Dialogues to Streamline Water Use in the Mekong Region

25 September 2008 | News story

The Mekong Region is one of the fastest growing economies in East and Southeast Asia, and on September 22 – 23, 2008, IUCN officials from the surrounding countries gathered in Bangkok to begin planning a project that will include a series of dialogues aimed at incorporating private sector, government and civil society needs into water governance decisions in that critical area.

The Mekong Region Water Dialogues (MRWD) will convene representatives from Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam to address their shared challenges in managing Asia’s seventh-longest river: growing environmental pressures, weak environmental governance and limited opportunity for non-governmental actors to make their voices heard.

As industries like mining, fisheries, agriculture, tourism and energy increasingly depend on well-managed water systems, while local communities and ecosystems also rely on the river for survival, different water users risk becoming competitors for the highly interconnected resources.

The dialogues’ objective is to improve the decision-making process around water investments by providing the opportunity for all stakeholders to participate and enabling different perspectives on water-related development to be considered before decisions and actions are taken.

“For years, water governance in the Mekong Region has been a monologue, not a dialogue,” said Helena Ahola, first secretary at the Finnish Embassy, the project’s donor. “This needs to be a country-demand-driven and flexible process, a neutral forum where people can discuss openly.”

The dialogue process started in 2006 with a regional forum, and Thailand, Laos and Cambodia all held National Dialogues in subsequent years.

As the initiative enters a new phase, in Viet Nam and each participating country, a National Working Group composed of members of different water-related sectors and communities will identify water-use topics, then prioritize and facilitate discussion of those topics at national-level dialogues.

Each dialogue will generate and refine key issues for the next, and will provide material for developing policy briefs and national issue papers to be distributed to decision-makers and the media and to be considered at the Regional Dialogues.

To create a continuous, multi-year process, information from the National Dialogues will be discussed at the Regional Dialogues, and then adjusted for further conversation back at the national forums, and so on. Part of IUCN’s facilitating role in the dialogues will be to monitor and modify the topics according to feedback from the dialogues’ participants, keeping it a multi-stakeholder-guided process.
 
“The dialogues offer an opportunity for IUCN to fill the gap in water governance in the region,” said Ganesh Pangare, head of the Asia Regional Water and Wetlands Program. “IUCN’s mix of state and non-state members puts us in a unique position to facilitate this process.”

For more information, please contact Ms. Tran Minh Phuong at phuong@iucn.org.vn