Mekong nations must prepare for climate change

The Nation

Pongphon Sarnsamak

Countries in the Mekong River Basin should learn how to predict climate change and develop ways to adapt to it, a Bangkok seminar was told yesterday. Then they will understand how to effectively reduce the adverse impact this climate change threatens to have on the region.

Speakers said changes to climate and river flows could have severe effects on the livelihoods of millions of people who depend directly on the natural resources of the Mekong River and its tributaries.

" We know that concrete action needs to take place locally, and in order to act effectively, we need information about the impact of climate change and possibilities for adaptation to these changes at regional and local levels," said alternative member of the Mekong River Commission (MRC)'s joint committee for Thailand, Siripong Hungspreug.

Siripong said the impact of climate change on the water resources of the Mekong River and particularly on the Delta region, is an issue of increasing concern for governments and people of the Mekong River Basin.

He was speaking at the opening of a two day conference : "Regional Forum MRC's Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative, " held in Bangkok.

Weather pattern changes are expected to increase the natural variability- less rain in the dry season and more rain in the wet season. This could lead to increasing seasonal water shortages and floods, and impact natural ecosystems such as wetlands, as well as economic activities - agriculture, fisheries, and other sectors that depend on water availability.

The countries of the Mekong Basin - including Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Thailand, realise that not only would climate change have a greater impact on developing than developed countries, but the absence of information on climate change vulnerabilities within countries and across various classes of societies is a major cause of concern.

"By improving our knowledge on the potential effects of climate change, we increase our abilities to help the people of the region with the capacity to confront such effects," he said.

To better prepare for this needed action, the Council of the Mekong River Commission has asked for a climate change and adaptation initiative for the Mekong which would provide knowledge, tools and capacity building to assist member countries.

Siripong added, strategies for poverty alleviation through sustainable development also rely on a sound understanding of how climate change would affect aquatic resources and people's livelihood.

The level of knowledge on water resources, land use and livelihoods in the Mekong Basin has improved rapidly over the past decade. But particularly scarce is information related to people's vulnerability to ecosystem changes and strategies to adapt to these changes.

"More information is also needed on the impact of climate change on the dynamics of the Mekong's water resources," he said.

As a response to these concern, Siripong said the MRC climate change initiative will target two overall objectives.

The first: to develop and distribute scientific data, analytical tools and processes to project climate impact on the ecosystems and people in the Mekong River Basin and to identify strategies for them to adapt to these changes.

The second: to establish and strengthen the institutional framework for climate change planning in the region.

"The major challenges of this work are to identify how to integrate with earlier and ongoing activities by different stakeholders and how to establish a mechanism to coordinate future work on climate change in the region," Siripong said.

The forum brought together 150 representatives of government agencies, research institutes, international organisations,NGOs and civil society groups, financing agencies and the development partners who support the work of the MRC.

It aims to foster closer dialogue with basin stakeholders and to provide an opportunity to discuss pressing issues and identify needs and gaps in climate change impact and adaptation knowledge.