Supporting the Mekong River Commission in pro-poor sustainable hydropower development

Project description

Title: Transboundary water management with the Mekong River Commission – Component: Supporting the Mekong River Commission in pro-poor sustainable hydropower development
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam
Lead executing agency: Mekong River Commission (MRC)
Overall term: 2011 to 2014


Water resources in the Mekong Basin are of crucial importance to the basin residents, and they play a significant role in socio-economic development in many ways. However, a rapid increase in the number of hydropower plants is threatening these key livelihoods. Over the past ten years there has been a dramatic expansion in the hydropower potential, especially in Laos. In the Lower Mekong Basin alone, over 70 hydropower plants are currently being planned or built in tributaries of the Mekong, and some have already been completed. In addition, 11 hydropower plants are now being planned on the main channel of the river. These are viewed as particularly problematic with respect to their environmental and social impacts.

In order to reduce the negative effects of hydropower projects, it is necessary to strengthen sustainability principles in planning, constructing and operating dams. There are already numerous international regulatory frameworks and principles for the sustainable management of hydropower plants; they are mainly based on the World Commission on Dams (WCD) and the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP). Their application in the Mekong region is still insufficient.


Decisions on the development and use of hydropower in the Mekong region have been made, based on internationally recognised environmental, social and pro-poor criteria.


GIZ is advising the MRC on developing and implementing instruments for testing and improving the sustainability of hydropower projects. This includes, for example, instruments for analysing the impacts of hydropower development in catchment areas as well as approaches to the establishment of benefit-sharing mechanisms within water catchment areas and beyond borders. In addition, GIZ is promoting the exchange of experiences between various river basin organisations involved in sustainable hydropower development. The project is also developing basic and advanced training measures on sustainable hydropower.

Results achieved so far

The Rapid Sustainability Assessment Tool has been developed. This enables the MRC and its member countries to evaluate projects in individual catchment areas with regard to their environmental and social sustainability, and to adapt policy decisions accordingly. A series of workshops has enabled actors from the region to become familiar with other tasks related to sustainable hydropower, such as financing, technical design and planning.

The introduction of national concepts on benefit sharing in each MRC member country was initially supported by an online knowledge platform that collects experiences from various river basins. Experts from the four MRC Member Countries are currently developing concepts for introducing or strengthening benefit-sharing mechanisms at national level that also incorporate the transboundary flow of the Mekong.

In the newly established network on sustainable hydropower in the Mekong region, lecturers from over 30 universities in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam and China are working to develop basic and advanced training modules. They are being used to expand university curricula and for the further training of employees in the hydropower sector. The first courses have already been given by newly trained regional experts.
Laos. Nam Ngum 1 hydropower plant. © GIZ