Transboundary Water Management

Project description

Title: Supporting the Mekong River Commission with Transboundary Water Management in the Mekong River Basin
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Lead executing agency: Mekong River Commission (MRC)
Duration: 2016 to 2018


The Lower Mekong Basin is crucial to the livelihood of its more than 60 million inhabitants. Over two thirds of this population (including parts of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam) live directly from agriculture and fisheries, and are therefore wholly dependent on the Mekong’s water resources. For those who live directly on its banks, the river holds great economic significance, as it is generally expected to secure their food base. Furthermore, with its potential for transport, tourism and energy, the river forms the basis for socioeconomic development in all the riparian states, through which the river flows.

However, the Mekong Basin faces numerous challenges that threaten the sustainable development of the region. Population growth places ever-increasing pressure on the river’s resources, especially through the ongoing expansion of hydropower, logging, intensified agriculture and the extraction of mineral resources. Moreover, the Mekong region is severely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and is already suffering the effects. Today, the regular occurrence of floods has drastically increased the vulnerability of people living alongside the river, and this is set to worsen.

In 1995, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam established the Mekong River Commission (MRC) as a means of collectively addressing the development problems of the Lower Mekong Basin. Since then, the Commission has done much to improve the sustainable management of the water resource. Faced by the intensifying and newly emerging challenges, the capacity of the MRC to do its job is constantly being called into question. The core problems in the river basin now, are climate change and hydropower development. The MRC will be put to the test to see whether it is capable of addressing these challenges effectively and competently.


The Mekong River Commission (MRC) and Member Countries (MC) have strategically expanded transboundary cooperation in the areas of sustainable hydropower development (SHD) and climate change adaptation (CCA).



GIZ supports MRC in the development of common strategies and guidelines on sustainable hydropower development and climate change adaptation through technical and organisational advisory measures, human capacity development and regional networking. The programme’s three fields of action are: 

  • advising on new cooperation mechanisms between the MRC and member states;
  • better implementation of MRC guidelines and instruments at the national level; 
  • strengthening the MRC’s capacities in public water diplomacy and formulating benefit sharing mechanisms (BSM). 


MRC has developed and disseminated a range of studies, tools and guidelines that support the sustainable development of hydropower in the Lower Mekong Basin and emphasised early consideration and avoidance/mitigation of environmental impacts on a broad scale. Extensive capacity development helped raise understanding and awareness among line agencies, project developers and consultants as well as academic and civil society stakeholders. Some of the guidelines developed have also technically supported the three previous transboundary dialogue processes over hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream under the MRC’s Procedure for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA). These dialogues led to adjusted, potentially less harmful project designs and further consultation processes have evolved and improved considerably throughout the course of the project, allowing for ongoing monitoring and stakeholder involvement.
Lecturers from over 30 universities throughout Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have developed and used basic and advanced training modules through the newly established network on sustainable hydropower in the Mekong region. They are being used to expand university curricula and for the further training of employees in the hydropower sector. Moreover, regional and national trainings given by newly trained regional experts have already been implemented.

Climate change projections have been analysed and agreed on by the countries. Based on those analysis and projections, basin-wide assessments of climate change impacts on water and water-related resources such as hydrology, flood, drought, ecosystems, food security, socio-economics and hydropower have been carried out. Specific physical, expert and knowledge-based modelling methodologies) have been developed for each of these assessments. The assessments are spatially explicit and compare three situations: “normal”, “under climate change scenarios” and “under climate change and development scenarios”. Indicators to monitor climate and adaptation to climate change in the region have been developed and consolidated in an institutionalised climate change adaptation monitoring system. These different inputs were developed with the strong involvement of national experts and policy makers from the four member countries, and provide scientific-based evidence regarding the climate-induced risks in the region.

At the policy level, national and regional climate change adaptation strategies and plans have been reviewed and have demonstrated the added value of developing a regional adaptation strategy for the Lower Mekong Basin.
Based on the scientific inputs and policy analysis, the Mekong Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan (MASAP) has been developed through a highly participative process and was formally adopted by MRC Council in December 2017.

Mekong dam

Additional information