January - June 2009
In this issue:
As Mekong countries begin to realise their potential vulnerability to climate change, governments have begun to focus on how they can predict its impacts and adapt.
Speakers at the MRC’s Regional Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative Forum held in Bangkok on 2-3 February said changes to climate and river flows could have severe effects on the livelihoods of millions of people who depend directly on the natural resources of the Mekong River and its tributaries.
"We know that concrete action needs to take place locally, and in order to act effectively, we need information about the impact of climate change and possibilities for adaptation to these changes at regional and local levels," said Alternative Member of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Joint Committee for Thailand, Siripong Hungspreug.
As part of the MRC's endeavors to increase understanding of the effects of climate change on the Mekong and to develop methods to mitigate and or adapt to these changes, formulation of the MRC’s Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative began in July 2008. The regional forum in Bangkok was part of this process.
To ensure the highest quality research and encourage transboundary knowledge-sharing and dialogue, the initiative brings together numerous partners and places a strong focus on stakeholder participation. Knowledge-sharing was strengthened significantly in December 2008 with the signing by the MRC of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the South East Asian regional arm of the Global Change System for Analysis, Research and Training (START).
Under the MOU, the two organisations will cooperate to study climate change and adaptation; assess the hydrology of the Mekong River Basin; share knowledge and information on operational modeling capabilities where they relate to climate change, mitigation or hydrological scenarios; and exchange data and technical publications.
START is an international research network sponsored by the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimension Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) to promote multidisciplinary research on the human and environmental affects of global changes. START has nine regional research centres worldwide and its regional research centre for Southeast Asia is located in Bangkok, Thailand.
The MOU was signed in Vientiane, Lao PDR, by Mr. Jeremy Bird, Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat and Dr. Anond Snidvongs, Director of the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for START.
"The Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative of the MRC will provide tools and processes for including climate change impacts and adaptation strategies into planning and management of water resources," Mr. Bird said at the signing. "This cooperation between the MRC and Southeast Asia START Regional Centre will benefit the two organisations through sharing of information and will enable each to build on findings of the other."
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The Mekong River Commission’s propoor development work "will be greatly enhanced by the greater coordination of funding provided by its development partners" the chairperson of the MRC Council announced to MRC's partners.
Speaking at the 15th MRC Council Meeting held in Vientiane
on 6-8 November 2008, H.E. Mme Khempeng Pholsena, Minister to
the Prime Minister's Office, Head of Water Resources and Environment
Administration, Member of the Lao National Mekong Committee
Chairperson of the MRC Council for 2008/2009, reminded participants of the unique role the MRC has to play in water management. By representing four countries, the MRC "has an innate interest in balancing use of the Mekong Basin's resources so that they are used for the countries' mutual benefit and people's well-being," Mme Khempeng noted. "It also has the knowledge base and technical expertise to help us gain maximum benefits from these resources in the most sustainable manner."
Mme Khempeng went on to welcome the participation of the MRC's development partners in the Donor Consultative Group session of the Council Meeting.
Mme Khempeng stressed that the forum provided an ideal opportunity for harmonising donor aid to MRC programmes and bolstering dialogue. Cutting down costs would ensure that donor money has a greater impact on the lives of the poor living in the Mekong region.
Another topic of great interest to development partners and the public discussed at the Council Meeting was hydropower. The MRC has a significant role to play in discussions on sustainable hydropower development by applying its considerable knowledge base to better understand the opportunities and risks and also to administer the formal procedures for consultation among Member Countries under the 1995 Mekong Agreement.
One issue in particular was identified as being of utmost importance for the ongoing sustainability of the organisation and that was national staff capacity building. In her closing speech, Mme Khempeng summed up the general sentiment when she said, "While some may feel that capacity is not yet high enough in all sectors to guarantee effective local management of MRC activities, it should be remembered that one of the key goals of the Commission is capacity building. Appointment of Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese and Lao staff to work alongside experts from the other countries and technical advisors from elsewhere can play an important role in transfer of skills essential for integrated water resource management."
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) publically emphasised in May the need to proceed carefully in considering dam projects on the mainstream Mekong River, as a wide range assessment of Mekong hydropower development began.
"The Mekong River system is a highly productive and valuable, but at the same time, fragile resource," said Jeremy Bird, Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat. "Before any decisions are made to implement mainstream hydropower schemes in the Lower Mekong Basin, the four lower Mekong countries have agreed to work together to cultivate a better scientific understanding of the wider development impact and to ensure that private sector proposals for new dams are guided by principles of economic, environmental and social sustainability."
