The answer: almost everything.
This seemed to be the general direction of CGIAR WLE’s forum session on global trans-boundary challenges and opportunities. In this session, participants from the Greater Mekong Region were able to hear about the challenges and opportunities of basin management from experts from the Nile, Ganges, and Volta/Niger Basins. The participants and global representatives then interacted, and were able to compare and contrast their respective river woes and wins.
Photo credit: Chawirakan Nomai, WLE Greater Mekong Project MK 32
From the beginning, one point became fairly clear: the woes were all roughly the same. Issues of river management and trans-boundary governance, water scarcity, environmental degradation, and impacted local communities seem to plague everyone. Whether a river started in China or ended in Egypt, had a greater length or higher fish production, only the nuances of the major problems were different. In the Volta, sedimentation was the greater concern, in the Ganges, impacted communities have nowhere to be moved to. Still, everyone could understand each other’s issues, the common language being that of shared river grievances.
However, one key difference did seem to emerge: the Greater Mekong has been the focus of far more research effort than the other basins, which helps to influence policy and agreements. In the other basins, there are greater gaps in knowledge, and these gaps appear to be the great obstacles to transboundary management. However, if there was one lesson the representatives from the other basins could take back from the situation in the Greater Mekong, it was that this knowledge, though a critical ingredient, is not the only ingredient needed to solve these transboundary issues. The issues are still well and alive in the Greater Mekong, even with all of the research and data available.
Photo credit: WLE Greater Mekong
In the end, the session was summarized succinctly by WLE Greater Mekong’s Regional Coordinator Dr Kim Geheb, who stated: “I hear great commonality in problems, but very little by way of solutions. This tells me that we still have a long way to go.” To me, this statement and session spoke to the very reason of why we have forums, why we implement the kinds of research we do, why we communicate and create networks across regions, and why it is that just having knowledge isn’t enough. With the greater awareness of shared problems gained across various different sectors at the forum, and with the connections made, we will hopefully start to see new shared solutions emerge. Because, in the end, we have more in common than not.
Written by WLE Greater Mekong’s Princeton in Asia Fellow, Natalie Orentlicher