to improve the governance and management of water resources and associated land and ecosystems in the Greater Mekong Region by generating and sharing the knowledge and practice needed to do so.

We need water for everything

Several great rivers traverse the Greater Mekong. Combined, the Irrawaddy, the Mekong, the Red and the Salween rivers discharge 1,104 km3 of waters into the seas around the region.

There are about 284 million people in the Mekong Region, within which there are about 400 ethno-linguistic groupings. Large proportions of the region’s population are so-called ‘primary producers’, relying on ecosystems to generate the livelihoods they depend upon. The collection of ‘Non-Timber Forest Products’, farming, fishing and other activities directly dependent on ecosystem services are common.

Rivers
Rivers connect the ocean to the interior, and all of the region’s rivers are essential to shipping and the transport of cargo. In Vietnam, about 73% of cargo and about 27% of passengers travel by water annually.

Cargo
73%
Passengers
27%

In the Mekong River Basin, there are 66 hydropower dams, another 37 are under construction and 93 are planned. All of these contribute significantly to national and regional development through the electricity they supply. And for the countries that export electricity, hydropower provides valuable revenue flows to national treasuries.

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    Current Dams
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    Under Construction
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    Planned
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    Forests

    The largest consumer of water in the region is forest. Almost half of the Greater Mekong’s area is covered in forest – 1.2 million hectares. In the Mekong, forests consume 52% of water consumed by various uses.

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    Fisheries

    The fisheries of the region are vast. The Tonle Sap fishery in Cambodia is considered the largest freshwater fishery in the world. From the Mekong system as a whole, an estimated 2 million tonnes of fish are landed annually, an additional 2 million tonnes of fish are cultured, and about 0.5 million tonnes of ‘Other Aquatic Animals’ (snakes, frogs, snails etc) are caught. Fish and other aquatic animals are central to regional diets and nutrition.

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    Irrigation

    Irrigation is an immense feature of the Greater Mekong landscape. In the Irrawaddy River Basin, there are 118 irrigation reservoirs of 0.5 km2 and above; in northeastern Thailand, there are 143. Because of irrigation Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter (in 2015), and Vietnam its third largest.

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    Biodiversity

    The Greater Mekong exhibits some of the highest biodiversity in the world, second only to the Amazon. Every year, new species of plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, insects and fish are discovered here. Water drives this colossal ecosystem and its productivity.

Little is known about what the impacts are of dams, reservoirs, and land concessions on the region’s rivers.
But this is a system in transition, and the pace of development of the region’s water resources is rapid, immense and far-reaching. On many of these rivers, little is known about their biodiversity, use and hydrology. The dearth of knowledge on the Irrawaddy and Salween is considerable. While more is known about the Mekong, there are still significant gaps in knowledge. The institutional frameworks and capacities to manage and regulate the use of the region’s water resources are variable, but generally under-developed. Many of the development interventions in the water sector take insufficient account of impacts to the environment and on downstream livelihoods. Coordination of these interventions is generally weak – little is known, for example, about the cumulative impact of the region’s dams on river ecology, hydrology, and sediment flows. So too, little is known about the impact of thousands of small mining, hydropower, irrigation reservoirs and other infrastructure is similarly unknown. Across the region, thousands of hectares of land have been awarded in concessions to private companies to mine, develop monoculture, and log. Again, little is known about the impact of these land concessions on water quantity and quality. How the state of rivers is monitored varies from country to country in the region, but is also generally weak, as are the systems to aggregate and analyse water-relevant data so that regional policy makers can make meaningful decisions.

WLE Greater Mekong contributes to alleviating these knowledge deficits, accompanied by a robust framework to ensure that, when decisions are made about water, they are supported by evidence and sound analysis. In order to do so, all of WLE’s activities within the Greater Mekong address two or more of the following objectives. Hover over each icon to read more about each:

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Benefits

To examine how the benefits from the development of the region’s water and related resources can be better distributed amongst all stakeholders, and its negative impacts minimised.

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Capacity

To improve the practice and capacity of Greater Mekong countries to monitor and manage the health of their waters and related resources.

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Ecosystem Services

To evaluate ecosystem services provided by healthy river and land systems to yield policy and governance relevant data that will inform decision-making.

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Nutrition

To explore ways in which the development of the Greater Mekong’s water resources affect food supply and human nutrition.

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Research

To improve regional capacities to implement action research that improves the way water and related resources are governed and yields robust research outputs.

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Dialogues

To implement dialogues and partnerships that improve understanding and capacities for the governance of regional water and related resources through a ‘learning framework’ built on deliberation and inclusiveness.

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Learning

To compare and learn from lessons and experiences derived in one part of the region with those derived from others.

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CPWF

To further communicate findings and results generated and built upon the legacy of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, and to provide continuity to the initiatives and ideas that this programme generated.

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Inclusion

To improve the data and evidence available, and the ability of decision-makers to actively include and deal with gender and inclusivity issues in water development in the region.