basin-wide environmental monitoring and impact assessment and strengthen the Integrated Water Resources Management capacity and knowledge base of our member countries and other stakeholders in the Basin.

As an international river basin organisation, totally owned by our member countries, a cooperative approach to development has been the basis of our operations since the MRC began, which is why we have the capacity to focus on any transboundary issues before they can become a problem, thus reducing the risk of investment in this sector.

As everyone here will understand, the challenges in a basin as large as the Mekong River Basin are enormous and we cannot do this alone. That is why it is part of our policy to strengthen our partnerships with other regional initiatives such as the GMS programme, as well as concrete cooperation with the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the Japan Bank of International Cooperation, and other stakeholders, including UN organisations, private sector, NGOs and nature conservation organisations such as WWF and IUCN.

With our partners, we would be pleased to provide solid support for the much-needed basin-wide cooperation within the hydropower community and related line agencies.

It is my pleasure to be chairing the first plenary session at this conference and I am very much looking forward to listening to everyone’s presentations over the next two days. I hope to also have the chance to have informal discussions with many of the hydropower development representatives here today, as well as with those of you from other river basin organisations. We come from many different countries but I am sure we will find we have much in common and I am anticipating gaining much from your vast range of international knowledge and experience and I hope to add to yours.

Thank you for your attention



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