Transboundary water cooperation with the Mekong River Commission

Project description

Title: Transboundary Water Cooperation with the Mekong River Commission
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 for the livelihoods of more than 60 million people. Over two thirds of the basin’s population live from agriculture and fisheries, and are therefore wholly dependent on the Mekong’s water resources. The river has particular economic significance for those who live directly along its banks, for many of whom it provides 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.

The basin area faces numerous challenges that threaten its sustainable development. Population growth and the related pressures on the basin’s resources are a growing problem. In particular, this manifests itself in the on-going expansion of hydropower, logging, intensified agriculture and the extraction of mineral resources. At the same time, the Mekong region is among the areas in the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and is already severely affected by it. Today, the regular occurrence of floods has drastically increased the vulnerability of people living alongside the river. This is set to get worse.

In 1995, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam established the Mekong River Commission (MRC) as a mechanism for 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 with worsening problems and the emergence of new challenges, the capacity of the MRC to deliver on its mandate is repeatedly called into question. Is it capable of addressing the core problems in the river basin effectively and competently, especially with regard to climate change and hydropower development?


The MRC provides effective and competent support to its member states in their efforts to address sustainably the challenges facing the river basin.


GIZ is supporting the MRC in the environmentally friendly and pro-poor development of hydropower and in its efforts to protect local people from the adverse impacts of climate change. The programme also supports the ongoing institutional transition of the MRC in various areas, such as the structural, financial and staff reforms. It works directly with expert staff and managers in the MRC Secretariat and, as far as possible, encourages the involvement of the national Mekong committees and each country’s ministries for water, energy and environment in its work.

Since its formation, the MRC has generated a large body of knowledge. It has established procedures for the development of sustainable water resources and set up a regional water diplomacy platform. Its organizational reform through a decentralization process led to the downsizing of the Secretariat. More specifically, with the support of the programme, the Commission has made progress in a number of areas:

  • A unified budget replaced the former programme budgets and is the main recipient of funding from both Member Countries and Development Partners. Organisational planning has been streamlined and a new M&E system is in place. 
  • Hydropower development plans in the four countries have been assessed for their sustainability. This involved a newly developed assessment and stakeholder engagement tool.
  • A network of over 30 universities has been established in the region. This has enabled them to integrate international best practices for the sustainable use of hydropower in their curricula.
  • The impacts of climate change on water and related resources in the Mekong basin have been analysed, and a system has been developed to monitor the state of climate change in the region, as well as adaptations to it.