Vietnam joins hands with Mekong nations to fight drought

By Minh Nga   November 27, 2019 | 12:40 am PT
Vietnam joins hands with Mekong nations to fight drought
A farmer waters his paddy field that has been dried up in drought in Soc Trang Province of Vietnam's Mekong Delta, April 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Cuu Long.
Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand have drawn up a joint strategy to manage drought at the Mekong River Commission.

The strategy, for 2020-25, which was approved on Wednesday, has been agreed at a time when the region is going through one of its worst droughts with water levels in the Mekong down to their lowest in living memory.

It will focus on drought indicator monitoring covering soil moisture, crop condition and dry season flow; drought forecasting and early warning; capacity building in drought assessment and planning; mitigation measures; and information sharing systems.

The MRC Council, the organization’s highest ministerial body, has approved the annual work plan for 2020-21 with a budget of around $13 million.

The plan, to be funded by the four MRC member states and development partners, will work to finalize a new basin development strategy for 2021-30, strategic plan for 2021-25 and a basin-wide strategy for protecting key environment assets.

It also prioritizes completing the prior consultation process of the Luang Prabang hydropower project in Laos, carrying out joint environmental monitoring of mainstream dams, drought and hydropower strategies, and advancing the partnership with China at the Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) forum.

The LMC, a sub-regional cooperation mechanism connecting countries along the Mekong River, which is known as Lancang in China, was formed in 2016 as China emerged as an investor and guarantor in projects ranging from agriculture to tourism as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

"As we gear up for drought preparedness and mitigation, this strategy will help us reduce the vulnerability of our people and water resource systems to droughts, improve the adaptive capacity of our governments, and advance our information sharing, forecasting and early warning systems," Lim Kean Hor, Cambodia’s Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology and chairman of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said.

Hor, who is also chair of the council for 2019, added that the strategy is part of the MRC’s ongoing efforts to assist its member countries combat present and future droughts that have both national and transboundary impacts.

Recent MRC studies show that droughts in the lower Mekong basin have increased in frequency and severity in recent decades.

The last one, in 2016, caused Thailand estimated economic losses of $1.7 billion.

The MRC had said last week that countries in the lower Mekong basin might suffer from severe to extreme drought from now until January 2020, with Thailand and Cambodia being hit harder than Vietnam and Laos.

This year, saltwater intrusion in Vietnam's Mekong Delta arrived at least four months earlier than usual and has been severe. According to the Southern Institute of Irrigation Science, from the end of 2019 to March 2020 saltwater could infiltrate 10-15 kilometers further inland than usual, affecting the lives of some 50,000 families.

The delta has struggled with the late arrival of the annual flooding in recent years and much lower water levels than usual.

The floods not only replenish its supply of fish and other aquatic species but also bring large volumes of fertile alluvium that have nourished it for centuries.

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