“We will continue to work with the U.S. and hope to have additional earmarked funding from Washington to implement our new strategy, especially in satellite technology use, and data and information visualization,” Dr An Pich Hatda, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat, said Friday.
He was speaking at the opening plenary of Mekong- U.S. Partnership Track 1.5 Policy Dialogue, a four-day event hosted by Stimson Center and the International Union of Nature (IUCN).
Fishermen fish in the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, July, 2019. Photo by Reuters.
Hatda stressed that ensuring water flow and quality in the Mekong River was a crucial element in its basin development strategy until 2030. This, along with securing sediment transport and ecosystem services, contributes to the commission’s number one priority: maintaining the ecological function of the Mekong River, he said.
He said the Mekong River basin faces major challenges, including permanent modification of mainstream flow regime, substantial reduction in sediment flows due to sediment trapping, limited water infrastructure data and information sharing, continuing loss of wetlands, deterioration of riverine habitats and growing pressures on capture fisheries, and temperature and sea level rise due to climate change.
He noted that growing populations and expanding economies in the region have put a lot of pressure on natural resources and generated considerable costs to the environment.
Remarkably, the hydrology of the Mekong is changing, with increased water flow during the dry season, and vice versa in the wet season. Difficulties are also created by hydropower facilities not operating in a coordinated manner.
In addition, the basin’s climate is changing, with experts forecasting that it will face higher temperatures and more extreme floods and droughts.
“Water quality and fisheries reduction are what we are going to face in the future.”
In that context, the MRC’s strategy document, which was approved in November 2020, set out how water and related resources of the Mekong River Basin should be used and managed from perspectives of the Lower Mekong countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam).
Hatda noted that at the first Mekong-U.S. Partnership Ministerial Meeting in September 2020, the U.S. Department of State had pledged $1.8 million to support the MRC in sharing water resource data for policy planning.
Ambassador Atul Keshap, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State, emphasized the important role of the Mekong Dam Monitor (MDM), a project using satellites to track and publish water levels in Chinese dams on the Mekong river. On March 16, MDM alerted local communities in Thailand and Laos of an impending 1.3 meter drop in river levels due to restrictions by the Jinghong dam in China’s Yunnan province. It showed that advanced warning can be helpful for people’s livelihoods.
Jinghong is one of 11 operational dams that China has built on the Mekong River.
Keshap said China should provide accurate, timely and essential data that Mekong region countries are calling for and should consult with its neighbors on its dam operations that severely impact water quality and water quantity downstream.
The Mekong River flows 4,880 km from its origins in Tibet, 2,130 km of it in China, where it is called Lancang. The river flows south through Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.