Mekong Policy Project
Mekong Policy Project
As a biodiversity hotspot that is home to more than 60 million people, the Lower Mekong River Basin plays a vital role as the region’s “rice bowl”, the world’s largest freshwater fishery and provider of livelihoods. Stimson interacts with a wide range of local and international NGOs, government departments, and academic institutions in addressing the Mekong’s regional role.
The need for energy and export revenues is driving riparian countries to pursue policies which threaten regional food security and stability. Stimson's long-running Mekong Policy Project focuses on the transboundary aspects of proposed hydropower dams on the Mekong River, including the energy-water-food security nexus, the river’s significant impacts on regional relations, and the future of cooperative water development under the Mekong River Commission (MRC). In 2015, we will work to promote further awareness of the transboundary impacts of hydroelectric development; support dialogue on creating a "Mekong Standard" for maximum-acceptable environmental and social impacts; and engage in discussion on developing better, more integrated power grids that would support optimization of projects on a basin-wide scale.
Most organizations involved with Mekong hydropower development or the food-water-energy security nexus have very specific interests, ranging from capacity building or information collection at the local level to opposing the construction of any large hydropower projects. Stimson plays a unique role by examining the issue from a basin-wide perspective, accepting the likelihood that some dams may be built but focusing on ensuring that development, environment, and food security trade offs are optimized through coordinated regional development rather than through nationally-led commercial projects. Over the past several years, Stimson has carried out a multi-venue program of interviews, workshops, and speaking events, engaging with members of riparian governments, funders and donors, the private sector, and civil society to promote a forward-looking dialogue and information-sharing about the state of the basin and proposed hydropower projects.
Ensuring that water infrastructure on the Mekong River adequately addresses environmental impacts is not just a matter of meeting international standards—the high level of dependency on river services means that regional food security and stability are ultimately tied to equitable and responsible development. Our research and workshops have led us to focus on three issues: the need to promote a regional “Mekong Standard” to establish maximum acceptable social and environmental impacts from any given project; the need for the countries to agree on a transboundary environmental impact assessment standard and process; and the need to expand the electricity grids in a way that supports optimization on a regional basis, with a priority on minimizing negative impacts.
Stimson interacts with a wide range of local and international NGOs, government departments, and academic institutions in addressing the Mekong’s regional role. Among these, some organizations have partnered with us on a more regular basis. The Institute for the Study of Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM) at Mae Fah Luang University in Thailand was a major partner in organizing a 2014 workshop in Chiang Rai. Other cooperative partners include PanNature, an NGO addressing sustainable development and environmental issues in Vietnam; Living River Siam, a grassroots NGO that helps local communities protect water rights; the Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development (WARECOD), which promotes sustainable water use in Vietnam; and the Vietnam Rivers Network.
Stimson’s early work focused on clarifying the current situation in the Mekong Basin and providing recommendations to riparian governments and donor countries for effectively ensuring sustainable and equitable development. These included Mekong Tipping Point, which examines the impacts of China’s Yunnan cascade on the upper Mekong, the historical obstacles to coordinated development and provides recommendations to riparian countries; and Mekong Turning Point?, which examines the growing role that Lower Mekong countries play in the river’s development, the role of civil society, and updates suggestions to reflect the concurrent political situation. Starting in 2014, Stimson’s updates and analysis have been published as part of an ongoing series, Letters from the Mekong, which addresses developments in the debate over Mekong development and delves into the specifics of implementing suggestions such as a regional “Mekong Standard” for environmental impacts, developing a national or subregional electricity grid, and implementing transboundary environmental impact assessment standards.