Mekong River Commission

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Environment Programme

The Environment Programme's main aim is to assist the member countries to protect the environment and maintain the ecological balance of the basin and to ensure environmental and social sustainability of economic development undertaken within the region. The livelihood and prosperity of a growing population living in the Mekong River Basin depends on a healthy environment, which is why the Environment Programme is developing a river health management strategy to provide a framework for managing the Mekong River and an indicative Mekong Basin Environmental Report card to inform the people of the basin about environmental conditions.

The lower Mekong River Basin has a population of approximately 60 million and the great majority of the inhabitants are farmers and fishers, depending directly on the natural resource base. The integrity of the Basin’s ecology is thus vital to their social, cultural and economic well-being. Although the Basin is relatively unpolluted, rapid economic development coupled with increasing population pressure is degrading the environment and the Basin’s resources at an increasing rate. It is imperative to do something now to have a positive impact on the future. This is why the environment programme aims to maintain the health of the river through a strategy of monitoring, management and education.

The Environment Programme has six main objectives:

  1. To improve monitoring of the environmental state of the basin, focussing on water quality, ecological health and social development.
  2. To increase environmental and socio-economic knowledge in the Mekong River basin.
  3. To improve the dissemination and accessibility of environmental information (within the basin and between the basin and elsewhere).
  4. To ensure that social, economic and ecological concerns are incorporated in basin-wide environmental policies and procedures (in line with Article 3 of the 1995 Agreement).
  5. To improve awareness and capacity of MRC and riparian government personnel to address transboundary and basin-wide environmental issues.
  6. To ensure that development initiatives are planned and implemented with a view to minimise negative environmental impacts in the Mekong River Basin.


The Programme consists of five components representing the key issues that must be addressed in order to achieve these objectives.

Component A - Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

This component aims to provide timely data and/or information on trends and changes of environmental conditions of the Mekong River Basin, which are used by relevant stakeholders. Environmental monitoring and assessment are of central importance to the programme and include (i) water quality monitoring, (ii) ecological health monitoring, (iii) household social and economic monitoring, and (iv) analysis and communication of trends and results.

Component B - Environment Decision Support

This component aims to improve environmental policy and planning for the sustainable use and development of the Mekong River Basin water and related resources. It addresses environmental decision support, which continues to focus on activities such as the development of transboundary and regional environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment systems as well as ecological risk assessment, environmental conflict management and other topics and tools relevant for regional environmental management.

Component C - People and aquatic ecosystems

This component works to ensure that data and information on the basin’s aquatic and related resources and of livelihood status is available for relevant stakeholders to use in improving planning and management. It focuses on how people use, benefit from and are affected by changes in these ecosystems.

Component D - Environmental Knowledge

This component plans to improve knowledge and research base of the components, functions and linkages of basin’s aquatic and related ecosystems, to be used by relevant stakeholders in the use and development of resources. It plans to develop conceptual models of the basin’s ecology and support research into how the basin functions and in order to fill knowledge gaps on the basin’s ecology.

Component E – Environmental Flow Management

This component aims to improve management of water flows, maintaining the ecological balance of the Mekong River basin. It is working in close collaboration with the MRC’s water Utilisation Programme, in developing environmental flows assessment to support the development and agreement on procedures for water use.

All five components incorporate capacity building and networking as well as promotion of good governance and of public involvement in environmental issues.
The Environment Programme supports the other MRC programmes with environmental data and tools for environmental planning and management such as:

  • A wetland inventory and a map over the aquatic ecosystems in the basin
  • Bioassessment data which provides information on ecological health of the river and the basin.
  • Information on environmental flows to assist in determining the trade offs between water use and river condition so that water use will not affect the river, its tributaries and its environment in ways unacceptable to the member countries.
  • The economic value of wetlands.
  • Water quality data from about 100 sites within the basin to allow assessment of present water quality and trends over time.
  • Information on toxic chemicals in water and sediments within the basin.
  • Identification of ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Development of informal procedures to address waterborne transport pollution and accident risks, as well as further development of EIA procedures for river transport infrastructure in a transboundary context.

Working with partners

The Environment programme works closely with the MRC’s partners such as the ADB supported Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS), UNDP and UNEP, as well as International NGOs like IUCN, Wetland International (WI) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to only name a few. Universities and research institutions, such as the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and the World Fish Centre, also have key regional involvement in the Mekong Basin.

Environmental issues are cross-sectoral and, as such, transboundary environmental concerns cannot be dealt with in isolation. The MRC, as the only wholly riparian structure representing riparian interests, is in a position to ensure a balance is maintained between economic development and a healthy Mekong Basin environment, supporting the natural resources diversity and productivity critical to the livelihood of its people.

The Environment Programme, in concert with all other MRC programmes, focuses on the issues that need to be addressed by the MRC over the next decades in order to ensure a balance between economic development and environmental concerns.



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