Vientiane, Lao PDR, 20 Jul 2018
Issue 13: April - June 2018
Government officials and community representatives from Laos’ Xe Bang Hieng and Thailand’s Nam Kam river basins cerebrated on 11 June the conclusion of a five-year bilateral wetland management project, which has improved community-based management practices in target wetlands.
Through the project, local working groups of both countries visited each other to learn wetland management challenges and solutions, get training on GIS mapping to demarcate land use, and prepared community-based wetland management plans for the protection of ecosystems and the development of resources-based livelihoods. They said the project that has brought tangible results could be a model for other sub basins and water user groups to follow, and bowed they’d continue to implement the plans further.
“We’ve developed local people’s capacity, we’ve got a map on the Markmee reservoir, we’ve got rules and regulations on wetland use, and we’ve got a new strategy on how to manage the wetlands, which is very useful for both city and rural development,” said Keoudone Chounlamountry, deputy head of the natural resources and environment office in Savannakhet’s Champhone district in her closing speech at a ceremony held in Sakon Nakhon. She was instrumental to coordinate project activities in three pilot villages in Markmee reservoir in the Xe Bang Hieng basin. “We’ll continue the next steps to implement the strategic plan together.”
Her counterpart, Nipon Mulmaungsan of Thailand who coordinated 17 local water resources management groups in the Nam Kam basin, also said the project was a success. “This project was an innovation for us, as many stakeholders in our basin collaborated to solve common water issues, and developed database on wetlands use based on the same methodology and techniques… We are very proud of this project and believe that it can be spread to many other areas.”
The project was launched in December 2013, with an aim to exchange knowledge on wetland management between the two river basins across borders, which share similarities in management challenges despite different development stages. The joint project team consisting of water specialists and local representatives from both basins made official study visits to their counterparts, and conducted a survey on watershed issues and solutions. Based on this learning, they co-organised a GIS mapping training for locals to measure and demarcate their wetlands use, and designed community-based management plans with GIS maps for a selected site, respectively. The joint team completed a final paper documenting these activities and lessons learnt in March this year.
During the closing ceremony, the project’s overview, outcomes and lessons were shared with Sakon Nakhon’s water user groups.
“We now have a better understanding of how to use the water we have, how to store it and distribute it to people in needs in our area,” said Chaimongkhon Chairop, CEO of the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Administration. “Transboundary cooperation between Lao PDR and Thailand has brought positive results. We hope we can cooperate further in the future.”
The wetland project is part of the Mekong River Commission’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project, which promotes coordinated planning and management of water resources through dialogue and the application of technical tools. It is among five bilateral projects under M-IWRMP, which are implemented by the four Mekong countries, technically supported by the MRC Secretariat and funded by the World Bank.
From fisheries, delta, wetland, lake to river basins management, officials and community members from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam working on transboundary water issues kicked off a multimedia project in early May with regional workshops in Phnom Penh, and continued to capture exemplary bilateral cooperation over these issues during subsequent filming missions.
The multimedia products, a combination of informative videos, photos and text, will portray transboundary cooperation initiatives, achievements and challenges of the five bilateral projects, namely the fisheries project along the Mekong and Sekong rivers; the Sesan-Srepok river basins project; the Mekong Delta project; the Lao-Thai wetlands project; and the Cambodian-Thai sister lakes project.
It will also illustrate the impacts the projects have on livelihoods along the riverine communities and highlight the coordinated multi-sectoral management approach, known as integrated water resources management, to promote efficient use of water and related resources and protection of aquatic ecosystems.
“This is a very useful initiative that can help us reach out to more people and visually convey information about cooperative efforts made by the Mekong countries to address water management issues,” said Viet Nam’s Senior Program Officer Tran Minh Khoi, who joined the multimedia workshops in Phnom Penh.
With support of the Mekong River Commission’s communication staff and multimedia consultants, the project teams jointly finalised narratives of project’s success stories, identified potential interviewees and shooting locations, and mapped out shooting routes in the five transboundary project areas in the four Mekong countries.
The teams agreed that a total of 6-11 stories and 11 video clips along with a number of photos will be produced, with a focus on bilateral cooperation to increase fish stock in the Mekong-Sekong rivers, improve flood-drought management and overall water cooperation in the border provinces of Cambodia and Viet Nam, and promote knowledge sharing for better management of wetland and lake resources.
