Speech of CEO Pham Tuan Phan to the UNESCAP 5th Session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction, Bangkok - Thailand, 12 October 2017

Bangkok - Thailand, 12 October 2017, 12 Oct 2017

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased today to represent the Mekong River Commission, an inter-governmental entity having accumulated more than 70 years of knowledge on the Mekong river. Natural disasters in the Mekong delta, mainly flood and drought, can affect the life of more than 65 million people. Our commission understands the importance of disaster risk reduction and management thus we developed a comprehensive development strategy for the Mekong river basin for 2016 to 2020 which highlighted climate change and disaster issues.

We all know that, flood and drought remain an essential part of people life in the lower Mekong basin, but at the same time a threat to human life and dignity. You stated in the past two days when flood and drought happen, our population, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable people, suffer the most. That is why, our commission provides river-monitoring services, including flood forecasting, to Mekong Member Countries. We also facilitate discussions on water issues, capacity building, and technology transfer for flooding issues of regional and transboundary relevance. These efforts are to reduce the costs and impacts of flood and drought.

You may remember in 2000, the Mekong river basin experienced the worst flooding in decades, killing more than 480 people and causing 600,000 people homeless across the Mekong delta together with other serious damages. For this reason, in 2001, our commission approved the Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Strategy.

After more than 15 years implementing the strategy, we have had a real-time flood forecasting system, which is capable to provide daily data on flood forecast for the Mekong mainstream. The results serve as inputs for the Mekong Member Countries to further forecast for the tributaries. In addition, the Regional Flash Flood Guidance System is available to alert the flash flood for the lower Mekong region.

In 2005, the commission established the Mekong Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Being a knowledge hub, this flood center has also severed as a regional forum for exchange and share of experience and knowledge on flood management and mitigation. It plays an important role of a network for data collection and exchange among member countries for the flood forecast purpose.

Speaking of flood mitigation and management, we need to take in consideration of other thematic issues as well as a joint effort of different actors and players to mitigate impacts. Several aspects of flood mitigation and management have been taken in other commission works such as Climate Change Adaptation Initiative and its Mekong Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan, which is being finalized before 2018, as well as National Indicative Plans for implementation at the Mekong member countries.

In these past years, the Mekong commission has been establishing a wide network and in partnership with many organizations in the field, such as ADPC, NOAA, WMO, IHE-UNESCO, JAXA …

Along with flood, drought is also our concern. Severe economic, social and environmental impacts of droughts in the lower Mekong basin indicated the increased vulnerability of people living in affected areas, which caused considerable agricultural losses, reduction in rice crop and critical levels of saline intrusion in the Mekong delta.

Since 2011, our commission has been working on drought issue through interventions defined based on six types of drought, may coexist or may occur separately, that are applicable to the region namely 

    1. Meteorological or climatologic drought, referring to degree of dryness in accumulated rainfall deficit,
    2. Hydrological drought, meaning deficiencies in surface and subsurface water supplies,
    3. Agricultural drought, referring to deficiencies in soil moisture,
    4. Socio-economic drought, i.e. socio-economic process of water shortages,
    5. Water-management drought, talking about water-supply shortages caused by the failure of water-management practices or facilities, and
    6. Land-use-related drought, aka natural ecosystem and human social.

Our drought management programme has identified drought prone areas of the region with different drought types and classification, and assessed the drought impacts and vulnerability on social, economic, and environmental sectors. Our commission is now extending the hydro-meteorological stations for drought and flood early warning system of the Mekong region.

The latest drought disaster in 2015 and 2016 by the prolonged El Nino was considered as the worst drought of the region in the century. It affected millions of people in four Mekong member countries and costed more than 2 billion dollars of damages. An accurate drought early warning system that uses advanced technology was needed.

Starting in 2015, our commission has been collaborating with SEVIR Mekong and UN ESCAP to develop a drought early warning system for our region.

Moreover, our commission will work closely with ESCAP on the drought mechanism in the Mekong region to obtain the most appropriate drought mitigation strategy and adaptation measure to minimize drought impacts on people’s wellbeing.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to reconfirm that the Mekong River Commission considers disaster risk reduction and management as an important work. We recognize that disaster risk reduction and management requires coordinated actions by all parties and we cannot work alone in this front. I would like to emphasize that the Mekong River Commission is ready and is willing to share with you our work and to cooperate with you to better manage natural disasters in the region. We welcome support from the UN-ESCAP, using your regional knowledge and resources from Asia and the Pacific, to enhance our works on flood and drought activities in the Mekong river basin. I trust that the close cooperation between the Mekong River Commission and the UN-ESCAP will strongly contribute to the disaster risk reduction of our region.

Thank you