Mekong River Commission Secretariat

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Mr Jeremy Bird

Chief Executive Officer
Mekong River Commission Secretariat

Opening Ceremony of the
MRC Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre
on the Occasion of Mekong Day, 2008

5th April 2008, Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA


H.E. Mr Lim Kean Hor, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology,
Chairman of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee,
Chairman of the MRC Council for 2007-2008, and MRC Council Member for Cambodia,

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all here today to participate in the opening ceremony for the MRC Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre.

On behalf of the MRC Secretariat I would like to extend my special thanks to His Excellency Mr Lim Kean Hor for finding the time in his busy schedule to take part in this opening ceremony. As well as marking the official opening of this marvellous Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre, we are also reflecting on the signing of the Mekong Agreement in 1995 and celebrating Mekong Day 2008.

The opening of this Centre marks a vital step forward in helping the region avoid the damage and destruction that extreme flows can bring, while helping people in the basin harness the benefits brought by the Mekong’s annual flood pulse. Providing this service to rural and urban communities is one of the core functions of the MRC. This Centre is integral to the future success of the MRC’s Flood Management and Mitigation Programme, and it is a step which would not have been possible without the generous assistance of the Royal Government of Cambodia, for which we are extremely grateful.

It is particularly rewarding for me to be at this opening ceremony in my first week in the MRC Secretariat and to become a part of this important initiative. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who have helped to make it a reality over the past few years. Please join me in appreciating their efforts.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Flooding poses something of a conundrum to the governments and people of the Member States, and to the MRC. It is on the one hand a natural event that brings life to the plains along our rivers, and nurtures both traditional agricultural cycles and diverse ecosystems. On the other hand however, it can also be terribly destructive, wiping out human life and destroying, in an instant, the hard efforts of the poor to build a secure and healthy existence. The duality of the flood issue and its regional nature are what has caused the MRC to give such high importance to, and invest significant financial and human resources in, our Flood Programme and this new Centre. It is an issue that requires both technical and social study, plus of course, the cooperation of many bodies.

The complex flood problems of the Lower Mekong Basin not only require an integrated floodplain management approach, but also significant attention to trans-boundary and regional issues. The MRC Flood Management and Mitigation Strategy was approved by the MRC Council in November 2001 and its overall development objective is “to prevent, minimise or mitigate suffering and economic losses due to floods, while preserving their environmental benefit." The Flood Management and Mitigation Programme, including its implementation agenda, was endorsed by the Council in November 2003.

The programme was designed for six years, covering the period from 2004 to 2010. Much of the total budget of 26.2 million US dollars comes from the Netherlands and Germany, with the USA, the ADB, Japan, Denmark and the European Union also making valuable contributions. There are five components. The first, Establishment of a Regional Flood Mitigation and Management Centre in Phnom Penh, has not only resulted in this building, but sees the establishment of a world-class facility to maintain and improve the availability of essential flood-related tools, data, and knowledge. The Centre’s mission is to produce accurate regional forecasts within a suitable lead time and, most importantly, to disseminate them effectively to vulnerable people so that the damage caused by floods can be minimised.

The process of expanding and improving the current short-term flood forecast system towards medium-term forecasts is underway and a new Mekong Basin Flood Forecasting System will be ready for the coming 2008 flood season. This first component also produces Annual Mekong Flood Reports and organises the Annual Mekong Flood Forums, which provide a chance for national flood centres and their partners to discuss emerging needs and review the progress each country has made towards holistic and balanced flood management.

The second component, Structural Measures and Flood Proofing, aims to reduce the vulnerability of society to floods. A report on the framework for Integrated Flood Risks Management has been completed, enabling the MRC Basin Development Plan to identify and broadly assess flooding impacts and considerations. For example, this component is currently working to deliver best practice guidelines for the design of roads on the Mekong floodplains of Cambodia and Vietnam. This will help avoid the flooding problems often associated with poor drainage.

Component 3 works to strengthen cooperation and capacity to address and resolve differences in trans-boundary flood issues. The preferred approaches and mechanisms for addressing such issues have been finalised through intensive consultation with the Member States. A draft report on legal aspects of the mandate of the 1995 Agreement has been prepared to enhance cooperation in trans-boundary flood issues.

The fourth programme component, Strengthening Competence in Flood Preparedness and Mitigation, works with communities, emergency response managers and civil authorities. One current project has teamed up with the Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission, ECHO, to build capacity throughout the basin by using Flood Information Products. Activities include awareness raising sessions in primary and secondary schools in vulnerable areas, and developing a training manual and handbook for use with local partners.

Land Management, the fifth and final component, gives institutional, human and technical support to local authorities to promote sustainable land management. The initial phase was completed last year in Cambodia and Viet Nam, delivering more reliable information on flood patterns for use in national land planning and management.

The activities I have described demonstrate how a project with regional dimensions is able to deliver services and tools appropriate for use by local agencies and communities. It is a clear example of the benefits of cooperation in the region.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to draw your attention to an important distinction between the core functions of the Regional Flood Centre and the development role of the Flood Mitigation and Management Programme. Once the Centre has fully developed its forecasting and warning capabilities and operating procedures, it will function as a fully independent unit, providing services to the Member States. In doing so, it will cooperate closely with the other components of the Flood Programme. This situation will occur between mid-2009 and 2010, following endorsement by the MRC Joint Committee and Council of the permanent operational setting, management structure, operating procedures, and future financing and institutional arrangements of the Centre.
Once the Centre is fully operational, it will be instrumental in providing capacity building and technology transfer, as required by the MRC Flood Mitigation and Management Strategy. Incomplete figures for 2006 show that at least 224 people were killed by floods in three of the lower Mekong countries that year, and that well over 12,000 homes were severely damaged. These estimates show that flooding can have catastrophic effects on people’s lives, and it is well known that the poorest people suffer most.
Not only will this Centre be a symbol of increasing regional cooperation, but it will also have a real impact in combating poverty by giving people in the basin, both rural and urban, the necessary information and assistance to help them deal with future floods.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
The MRC has been extremely fortunate to receive so much support from international donors such as the Government of Japan in constructing this Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre, and from other countries that have generously funded the Flood Programme, including the Netherlands and Germany. With the opening of this new Centre we can now look forward to getting down to the serious and important work of helping people of the basin cope with floods, and in developing methods and systems to prevent tragedies.

In closing, I would like to express my sincere thanks to His Excellency Mr Lim Kean Hor, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology for the Kingdom of Cambodia, and Chairman of the MRC Council for 2007-2008, and to all our distinguished guests. I trust that you will continue to render your assistance and support to the MRC as we strengthen the organisation and keep the Mekong Spirit alive.
This is just the beginning of the life of this Centre, and we look forward to your continued involvement in the valuable role it will play in the future.

Thank you for joining with MRC in this process and on this symbolic anniversary in the Mekong calendar.



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