The Mekong River Commission (MRC) hosted its second regional consultative forum in Bangkok, Thailand on August 31, to discuss sustainable development in the lower Mekong basin.

The meeting focused on the water-energy-food nexus and aimed to address growing challenges in meeting food and energy demands, as well as environmental protection and food security in vulnerable communities.

In 2021, the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), South Korea’s Ministry of Science and the MRC initiated a five-year project. South Korea provided a budget of $4 million for the endeavour, commonly referred to as the “RoK-UNOSSC Facility Phase 3” and P-LINK.

The project aims to enhance access to water, food and energy in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

These efforts intend to foster development approaches and effective management in these sectors.

“We know that in each country, it’s challenging to meet food demands, energy demands, protect the environment and ensure food security, especially for vulnerable communities,” stated Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the MRC Secretariat.

He noted that while some countries have a clear roadmap, others are still in the brainstorming stage.

“It’s okay because we want to get it right. We aim to make an impact rather than just having a project for its own sake,” he added.

Kittikhoun emphasised the need for innovative technologies to make a broader impact, not just in individual countries but across the Mekong River Basin.

“We really want to make a difference on the ground. We want to showcase innovative technologies, and we want to make a wider impact,” he said.

The project is also about skill development and finding solutions, according to Kittikhoun.

“We need capacity building. We need a solution,” he underlined.

Dima Al-Khatib, director of the UNOSSC, spoke about the key milestones of this project, particularly the customised technical solutions designed to enhance the water-energy-food nexus.

“The P-Link project will serve as a policy and networking platform for the four member states to deepen their collaboration,” she said.

She pointed out: “The technical solutions are provided by the Korean Science and Technology Policy Institute, which brings in Korean technical expertise to the project”.

Al-Khatib highlighted the role of renewable energy in the project, specifically mentioning solar energy for water pumping and filtration.

“Now, what’s also important from the Cambodia example is linking this to national development planning and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” she said.

Al-Khatib elaborated that the approach will serve as a scalable model within Cambodia and will be shared by other countries involved in the project.

In an interview with The Post, she talked about the innovative aspects of the project. She mentioned conversations about wastewater reuse and how these technologies are part of a larger conversation about environmental sustainability.

“Colleagues from other countries are asking, ‘Why don’t you think about the reuse of wastewater?’ It’s an interesting discussion point,” she noted.

Chheang Hong, the technical coordinator of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, told The Post that the project has far-reaching benefits, touching on environmental, economic, social and cross-border cooperation aspects.

“The environment is connected to climate change and water flow. The social benefit aims to improve community life, and resolving environmental issues will contribute to that. Economically, the project fosters local structural development,” he explained.

Hong also discussed the importance of cross-border cooperation, emphasising the value of sharing information not only with neighbouring countries but also with China.

“We can share data with communities in districts or provinces, helping local authorities take steps to improve conditions,” he said.

Hong stressed that the need to identify advanced technologies and innovative solutions tailored to local needs, particularly in water use, is at the heart of the forum. This includes everything from providing clean water to supporting local irrigation systems in pilot project areas.

“This pilot project is grounded in both a base development strategy and national needs. We must consider legal and technical aspects to ensure that the project aligns with legal and technical frameworks,” he noted.

According to the project report, the pilot sites in Cambodia are located in the Sdao commune of the Sesan district in Stung Treung province, which borders Laos.

The area is home to about 1,900 villagers, the vast majority of whom, between 80 and 90 per cent, rely on farming. The remaining 10 per cent are factory workers.

The report highlighted that local communities face challenges, including limited access to resources like water, energy and food.

Additionally, they are grappling with climate-induced weather conditions that have an effect on their fishing and farming activities.

As for solutions, the report pointed to user-friendly, cost-effective technologies aimed at improving household access to water through the use of renewable energy.

It also recommended crop diversification and capacity building in areas such as agricultural business management, covering finance and marketing.

These recommendations align with the broader water-energy-food (WEF) nexus, aiming to create a more balanced and sustainable approach to managing resources.