Mekong Learning Journey
Cambodia and Laos
This November, members of the Blue Peace for the Middle East High Level Forum and the Middle East Media Network came together to explore cooperation on the Mekong river in South East Asia.
The delegation from the Middle East was diverse and included members of Parliament, government officials, senior journalists, technical experts, policy makers, scientists and academic experts.
The Mekong Learning Journey was conducted over a period of four days in Cambodia and Lao PDR during which the participants were able to directly experience and learn from the working of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and derive key learnings for the Middle East. The Learning Journey opened doors to new experiences and insight regarding the cooperation and efficient water management achieved by the developing countries in the Mekong basin.
The Learning Journey was jointly hosted by Strategic Foresight Group and the Mekong River Commission. Following the Rhine Learning Mission in September 2013, the Learning Journey was a continuation of the learning activities under the Blue Peace Initiative. It was supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
The participants of the Learning Journey interacted with the staff at the Operations and Technical Support Divisions of the MRC in Cambodia, the International Cooperation and the Communication Section and Environment Division in Lao PDR, the National Mekong Committees of Cambodia and Lao PDR, the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port and Department of Meteorology and Hydrology (DMH) and a hydro-met station at Vientiane.
The topics covered were Knowledge and Information, Flood Management, Navigation, Fisheries, Basin Development, Climate Change, and Sustainable Hydropower. Each session highlighted the role and functions of MRC in bringing about cooperation between member riparians in these areas. Additionally, the participants got the opportunity to go on two field trips which provided them with hands-on experience of the results of previous and on-going cooperation activities of the MRC.
The most significant feature which the participants discovered in case of the MRC was their emphasis on cooperation as a fundamental value of life. The participants also noted that the riparian members were developing countries with different political structures, but had aligned their water policies and development policies with considerable harmony. They expressed appreciation for the comprehensiveness and regularity in data collection and the proactive nature of data exchange in the Mekong River Basin and cited it as a significant takeaway for the Middle East.
They also expressed interest in the role and development activities of China and Burma upstream of the Mekong and learnt that while the MRC is currently engaging them as partners of dialogue, data exchange and technical cooperation, it is also actively looking forward to expand their involvement in the MRC in the future.
The participants from the Middle East received some key messages from the functioning of the MRC. They learnt that co-operation in the Mekong River basin has been an evolving process that has been slowly upgraded and improved with time and the confluence of positive factors such as political processes, economic conditions and growing peace in the region. They also witnessed that the process of the formation was gradual and began with a series of small steps rather than a big one like the establishment of a large-scale river basin agency. Participants also learned that political guidance and supervision is important as the MRC meets at the summit level once in every four years. Another key lesson was the fact that there is a strong emphasis on identifying and addressing the needs of the vulnerable communities in the region.
The full report of the Learning Journey can be downloaded here: http://strategicforesight.com/conference_pdf/73842Mekong%20Report%20Final.pdf