Mr. Bird's words came as the MRC launched a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the proposed mainstream developments in Lao PDR, Cambodia and on the Lao-Thai border. The influence of upstream dams in China on the Lancang-Mekong River will also be included. The MRC will use information presented by the study to improve its ability to guide Member Countries in their decision processes and dialogue.
The SEA will build on the work undertaken by various MRC programmes, including the fisheries, navigation and agricultural programmes as well as its existing Basin Development Planning process. A country-level consultation process will run through the National Mekong Committees (NMCs) and include engagement with a wide selection of civil-society, private sector and government stakeholders. It will look at Mekong mainstream hydropower development in the context of regional energy planning; affected people; fisheries and barrier effects of dams on fish migration; maintaining ecological integrity and biodiversity; river morphology and sediment balance, and water quality and salinity intrusion on the Mekong River.
"The MRC is faced with perhaps its most important strategic challenge since the Mekong Agreement was signed in 1995 because of increased interest in building hydropower dams in the mainstream of the Lower Mekong River Basin," said Mr. Bird.
Rapidly increasing demand for electricity in the region over the last decade and the global shift to reduce consumption of fossil fuels in power generation has led to increased pressure to develop hydropower schemes in the Mekong Basin.
While there are already 3,235 MW of electricity being generated by hydropower dams on Mekong tributaries - and dams with an operational capacity of 3,209 MW being constructed, there is a considerable amount of interest from the private sector in building dams on the mainstream. There are a total of eight existing or planned Mekong mainstream dams in Yunan Province in China and a total of 11 proposed by Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand – all in various stages of investigation or feasibility study.
As set out in the 1995 Mekong Agreement, MRC Member Countries are committed to undergoing a formal approval process prior to any decision on construction of dams on the river. The process must balance the interests of people’s livelihoods, as well as the energy, fisheries, tourism, and navigation industries. Projects being studied for development in the Lower Mekong Basin come to the Commission for consultation, with a view to assisting Member Countries to reach consensus on the critical and sensitive issues of their shared water resources and the balanced development of the river.
Past studies undertaken by the MRC have shown that dams can have both a positive and negative impact, for example, MRC analysis shows that the effects of the proposed mainstream dams in the Lower Mekong Basin apart from local resettlement issues are likely to be significant changes in fish passage and migration, aquatic habitats and sediment flow leading to erosion and loss of nutrients.
More than 60 million people in the Lower Mekong basin depend on the river system for food, transport and economic activity.
Delegates gave input into the draft BDP2 Stakeholder Participation and
Communication Plan. Photo:
To increase the level of stakeholder involvement in MRC decision making, the MRC convened a Regional Meeting on Stakeholder Engagement in Vientiane on 25 November 2008, the main goal of which was to lay the foundations for developing a formalized strategy for stakeholder participation. The event builds on the recognition of the importance of involving a wider group of stakeholders in water resource development and management, including the communities of the Mekong Basin.
With this spirit of sharing in mind, the agreed purposes of the meeting were:
The session recommended that to be effective and realistically implemented, the strategy needed to be built upon established processes and have a mechanism built in that would take into account financial and human resource limitations. In addition, the MRC needed to focus its consultation with civil-society on real water resource development issues. Finally, the stakeholder engagement policy should also include a process for startegy implementation.
In a second session, delegates examined more closely stakeholder participation in a specific programme; namely the Basin Development Programme, through the BDP’s Stakeholder Participation and Communication Plan (SPCP).
The draft MRC Stakeholder Engagement Principles were submitted at the Twentyninth Session of the Joint Committee in March 2009 for consideration. The SPCP document was finalised in early 2009 and stakeholder analysis and national workshops were conducted from January to March 2009 to provide opportunities for comment.
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We all like to tell ourselves we're good. Even better, we love it when others tell us we're good. But at some stage, and particularly for organisations responsible to the public, the only way to prove our worth is by looking at the hard facts and assessing whether what we’re achieving matches the accolades.
Up until now, the MRC has reported its progress in quarterly and annual reports based more on the activities undertaken rather than on the outcomes. However, there has been an increasing awareness that while these reports identify the number of training courses run, workshops and seminars attended or organised, and publications and studies undertaken, it hasn't gone deeper – what were the justifications and impacts of these activities? What worked and what didn't work? Was it money well spent? Did the activities achieve anything? Are we really as good as we think we are?
