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MRC International Conference
“Transboundary Water Resources Management in a Changing World”
2-3 April 2010, Hua Hin, Thailand
CONFERENCE SUMMARY
3 April 2010

 

BACKGROUND
The First Summit of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) takes place in Hua Hin, Thailand, on 5 April 2010 to gather regional Prime Ministers, political leaders, MRCs Dialogue Partners, the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Myanmar, its Development Partners and a range of experts in the field of transboundary water resources management. This event marks the 15th Anniversary of the Mekong River Commission and will serve to reaffirm at the highest level, political commitment of Member Countries to the mission of the MRC.

To “set the stage” for the Summit from an international perspective, and to highlight the challenges facing international river basins organizations such as the MRC, a two-day International Conference has preceded the Summit during 2-3 April 2010. This Conference has addressed the theme “Transboundary Water Resources Management in a Changing World” by bringing together about 300 representatives from the Mekong, other international river basins in the world1, international organizations, water professionals and representatives of media from the region to present, discuss and share their experiences and concerns, and recommend ways in which to address them through improved joint water resources development and management.

This Summary
This summary of the International Conference, to be presented to political leaders gathered at the MRC Summit, summarizes the key messages of the two days of discussions, as synthesized and presented on behalf of the Conference Chair by Dr. Saksit Tridech, Joint Committee Member for Thailand.

GENERAL MESSAGES
The overall message from the Conference is clear: our economic, social and environmental prosperity depends on how we protect and share the benefits of our common water resources through cooperative mechanisms such as the MRC. Water is life, and our increasing demands for food and energy depends on our ability to work together to develop and manage this precious resource, while protecting the unique environment of our river basins upon which millions of people and other living creatures depends for their daily living.

The Conference also sends a strong reminder that the challenge of adapting to the expected impacts of climate change on our water resources, in the form of increased floods and droughts in the basins, and sea level rise in the deltas, stress the urgency for joint and collaborative action - now - to manage our waters even better.

Water quality issues are a key driver for increased focus on river basin management. International experience shows that the reinstatement of water quality takes considerable time and is more costly than prevention by managing waste water discharges and preventing pollution and spills.

Transparent access to current and accurate water resources information throughout the basin is essential. Monitoring of rainfall, flows and water quality is a prequisite for building cooperation. Data needs to be shared for transboundary cooperation to develop effectively.

The “water sector” cannot address these challenges alone. Access to and protection of water resources are vital for all forms of economic activity, for poverty reduction and for environmental protection, calling for cooperation between all sectors and stakeholders with leadership by the highest levels of government.

SPECIFIC MESSAGES
Specifically, in addressing the challenges of sustainable food and energy production in transboundary basins the Conference highlights:

  1. Hydropower and infrastructure brings new economic development opportunities. These infrastructure developments need to adequately address the social and ecosystems impacts that result from those investments, including those across administrative boundaries.
  2. Food security will depend on a strong agricultural system will demand a "blue-green water management revolution" – which will transform the productivity of rain-fed and irrigated agriculture. Water and food security is likely to be achieved "not only by investing more but also by investing better".
  3. The emerging global experience in transboundary river management shows that shifting from a focus on competing national interests to one of maximizing common benefits and sharing risks will enable genuine transboundary water security to be achieved and sustained.

pecifically, in addressing approaches to adaptation to climate change in international river basins the Conference highlights:

  1. More efficient agricultural water use will be an important part of climate change adaptation.
  2. Extremes of drought and flood events are expected to become more frequent. To minimize the potential negative impacts of these events it will be necessary to merge disaster risk management with climate change adaptation strategies.
  3. Providing water security for the population of the basin is at the heart of adaptation to climate change. The effective implementation of integrated water resource management (IWRM), closely linked to land management, is the way to achieve these goals.
  4. Climate change knows no boundaries and will impact the poor most directly. Adapting to climate change in the Mekong region will require cross-cutting approaches and agreed regional strategies.

Specifically, in addressing private sector involvement infrastructure development in shared river basins the Conference highlights:

  1. There is a need to adopt international best practice, such as the “Equator Principles”, to ensure that investments in water infrastructure are financially, socially and environmentally sustainable
  2. The rules should be the same for any investment which has transboundary impacts, whether it is private or public sector. Countries cannot transfer their responsibility to the private sector; riparian member countries are responsible for impacts from infrastructure development.
  3. Governments, international finance institutions and private sector banks will not be able to provide the full financing requirements to close the supply side gap. Innovative financing models, such as new bond markets are being explored. Demand side actions will also be required.

In summarizing the implications of these challenges for trans-boundary river basins organizations in a changing world the Conference had the following messages:

  1. Benefit sharing means "the process where riparians cooperate in optimizing and equitably dividing goods, products and services connected directly or indirectly to the water course or arising from the use of its water."
  2. Increasing involvement of civil society stakeholders in planning activities and decision making processes is increasingly recognized as an essential part of sustainable development, and additional emphasis is needed for this to be effective.
  3. As good examples the Yangtze and Zambezi basins have developed mechanisms for synchronization of dam operations and flood releases to optimize water use from existing and future systems. These experiences offer valuable lessons for the Mekong.
  4. Collaboration involves technical and policy issues that address long-term, short-term and real-time planning and operations.
  5. As an example from this region, the MRC's integrated water resources management based development strategy provides a framework for managing the "development space" in the basin. The “development space” is not just a volume of water that can be used, but a space for development and management of water and related resources, shaped by sustainable boundaries, e.g. acceptable transboundary impacts and basin-wide procedures
  6. Basin organizations need to find sustainable financing mechanisms to support the core functions for management of the basin.

IN CONCLUSION
The Conference has demonstrated the standing and convening power of the MRC as an internationally recognized example of how countries can work together in managing their joint water resources, not least over the past 15 years since the 1995 Mekong Agreement. At this Conference the MRC has been a provider and a recipient of knowledge and inspiration in dialogue with other major river basins of the world.

In order to address future challenges of meeting increased demands for food and energy production in shared basins, such as the Mekong, under increasing stress due to climate change and other drivers of change, the Conference recognizes the need for taking the Mekong cooperation to the highest political level. The gathering at this first MRC Summit of the highest political leaders of the Mekong countries is both a manifestation of this necessity, and an opportunity to reaffirm political commitment to the MRC at the highest level and agree on required actions.

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1 The following transboundary river basins have been represented: The Americas - Columbia, La Plata, Amazon; Europe - Danube, Rhine; Africa ? Lake Victoria, Zambezi/SADC, Orange?Senqu, Senegal; Asia - Mekong, Yangtze