ASEAN, Mekong River Commission produce water security solutions

By Minh Nga   August 24, 2021 | 03:00 am PT
ASEAN, Mekong River Commission produce water security solutions
A reservoir in Cho Gao District in Tien Giang Province of Vietnam's Mekong Delta is parched amid severe drought in March, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa
ASEAN and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) have come up with three solutions to help riparian countries address their water security challenges.

The solutions, relating to policy, technology and partnerships, were highlighted at the ASEAN-MRC Water Security Dialogue held last week, the commission announced in a statement Tuesday.

At the policy level, senior officials and experts called for all parties to promote greater transparency and deeper engagement to boost sustainable management of water and related resources throughout Southeast Asia.

Progressive policy and institutional reforms which promote integrated water resources management (IWRM) are needed, participants agreed at the two-day meeting that ended last Friday.

"In the midst of changing weather and hydrological regimes globally, there is a growing urgency for sustainable pathways to ensure a water-secure region," said Phonepaseuth Phouliphanh, Acting Chairperson of the MRC Joint Committee for 2021.

"It requires leadership, innovation, and strategic collaboration among regional countries and their partners," he added.

Dialogue participants called for closer regional and local integration, specifically in the areas of water resource planning, pollution management, early forecasting and warning and awareness-raising.

The vital role that technology should play was also mentioned. Digitalization and advanced modeling tools such as artificial intelligence and digital twins currently represent some of the most impactful solutions to manage regional water resource databases.

Together, these tools can enhance local expertise to manage water-related risks that include floods and droughts, while improving the quality and quantity of reservoir water.

Delegates also suggested pursuing engagement with a broad range of institutions and greater use of public-private partnerships. Deeper engagement with the private sector can support ASEAN governments in accessing new technologies while stronger regional cooperation will facilitate a mutual exchange of IWRM expertise and encourage sustainable investments, they said.

"The protection of the region’s water resources has historically been an integral part of ASEAN’s work over the years," said Kung Phoak, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

Phoak also highlighted the value of promoting regional cooperation and strengthening linkages among ASEAN countries to tackle emerging water issues that include equitable access to safe and affordable water supply, sufficient water to ensure food security to support the region’s economies, and sustained solutions that mitigate water-related hazards.

More than 70 million people depend partly or entirely on the Mekong River as a source of income and as a source of life, but pressing trans-boundary issues have reached a critical juncture in many parts of the wider ASEAN region that requires deeper and stronger regional unity to close development gaps, according to the MRC.

The first-ever ASEAN-MRC Water Security Dialogue was built on the cooperation framework between ASEAN and the MRC signed in 2018. The MRC Secretariat and lower Mekong countries, in conjunction with ASEAN member states, have stated their commitment to achieving the objectives of the 1995 Mekong Agreement and the ASEAN’s vision for water security by 2025 through strengthened cooperation and coordination.

While the first dialogue focused on technical exchanges and solutions among ASEAN policymakers and experts, the second ASEAN-MRC Water Security Dialogue scheduled for 2023 could focus on policy discussions that include a broader range of stakeholders, the commission said.

It said ASEAN and the MRC will hold further discussions on how to translate the dialogue’s key recommendations into policy actions.

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