The MRC recognised that in most cases the best way to assess and improve itself would be to introduce a more outcome-oriented approach to project formulation and monitoring.
As a result, the MRC has embarked on a process to introduce a resultsbased monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system. In 2008, the MRC contracted a System Development and Implementation Team (SDIT) to assist with the establishment of such a process.
Developing the results-based monitoring
and evaluation system
The SDIT's work is being carried out using a consultative approach and with the MRC programmes. It will deliver a first round of recomendations by mid 2009.
The value of this system is that it provides the MRCS with Performance Management Information as well as lesson learning (including what works/ what doesn’t) and impact information that the organisation needs to improve its understanding of the constraints on enhanced regional coordination, better planning and use of information.
The value of this system is that it provides the MRCS with Performance Management Information as well as lesson learning (including on what works/what doesn't) and impact information that the organisation needs to improve its understanding of the constraints on enhanced regional coordination, better planning and use of information.
Getting down to the nitty gritty
Getting down to the nitty gritty During November/December 2008, the SDIT met and worked with MRC staff, relevant stakeholders and with two operational groups. The first was a reference group, consisting of four National Mekong Committee representatives who provided feedback on national expectations and promoted the work of the results-based monitoring system within their respective countries. The second operation group was a user group to provide advice and support, undertake quality control of the system development process, and to review the progress being made in implementing the M&E System.
The development of the results-based M&E system will initially work with five of the MRC programmes. If successful, it is anticipated that a second phase will allow for the results-based approach to be adopted across the MRC.
Mekong mainstream dams: People's voices across borders, Mekong Public Forum, 12-13 November 2008, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok Thailand.
Concern amongst civil organisations and the public generally about the impact of mainstream dams on the Mekong has been increasing in recent years. To discuss means of strengthening collaboration to deal with the challenges presented by proposed mainstream dams on the Mekong, civil society and academic groups organized the international conference, "Mekong mainstream dams: People's voices across borders" was held on 12-13 November 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand.
The main purposes of the forum were:
A plenary session on the 'Governance and Knowledge Role of the Mekong River Commission with respect to Mekong mainstream dams' was held at which Jeremy Bird, CEO of MRC Secretariat, made a presentation on 'MRC's role in relation to the planning and implementation of mainstream dams and its strategic framework'
Chris Barlow, Manager of the MRC Fisheries Programme shared his expert knowledge with the delegates during his presentation, 'Current status of knowledge on the fisheries impacts of mainstream dams and mitigation options'
The key point hammered home by civil organisations and academics during the forum was that mainstream dams do have detrimental impacts on the Mekong, fisheries and livelihoods of people, some of which cannot be mitigated. Participants argued that the Mekong River is vital for the survival of riparian communities.
The MRC did not escape criticism. Key problems highlighted were the MRC's perceived lack of direct accountability to the public and inaccessibility of information produced by the organisation to civil-society. Participants concluded that there is an increasing opportunity for dialogue and for civil society networks to consolidate across borders to deal with such issues.
The MRC was encouraged by the open and frank discussion at the forum and hopes this will set the trend for increasing dialogue with civil-society and communities, which is the key goal of the MRC stakeholder participation strategy currently being developed.
Main organisers of the conference included the Foundation for Ecological Recovery (FER), Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), Thailand's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI).
Two years into implementing its 2006- 2010 Strategic Plan, the Mekong River Commission is on track to achieving most of its key objectives states one report.
The Mid-Term Review, conducted by the Mekong River Commission, assessed the organisation's current progress against its 2006-2010 Strategic Plan. Eighty percent of the organisation's high priority projects are on track or have already achieved the goals set for them in the Plan.
The four key objectives set out in the Strategic Plan that the MRC must achieve by 2010 are:
As the report points out, however, because the Strategic Plan lacks a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, the results cannot be quantified. Nonetheless, the review has been extremely useful, highlighting areas where the MRC and its supporting partners still need to focus their efforts if the main goals of the Strategic Plan are to be achieved by the deadline.
Some of the key challenges facing MRC in its endeavors to carry out its mandate that were identified by the review included; encouraging increased cooperation with Member Countries on MRC initiatives; reducing the level of MRC bureaucracy; improving stakeholder communication; and increasing regional integration with other development initiatives, including the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals.
