The Mekong region has witnessed considerable deterioration of watersheds from war, logging, mining, population growth, hydropower and irrigation development, and clearing of terrestrial and flooded forests for agriculture. Some areas of the Mekong basin have lost over half of their original forest cover leading to soil erosion, flash floods, and a decline in the provision of ecological goods and services.
Watershed management has a long history in the Mekong region, but it was only during the last decade that experts began to better understand the interlinkages between ecological, social and economic functions. During the last few years the political commitment for sustainable watershed management has increased significantly in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB).
Since 1995, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has implemented a variety of watershed management activities. In 2011, it completed the MRC Watershed Management Project. Funded by GIZ, it developed approaches, methodologies and tools that were tested in pilot projects across the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB).
Building on the Watershed Management Project, in 2009 the MRC launched the Sustainable Management of Watersheds Project, with a national component in Lao PDR (SUMALOM-Nam Ton) and a regional component at the MRC financed by Germany through the KfW Bank. It aims to support sustainable watershed management and livelihoods of surrounding communities in the Nam Ton Pilot Project area, where 90% of base flow originates from its upper northwestern parts. Through this project, the MRC has helped the Government of Lao PDR to improve farming systems and watershed management, benefitting 35,000 Nam Ton local people via better water and land use planning through a participatory approach, land registration, forest protected area management, irrigation development, agriculture research and extension, farming systems development, integrated water resource management, and development of a micro-financed system.
On 15 and 16 August, the MRC held its Regional Workshop on Watershed Management to exchange best practices and lessons learnt from the Nam Ton project and from other watershed management initiatives in Cambodia, Thailand, and Viet Nam. More than 70 watershed practitioners, including representatives from the four MRC members (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam), international organisations, the private sector, river basin organisations, local communities, and academia, shared their expertise along with recommendations on sustainable watershed management.
“Drawing upon the experiences and lessons learnt from the SUMALOM-Nam Ton Project and watershed management practitioners at the regional, national and local levels it is important to share knowledge and best practices, exchange of experiences, identify key challenges and priority actions to sustainably manage the watershed in the LMB” said Officer in Charge of the MRC Secretariat An Pich Hatda at the workshop.
The participants identified a number of challenges and bottlenecks including the absence of a regional master plan, limited transboundary cooperation among River Basin Organisations (RBOs) and local agencies, as well as lack of financial and technical support, and knowledge on watershed management in the LMB. They also proposed priority actions for the MRC, national line agencies, RBOs, local governments, and developers to respond to those challenges, including the development of a planning framework, training of watershed practitioners, and the creation of a joint platform for cooperation between the MRC, development partners, and the private sector.
The MRC has developed a regional framework or so-called ‘blueprint’ for watershed management which will be further streamlined in national watershed management plan.
SUMALOM Nam Ton Project: Achievements at a Glance
Improved farming system and socio-economic outcomes:
738 ha protection forest planted by 441 families
142 land title allocated for plantations, rattan, upland & paddy fields
65 ha paddy field for 102 families
5 irrigation schemes serving 212 ha for 132 families
242 demonstration farmers and extension groups
152 beneficiaries of micro-finance network.
Improved watershed management:
43 villages with a Participatory Water and Land Use Plan (PWLUP)
3 agriculture extension centres established and equipped with a management plan for future extension activities and sustainability
equipment for water monitoring
watershed management and village environmental committee established
water regulation formulated.