Published: 16:47, June 13, 2024
River studies key to climate fight
By Pou Sothirak

Joint research can help Lancang-Mekong nations tackle issues of people reliant on waterway


EErratic hydrological phenomena impacted the Mekong River in 2023, creating drought followed by intense rainfall and flooding across all Mekong countries. This year has seen the same pattern, making the need for regional solutions to mitigate the expected dire consequences more acute than ever.

According to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), climate change threatens the Mekong River Basin and communities living on its embankments. The impacts of climate change adversely affect the livelihoods of the millions of people who rely on the river’s natural resources. The countries of the Lower Mekong River Basin — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam — are all vulnerable, which in turn weakens mainland Southeast Asia’s economic growth and harm the Mekong’s ecosystems and threaten social and regional harmony.

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The unprecedented extreme weather has shifted the focus of regional attention to finding a more durable solution to address the perils of climate change.

The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism and the MRC can take the lead in strengthening regional cooperation to better manage the trans-boundary water resources and effectively address the complex issue of climate-induced consequences, helping the Mekong region withstand socio-economic and environmental challenges.

China welcomes stronger synergy between the MRC and LMC to better contribute to the well-being of people and the sustainable development in the subregion. China has been making joint efforts with the Mekong countries to enhance cooperation in the utilization of water resources, flood mitigation and prevention, and capacity building on water resource management.

To start with, the China-led LMC and the MRC can garner a regional commitment to alleviate the effects of climate change by encouraging the Great Mekong Subregion to adopt renewable energy solutions, with the aim of attaining the goal of zero emissions by 2060.

An exemplary collaboration took place between the LMC and the MRC with the signing of a memorandum of understanding on Dec 19, 2019 by the MRC Secretariat’s CEO and the secretary-general of the LMC Water Center, at the Ministerial Meeting of the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation in Beijing.

The MoU entails the cooperation between China and the lower Mekong countries to ensure effective upper and lower Mekong River Basin management for future sustainability and shared benefits.

A two-phase joint study by the MRC Secretariat and LancangMekong Water Resources Cooperation Center (LMC Water Center) heralded a new dynamic in data and information exchange, basin-wide monitoring, and joint assessment on the Mekong water and related resources. Its objective is to provide a scientific basis for future cooperation of the six countries to address the problems facing the Mekong as a result of climate change.

A comprehensive Integrated Flood Risk Management system — containing elements of flood prevention, flood protection and flood preparedness — should also be put in place for the Mekong Basin countries.

The study emphasized that Mekong River management must be done on a Mekong River Basin basis, and that cross-national cooperation is important. Climate change is very real as are its effects.

This year, severe drought is expected, which can lead to the devastation of crops and fisheries, making communities more prone to food shortages and lost livelihoods due to low agricultural yields in the most productive area of the Mekong River Basin.

The joint study commissioned by LMC and MRC marked a valuable and beneficial collaboration between China and the Lower Mekong Countries with technical measures and actions related to data and information sharing and improvement among all the riverside countries.

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As use of renewable energy is key to fighting climate change, the LMC and the MRC should engage in a more targeted study to assist Mekong countries aggressively transition toward a renewable energy-driven power system.

The China-led LMC and the MRC are highly qualified institutions with vast technical capabilities, and their joint study in regional water resources cooperation will foster synergy to contribute to livelihood improvement and better socioeconomic development in the Lancang-Mekong River Basin. The study helps develop a clear communication protocol and enhances the coordinated operations of the reservoirs in both China and the Mekong countries for a more effective response to the current and future issues of drought and water flow.

The author is former minister of industry, mines and energy of Cambodia and a retired academic and distinguished senior advisor to the Cambodian Center for Regional Studies. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.