One of the issues of greatest concern identified by the stakeholders and review panel was the need to develop a monitoring and evaluation strategy. The MRC has taken this on board and an M&E process is now being established (see article on page 4).
The development of the Strategic Plan 2011-2015 also provides the opportunity to rectify many of the identified issues and the panel recommended this be made a priority.
Jeremy Bird, Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat, told Mekong News the organisation has already started implementing the recommendations of the review: "The review was an important step for the MRC. It has helped us identify key areas where we need to shift our focus so we can become a more successful organisation. Indeed, 2009 is when we start formulating the 2011-2015 Strategic Plan, complete with a monitoring and evaluation system. And it is upon this which the MRC will focus its core functions and build its future success."
Eight young professionals from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam are participating in the first phase of an MRC-sponsored training programme designed to equip them with expert knowledge and skills they can apply to MRC issues.
Known as Junior Riparian Professionals, the programme's participants are young people drawn from National Mekong Committees, tributary river basin organisations, universities, water resources training institutes and line agencies involved in the development and management of the Mekong River Basin.
Over the course of four years, the MRC Integrated Capacity Building Programme will provide 40 JRPs with basic Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) training and experience. The training, which began with the first intake back in January 2008, is based on three modules. The first is "learn to do" providing training on the IWRM concepts, techniques and tools to be employed in their work. The second module is "do to learn" where the trainees are required to apply what they learn to their work assignment. In the final stage, called "share to learn", the junior professionals return to their organisations, share their experience with their colleagues and apply their new skills.
The JRPs acquire a broad range of professional skills and a sound understanding of the MRC's Strategic Plan and Mekong region cooperation. Upon completion of their training, they should have the qualifications to progress to higher professional positions at their respective National Mekong Committees and line agencies, or in other relevant positions in their countries.
The first batch of JPRs completed their first two modules with the programme in December 2008 and are now retuning to their organisations to "share to learn." Here, in a different version of that concept, they share their feelings and experiences of the JRP course with Mekong News.
Ms. Noun Laong - Cambodia
JRP is a challenging opportunity for young professionals like me who aim to build skills and knowledge and gain a new awareness of the Lower Mekong River Community.
Mr. Thuon Sokchea - Cambodia
The JRP programme is a great opportunity for young professionals in riparian countries. I'm really excited to participate in the programme which actively encourages us to gain knowledge through the "learn-to-do"; "do-to-learn"; and "share-to-learn" approach. It is an interesting project because we actually have fun in the training. Ultimately, my aim is to contribute what I learn here to the development of the Lower Mekong Basin.
Ms. Chitlatda Keomuongchanh - Lao PDR
The JRP project provides a good opportunity for young riparian staff like us to build our knowledge and skills in specific MRC work programme areas through on-the-job training and specific training courses; I really appreciate that. Thank you to the MRC and the JRP project!
Ms. Bunthida Plengsaeng - Thailand
The JRP Programme is one of the best programmes that I have ever participated in. It has opened so many doors for me. It not only provides capacity building but also fosters good relationships between the young generations of the four participating countries.
Mr. Paramin Sansongsak - Thailand
This has been an extremely positive experience for me. JRP is a very good project for building personal knowledge and skills in technical areas and management. I really appreciate this chance to learn and work with an international organisation.
Ms. Huyen Trang - Viet Nam
The JRP project has given me the chance to learn more about the MRC structure and the process involved in setting up and running a project. Hopefully I can apply this knowledge in the future when I return to work in my home country.
Ms. Thack Huynh Thi Thu Trang - Viet Nam
The JRP project is a very useful project. I'm gaining a lot of new knowledge as well as experience which will be useful for my job and career path in the future. We've learned a great deal during the group discussions which are part of the training sessions and the assignments. I also improved my presentation skills and strategic thinking in problem solving during the training phase. I like this project so much because there are different training courses that covered skills I have never had the chance to aquire before.
The August 2008 Mekong floods in Thailand and Lao PDR showed that flood forecasting and warning systems on the Mekong need to improve in accuracy, according to a recent MRC report, despite being more accurate than flood predictions in previous years.
The 2008 Annual Mekong Flood Report, released at the 7th Annual Flood Forum in Bangkok on 13 May, was largely positive about the way that the MRC and governments responded to floods last year, but said that there is room for improvement in the accuracy of predictive tools, especially satellite based rainfall monitoring.