Since then, the multimedia team has gone to field missions to film local beneficiaries and interview relevant officials in the project sites. In Thailand’s Songkhla Lake basin, the team captured a life of a fisherwoman to depict how community people are deeply involved in fisheries conservation and livelihood improvements, as it was a source of inspiration for its counterpart, Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake communities. The team also visited the Mekong Delta to capture a water sharing deal between farmers along the border of Cambodia and Viet Nam, thanks to the delta project aiming to set up a bilateral water cooperation platform. For the Thai – Lao wetland project, the team joined the closing ceremony and further visited both sites to capture a story of joint GIS mapping training to build capacity of coordinated planning of water resources use.
The team will continue to visit the project sites of the Sesan – Srepok river basin management project and the fisheries management project in the Mekong – Sekong river basin later this year. The final products are expected to be released gradually through the MRC website, social media and other communications channels and platforms, and will form a major part of a visual magazine to be published by the end of the projects.
The multimedia initiative is realized with financial support from the World Bank through the MRC’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project (M-IWRMP) that facilitates cross-border dialogue among the four Mekong countries for better management of the shared water and related resources. Under the transboundary component, the five projects were launched in 2013 and 2014 and are slated for completion by the end of this year.
“This is the best time to share milestones the projects have accomplished with the public,” said MRC’s M-IWRM Specialist Piriya Uraiwong. “We hope it will help enhance understanding of transboundary water issues and promote local participation in managing the invaluable resources.”
In order to cement the four-year-long bilateral efforts to address cross-border fisheries issues along the Cambodia-Laos border, the two countries have agreed to formalise a bilateral fisheries management body that would oversee collaborative activities to curb illegal fishing practices and increase fish stock in the Mekong-Sekong basin.
The discussions took place in Pakse from 28 to 29 June at a workshop where fisheries experts from the two countries gathered to finalise a joint transboundary fisheries management plan and its implementation framework that address common fisheries issues such as illegal gear use and lack of law enforcement. This is the final stage of the Mekong-Sekong rivers transboundary fisheries management project between the two countries, which the Mekong River Commission has supported since 2014.
People in the bordering provinces in the Mekong-Sekong basin predominantly rely on fisheries to make a living, but in recent years they face a severe decline in fish catch. They remain concerned about illegal fishing gear use and illegal fishing activities in conservation zones as well as lack of law enforcement to catch those illegal fishers.
In order to address those issues, both countries have agreed to work together, aiming for a 10 % increase of fish stock in the basin by 2021 by curbing illegal fishing activities. They have drafted the management plan through the project. It specifies concrete measures and actions, including awareness raising of fisheries regulations, monitoring of the use of illegal fishing gear such as Lee Trap and illegal fishing activities in conservation pools near the border, detailed sanctions and penalties against those illegal activities, and official mechanisms of exchanging those data between the two sides for further actions. Both parties have also designed a bilateral cooperation framework to establish a multi-layered joint fisheries management body to implement the plan.
During the workshop, they discussed further details of roles, responsibilities and administrative communication channels of the management body. They also agreed to form the management body with representatives of the provincial border management committee and other relevant offices from the districts, communities and villages, who support the execution of the management plan. They further sought to formalise the cooperation mechanism with a memorandum of understanding.
“Today’s meeting was very successful with concrete outcomes in the fisheries management plan. It will speed up the completion of this project,” said Chanthanet Boualapha, Secretary-General of the Lao National Mekong Committee, who chaired the workshop. “It is a big step in the area of transboundary fisheries management in the bordering provinces. I am very pleased to see this cooperation.”
The fisheries project is one of the five bilateral projects under the MRC’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project (M-IWRMP), which promotes a rule-based multi-sectoral approach in water resources management and development. The fisheries project is funded by the World Bank and slated for completion by the end of 2018.
With intensive discussions between officials and experts of Cambodia and Viet Nam in Phnom Penh in mid-May, the design and tasks of their bilateral water cooperation along the borders are now getting in shape for the Sesan-Srepok river basin and the Mekong Delta.
The two countries are currently designing a platform for bilateral cooperation with transboundary coordination mechanisms to jointly address water issues. When the representatives of the two countries met in May, they shared the results of national consultations with relevant provinces in the two project sites, and further discussed details of the structures, responsibilities and memberships of each mechanism.
According to the brainstorming discussions, the mechanisms will be likely formed with a provincial delegation of local authorities, an advisory group of water resources experts on flood-drought control and reservoir management, and a joint team of emergency response planning, among other options.
These groups will help collect and share critical data on water resources indicators, regularly meet and negotiate long-term solutions to address priority water issues that affect both countries, and develop a joint emergency response to disasters such as severe flooding. Altogether, they are expected to reinforce bilateral water cooperation.
