From research to policy, from participation to engagement: Enhancing transboundary governance in the Lancang-Mekong Basin

Against the backdrop of intensifying climate risks, transboundary governance of the Lancang-Mekong River Basin needs to enhance water, food, energy and environment security in the riparian countries. SUMERNET’s Annual Research and Policy Forum explored how water, food, energy and ecosystems are interconnected and ways to deepen policy and cross-border engagement in the Mekong Region.

Rajesh Daniel By Rajesh Daniel - Nov 25, 2022

The transboundary nature of the Mekong Basin poses many natural resource governance challenges, in particular, the need to foster trust and cooperation among the riparian governments.

“Every country in the Mekong Region has its own challenges with water management. There is an increasing need to cooperate,” according to Dr. Surasri Kidtimonton, Secretary General of the Office of the National Water Resources (ONWR), Thailand.

“ONWR is the main water agency in Thailand and is involved in information sharing among countries in the L:ancang-Mekong Basin. We aim to operationalize policy implementation,” he said.

For Prof. Dr. Li Hao, Hubei Economics University of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), “the most pressing challenge in the Mekong Basin is the need for integrated management across different sectors and coordination among multiple governance levels.”

As a politically and economically powerful, upstream country, China is increasing its energy infrastructure development while keen to enhance cooperation across the basin.

China has adopted an integrated ecosystem management approach in the Lancang-Mekong Region.

“Through the Five-Year Action Plan on Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation (2018-2022), China is facilitating cooperation among countries, and across sectors,” according to  Ms. Tong Yuchen, Assistant Engineer, Lancang-Mekong Water Resource Cooperation Centre (LMC Water Centre), People's Republic of China.

The strengthening of both national and cross-border institutions is key, according to Prof Li Hao: “Different sectors in the riparian countries have different objectives, and without matching institutional arrangements, the sectors find it difficult to cooperate,” he said.

“In the transboundary Mekong Basin, upstream-downstream cooperation is essential, but it is also necessary to reach the local level,” he stated.


Local concerns, policy engagement

The importance of listening to, and addressing local concerns, in transboundary resource governance is of critical concern since many development projects, especially large-scale hydropower, fail to adequately take into account the impacts on local lives and livelihoods.

Karen Delfau, from the International Water Centre Alumni Network (IWCAN), said, “The dominant narratives about water and resource management talk about local participation. But what we need is engagement.”

“For this, we need communication and dialogue at all levels,” she affirmed.

Tipakson Manpati, journalist and web manager of the independent website Mekong Commons, said that “Media can be a powerful actor in bringing local concerns to the wider attention of the public and policymakers.”

“Like there are different kinds of researchers, there’s also different kinds of policymakers," explained Dr. Pichamon Yeophantong, Centre for Future Defence and National Security, Deakin University, Canberra.

Policy is not only about governments, policy engagement means to be inclusive of also businesses, banksand donors, United Nations’ agencies, civil society and nongovernmental organizations.

“Researchers need to provide clear messaging. What is the big picture, what is the central message that is being carried to the different policymakers, these are key considerations if researchers to want to more effectively communicate with policymakers and the public.

“We need to understand the policymakers’ motivations. This will enable researchers to understand when and how to present their research findings,” she said.



This piece is based on reflections from the “Annual Research and Policy Forum” hosted by the Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET) on 10 November.

The aim of the SUMERNET Research and Policy Forum was to provide a platform for both researchers and practitioners from the upper and lower countries of the Lancang–Mekong Region to exchange knowledge and experiences on various interconnected issues related to water, food, energy and ecosystems.



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