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The Mekong Basin drains a vast area of eastern Asia, flowing 4,500km from the mountains of south-western China, through Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. This transboundary river basin has undergone an extremely rapid transformation, feeding and watering some 66m people. But, according to the WWF, quoted in The Economist, May 16th 2020, “All the environmental indicators are in the red.” There are 13 dams along the river: 11 in China, one in Laos and one in Cambodia.
China plans eight more and Laos seven, while Cambodia has placed a moratorium on dam building. This meeting will consider the implications of the rapid transformation for the basin, its region and other transboundary basins. The meeting comprises two virtual sessions. The first session, on Friday 5 November, will consider aspects of historical developments along the Mekong River and where these developments may be heading.
In the second session, on Friday 12 November, looks at specific developments affecting the flow regime of the Mekong river and possibilities for developing a sustainable river system.
Water Resources Advisor (former CEO of the MRC Secretariat, 2008-2011)
Jeremy specializes in water resources policy, institutions and management. He has had a diverse career working across Asia and Africa including as Director General of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), CEO of the Mekong River Commission, senior advisor to the World Commission on Dams, and senior water resources specialist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). As a freelance consultant, Jeremy has supported policy and strategy formulation processes at national and regional levels.
Challenges of rapid transformation faced by the Mekong River Commission
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) had its roots in the UN system, with planning processes heavily influenced by multilateral and bilateral development agencies and a history of political and military conflict in the region. Over almost 40 years, up to its establishment in 1995, MRC’s emphasis was on research, basin studies and joint planning exercises for the Lower Mekong Basin. The mid-1990s also saw commissioning of the first mainstream hydropower dam on the upstream Lancang River by China.
Over the next decade, the focus of the Commission was on developing the procedures needed for implementing the Mekong Agreement, particularly on notification and consultation for major projects, the exchange of data and information, maintaining minimum flows in the mainstream of the river, maintaining acceptable water quality and the monitoring of water use.
By the mid-2000s, expectations were still that the majority of irrigation and hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong would need to be funded by overseas development assistance linked to extensive social and environmental safeguard policies. My talk will focus on two areas of rapid transformation and how the MRC reacted and adapted.
The first focuses on its relationship with China as the upstream riparian as it implemented a cascade of hydropower projects on the Lancang River amid concerns voiced by local communities and the media about changing patterns of flow downstream.
The second relates to a transformational shift from public to private investment in hydropower development that took place over a very short period and led, in 2010, to the first of several applications for hydropower development on the mainstream of the Lower Mekong. The talk will examine implications of these two changes for the MRC and the relationships between and within its member countries.
Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer, Mekong River Commission
Dr Anoulak leads the Office of CEO in charge of the MRC’s work on strategic planning, international cooperation and partnership, communication and stakeholder engagement, monitoring and evaluation, and organisational development. He successfully led the formulation and adoption of the Mekong Basin Development Strategy 2016-2020 and the MRC Strategic Plan 2016-2020, as well as the new BDS 2021-2030 and MRC SP 2021-2025. He served as Team Leader of the MRC’s Basin Development Plan Programme from 2012-2016.
The Mekong in 2030
The Mighty Mekong, one of the great world rivers, home to over 70 million people, 6 countries, and a key to the peace and prosperity of the ASEAN Community of 660 million people, is undergoing unprecedented changes and challenges due to rapid development and climate change. What will the Mekong look like in 10 years’ time if we do not get our act together, and what it will look like if we do is the subject of the talk.
Professor of Water Science at University of Oxford and Managing Partner Water Resource Associates
Paul Whitehead is Professor of Water Science at the University of Oxford and Professor Emeritus from Reading University. He has over 35 years’ experience of research on water quality and pollution issues, and has a special interest in modelling, including the development and application of dynamic, stochastic and planning models.
He has been director of the £11 million NERC Macronutrient Cycles Programme and has been successful in running over 50 projects funded by NERC, EPSRC, ESRC, EU, EA and a range of Government Departments such as DEFRA, DFID and DTI.
Professor Whitehead has served on several senior NERC committees and has also been an environmental research advisor to the EU, Belgium and Romania and he has also worked in Nepal, Thailand, India, China, Brazil, Australia and the USA. He has published widely with over 220 papers in the refereed literature as well as being guest speaker at a wide range of conferences and meetings.
Impacts of Past and Future Dam Development and Climate Change on Flows, Sediments and Nutrients on the Mekong River from China to the Vietnam Delta System
The livelihoods of millions of people living in one of the world’s largest rivers and downstream deltas are deeply interconnected with the flow, nutrient and sediment dynamics being key considerations. In particular a sustainable supply of fluvial sediments from upstream is critical for ensuring the fertility of delta soils and for promoting sediment deposition that can offset rising sea levels.
Yet, in many large river catchments this supply of sediment is being threatened by the planned construction of large dams. We have applied the Integrated Catchment (INCA) model to the Mekong River catchment in South East Asia to assess river flow, nitrogen and sediment dynamics under changing climate and extensive dam development.
The results show that historical sediment flux declines are mostly caused by dams built in upper reaches and that sediment trapping will increase in the future due to the construction of new dams in PDR Lao and Cambodia. If all dams that are currently planned for the next two decades are built, they will induce a decline of suspended sediment flux of 50% with potentially damaging consequences for local livelihoods and ecosystems.
Nutrient fluxes will increase, however, as agriculture intensifies, perhaps creating eutrophication conditions in the river and downstream delta. Climate change will also impact river flows, enhancing both floods and droughts.
Director of Mekong Modelling Associates Phnom Penh Cambodia (part of JBA Group)
Anthony is a UK Civil Engineer now resident in Cambodia. He worked at HR Wallingford Overseas Unit on irrigation, then at Halcrow he completed a part time PhD in Geomorphological Modelling whilst working in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Argentina and the four Mekong countries. He returned to UK to work with JBA on the Broadlands and North Essex flood plans and River Wensum Restoration. In 2009 he moved to Laos and Cambodia to work for the Mekong River Commission as Modelling and Climate Change Advisor and has since worked as a consultant based in Cambodia for various ADB, AfDB, MRC and World Bank projects in SE Asia.
Another drought year or is it a flood that got lost upstream? Local perspectives and analysis of the changing Mekong hydrology
It seems everything is changing. I will use the results of recent basin, national and local studies to illustrate the changes occurring in the Mekong catchments and floodplains, how we can understand the hydrology using models and measurements and some implications for the people, flora and fauna who live there.
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