"The MRC is investing significant time and effort into building an accurate means for short to medium-term flood forecasts," said Jeremy Bird at the forum. "The 2008 flood season provided the first real opportunity for the MRC to assess the performance of various flood forecasting models in the face of an extreme climatic event. In general, the Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Programme [RFMMP] based in Phnom Penh predicted the trend and scale of the flood event, but we expect that the new models being applied this year will increase accuracy. Better communications systems to get that information to national forecasting and disaster response agencies are also being developed."
The report said that there is room for improvement in the accuracy of satellite rainfall monitoring tools, and how the data they provide gets checked against measuring stations on the ground – a process called "ground truthing."
The RFMMP says it is working to improve ground truthing, which should allow it to provide longer range flood forecasts before the onset of the 2009 Mekong flood season that begins in July/August and can run into October.
The report also mentions concerns raised by Member Countries "regarding information flow in times of extreme flooding and the need to improve the channels of communication between the local communities and the relevant flood forecasting, mitigation and response agencies."
The 2008 flood season in the Lower Mekong Basin saw rivers reach their highest levels since 1966 between the Chinese border and Vientiane/Nong Khai. Extensive flooding occurred in Lao PDR and Thailand, mainly in rural agricultural areas but also within urban areas. Parts of the city centre of Luang Prabang were flooded as well as areas on the outskirts of Vientiane and Nong Khai. More than US$ 135 million worth of damage was caused, with Thailand and Lao PDR bearing most of the brunt of this loss.
The Flood Forum provided an opportunity for the MRC to consult with government representatives, flood experts, NGOs and other stakeholders. The two day annual meeting focussed on how to improve flood monitoring and forecasting in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The RFMMP gathers information from water monitoring systems all over the Mekong Basin, from Yunnan Province in China all the way down to the Delta in Viet Nam. Readings are collated and potential floods predicted. News and warnings are then sent out across the region, helping authorities and communities to prepare for events as early as possible. The programme also provides training and technology transfer to specialists in the four MRC Member States.
30th Joint Committee meeting
29-30 July 2009, Don Chan palace, Vientiane Lao PDR
FMMP-Programme Coordination Committee meeting
3 August 2009, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The 5th Steering Committee meeting of the
17 – 19 August 2009, Bangkok, Thailand
IKMP Programme Coordination Committee meeting
27 August 2009, Hanoi, Viet Nam
Regional Seminar on Inland Waterway Transport
in Europe and South East Asia
10-11 September 2009, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
The 4th PCC meeting of the IKMP
14-16 September 2009, Hanoi, Viet Nam
Yield and value of the wild fishery of rice fields in Battambang Province, near the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia, June (Technical Paper No. 18)
The contribution of rice field habitats to the wild fishery of the Lower Mekong Basin is often overlooked. As a result, the importance of the fish resource harvested from these habitats may be neglected in the process of planning the development of water resources. This omission can favour the intensification of rice production to the detriment of the wild fishery. This technical paper provides a comprehensive account of the rice field fishery in Battambang Province, Cambodia. The main objective was to quantify the yield and value of the rice field fishery in an area typical of rain-fed lowland, wet season rice production. The mean yield of the fishery is 119 kg/ha/season with a monetary value of US$102/ha. This value compares favourably with rice farming. The paper concludes that previously published estimates of the total fishery yield from Cambodian rice fields are based on unrealistically low values of yield per unit area and underestimates of the area of rice field habit. This has lead to a significant underestimate of the total national fishery yield from rice fields.
June 2008. Hard Copy US$ 5.00 plus postage.
Free download: http://www.mrcmekong.org/free_download/research.htm#tech
Catch & Culture
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An assessment of water quality in the Lower Mekong
Basin, November 2008 (MRC Technical Paper No 19)
Water quality is one of the most important factors affecting the environmental health of the Mekong river system. In 1985, the MRC established the Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN). This paper presents an assessment of the water quality of the river system based on the measurements of a variety of physical and chemical parameters made at WQMN stations across the basin over the period 1985 – 2005. The paper defines water quality indexes and guidelines for the protection of human life, for human impact, and for agricultural use. Overall, the water quality of the Lower Mekong Basin is good, although there are signs of the significant human impact in the upper most part of the basin and downstream of Phnom Penh. Local water quality issues relating to salinity, acidification, and eutrophication are also discussed. The assessment provides a baseline from which to measure changes in the environmental health of the river system.
September 2008. Hard copy: US$5.00 plus postage
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Catch & Culture
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