Mekong River Commission Secretariat

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Opening Address
Mr Jeremy Bird, CEO of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat
6th Annual Mekong Flood Forum

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
27th-28th May 2008


Excellencies, Members of the MRC Joint Committee, Representatives of Development Partners, Representatives of International and Regional Organisations and Institutes, Distinguished Delegates;

It is a great pleasure for me to return to Phnom Penh to present this address at the start of the 6th Annual Mekong Flood Forum, just weeks after participating in the opening of the Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre. I am pleased also to note the broad interest in this event and to see the number of participants continues to grow steadily since the first Flood Forum in 2001. At that Forum, the MRC’s role in the Flood Management and Mitigation Programme was just being conceived. Here, we see it moving from infancy to maturity.

For the Mekong River Commission, this meeting provides an important chance to share experiences of last year’s flood season in the Basin, and add to our understanding of the positive and negative impacts of floods. It allows us to follow and support interventions of MRC’s member states to reduce the loss of lives as well as damage to infrastructure and loss of production. Also, to support their efforts to enhance levels of preparedness and response among people living in the basin and the capacity of responsible authorities, especially the disaster management organisations.

Floods remain an essential part of the natural life cycle in the basin, but at the same time a threat to human life and dignity. The recent cyclone and consequent floods in Myanmar have demonstrated again that meteorological conditions may turn a peaceful landscape into total chaos, resulting in casualties and destruction of houses, communities, roads and communications. Sitting here in the comfort of this pleasant setting, it is hard for us to imagine the hardships and misery that the affected people are facing. Our thoughts go out to those that have lost their loved ones and are struggling to survive, as well as to those working hard to help them. It is the mitigation of such impacts on peoples’ lives that is driving us in our work here and it would be helpful to keep those images in our minds as we work together over the next two days and beyond.

Turning back to the Lower Mekong Basin, there already seems to be a relationship developing between the heavy rainfall recorded in many areas over recent weeks, so early in the year, and the fact that 2008 is a year in which the El Niño and El Niña phenomena are active.

Even though climate change, with its associated extremes and variability, will further complicate weather prediction, being able to provide longer term or seasonal flood forecasting has become more relevant than ever before. It is our duty to help our partners enhance awareness of flood events and the preparedness to cope with them; strengthen search and rescue capabilities; design and build intelligent flood resistant irrigation, road and dyke infrastructure; adopt appropriate management systems; and instigate a number of other measures and interventions to minimise the negative impacts of floods while retaining their natural benefits. This is no small task.

The Flood Management and Mitigation Programme, with the support of our development partners including the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, Japan, Denmark, the Asian Development Bank and the European Commission, has provided our Member States with a well structured programme of regional cooperation and information exchange in dealing with floods. The opening earlier this year of the Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre here in Phnom Penh is a clear sign of the countries’ interest in applying a joint concept and of MRC’s role in delivering on development needs.

This flood season, the Centre will introduce a new hydrological flood forecasting system, to be tested alongside the existing forecasting system for the Mekong mainstream in the Lower Basin. Further improvements will be made to incorporate a hydrodynamic forecasting model, thereby allowing more specific forecasting capabilities over the entire flood plain in Cambodia and Viet Nam.

A basin-wide Flash Flood Guidance System will be operational by the end of this year, while a basin-wide assessment of ‘Integrated Flood Risk Management’ based on a combination of soft and hard measures is ongoing.

A capacity building programme to enhance the ability to address issues, differences and disputes on transboundary flood matters will be implemented within weeks. National systems and processes have been strengthened in the fields of emergency management and disaster preparedness, and in land management, but more is clearly necessary. Thanks to the additional funding that has been received, these activities can continue throughout the first phase of our programme, up to the end of 2010.

The coordinated support of our development partners not only enables us to achieve effective internal coordination of all flood mitigation and management activities, but in doing so promotes the quality and pace of their implementation.

Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates;

Implementation of this programme has now passed the halfway mark of six years. It is time to review and evaluate the progress made so far, and to identify those steps required to complete and sustain the systems already established. Also to assess the steps needed to support dissemination and replication of good practices into new provinces, districts, communes and villages. In addition, analysis should be conducted to determine how we can help member countries enhance their flood management guidelines and procedures.

Flood management and flood mitigation remains a vital issue in the Lower Mekong Basin. Although upstream dams may reduce the flood risk in certain areas, they will not eliminate the threat. Heavy rainfall from recurrent typhoons, and the effects of climate change, mean that inundation will remain extremely variable. In this context, the MRC’s Annual Flood Report will continue to be a valuable instrument for documenting hydrological hazards and reporting the effects of floods across the basin.

In partnership with other MRC programmes such as the Basin Development Plan, Navigation, Environment, and Information and Knowledge Management Programmes, the Flood Management and Mitigation Programme is investing in and contributing to research, training, and technological development. This is an essential part of our work, but is not the end of it. I firmly believe that the focus of our efforts should equally be on generating and delivering results to our clients - the line agencies, research and training institutes, and other organisations of the Member States – in a form that materially assists them to help rural and urban communities at a time of heightened risk.

This we cannot do without the full support of each country, the continued contributions of our development partners, and the cooperation of the numerous international and regional institutes and organisations represented here today.

Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates;

I look forward to hearing the exchanges of experiences and recommendations at
this 6th Annual Flood Forum, in what is one more step along the path of developing an effective regional management capability for flood events and so providing a more secure future for vulnerable people in the basin.

Before we move on I would like, on behalf of the MRC, to extend my sincere appreciation to staff of the FMMP and the Cambodian Government who have put in so much hard work to organise this Forum. Also to thank all of you who have contributed to the proceedings and given your time to be with us here today.

I wish you all a productive and enjoyable time here in Phnom Penh.



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