The formation of coordination mechanisms are part of the two transboundary water resources management projects under the Mekong River Comission’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project (M-IWRMP), which promotes a holistic approach to coordinate basin planning and water resources management in a more balanced way.
“Our commitment to bilateral cooperation are very strong, and we have made every effort to make our cooperation realistic and fruitful, based on our Mekong Spirit,” said Wat Botkosal, Deputy Secretary-General of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee who headed the workshop delegation. “I hope this spirited cooperation will continue for years to come.”
The five bilateral projects are coordinated by each member country’s National Mekong Committee (NMC), which takes an active role in facilitating the work of line agencies and local working groups for the execution of those projects.
Here’s a brief report from the four NMCs.
Cambodian experts in the three bilateral projects to address transboundary water issues continued their ongoing efforts to develop joint action plans in fisheries management, flood and drought management, and hydropower management.
For flood-drought and hydropower management, more than 33 officials of national and provincial governments and practitioners from local NGOs got together on 31 May to discuss the development of a water resources expert group to share and analyse data on various water conditions and to support the national and provincial policy development to address transboundary water issues with neighbouring Viet Nam. The expert group is a technical advisory group to support the bilateral management and planning of water resources use in the Mekong Delta and the Sesan-Srepok river basin. The two countries have been developing a bilateral cooperation framework, including the establishment of a joint expert group, for the last few years.
Following a joint workshop with Lao fisheries experts in Pakse in late June, Cambodia’s transboundary fisheries management team, meanwhile, stopped by Kratie province to share the outcomes of the joint workshop with local stakeholders. The team informed 53 participants including seven females about a draft bilateral fisheries management body and action plan, which aims to increase fish stock in the Mekong and Sesan river basin by curbing unsustainable fishing practices and illegal fishing gear use. The participants suggested to articulate the responsibilities of villages and communities, and shared their experiences that simple illegal gear use in the bordering area can be easily resolved at a local village and commune level but explosive illegal gear use needs to be addressed at a provincial or national level. These recommendations will be incorporated into a joint management plan in coming weeks.
Lake governance of the Tonle Sap Lake basin also saw a new development in mid-June. Eleven technical officials from the relevant authority, ministry and national committee received training in the use of GIS and remote sensing mapping technology and the development of an atlas of the lake basin. These technologies are vital tools for lake management as they provide critical information on demographic, geographical and climate data, such as land use and seasonal fluctuation of floodplain area. Following the four-day training, the participants also went on a three-day field exercise to collect data in the lake communities. This is part of the bilateral lake project that aims to improve lake governance through advocacy of IWRM practices and sharing of experience with Thailand’s Songkhla Lake.
While the Lao team in the bilateral fisheries project over the Mekong -Sekong river basin continued to work on the preparation for a joint fisheries management body and its action plan, another team working on the wetland management project with Thailand cerebrated its completion with their counterparts.
For Thailand, both the wetland project with Lao PDR and the lake project with Cambodia have come to end, except writing up final reports for the bilateral lake project.
On 28 May, the Songkhla Lake basin team of the lake project organised a closing workshop to report its outcomes and achievements to local authorities and basin communities. Core members of the project’s local working groups told nearly 100 participants about valuable experiences and critical lessons in community efforts in fisheries conservation, women empowerment and climate change adaptation.
They said that the Songkhla Lake communities had a great opportunity to learn from people in the Tonle Sal Lake, that the process of identifying common issues in lake management can be applied to other areas, and that the outcomes of the bilateral project could support the local NGOs and provincial authorities’ action plans.
The wetland team of the Nam Kam – Xe Bang Hieng project hosted a joint closing ceremony in Sakon Nakhon on 11 June, inviting their Lao counterparts and representatives of the provincial authorities and local water user groups.
Taking a participatory approach, the Vietnamese national teams of the Mekong Delta and the Sesan – Srepok transboundary projects conducted on 29 June a stakeholder consultation on the draft transboundary coordination mechanisms for bilateral water cooperation, which are being developed with Cambodia. Representatives of four provinces of the Mekong Delta and another four provinces in the central highland participated in the consultation.
The coordination mechanisms are meant to be a bilateral platform for the two countries to jointly address water issues such as flood and drought management and impacts of climate change and hydropower developments at the local level between border provinces of the two sides.
During the consultation, the teams shared the latest version of the draft mechanisms which include two bodies of a technical expert group and a provincial delegation. After reviewing the proposed mechanisms, the participants debated on how to strengthen the role of the provincial delegation, and suggested to reinforce the cooperative framework by including representatives of the provincial government departments in the delegation and conducting capacity building activities. These recommendations are expected to be reflected in the final form of mechanisms.