The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has released its annual report for 2022, which identifies the major transboundary challenges facing the Mekong River Basin while calling for continued cooperation for solution.

“The report documents our multiple achievements over the past year, as well as key challenges facing the basin that require particular attention,” said a September 7 press release from the MRC secretariat.

The report chronicles tangible improvements across the Mekong River Basin, achieved through the joint efforts and “water diplomacy” of member countries including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, and their partners.

It said that among the most significant achievements of last year were new guidelines for hydropower dam design, transboundary environmental impact to facilitate fish movement and sediment flow, and new navigation rules to foster greater river safety.

It also launched innovative tools to better forecast floods and droughts, a new monitoring station on the northern tip of the basin that could quickly detect water changes, and a joint study – together with the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) – to develop a shared upstream-downstream understanding of the changing water flow regime, which is seen as a prerequisite for more effective cooperation.

The MRC has already begun implementing the transboundary environmental impact assessment guidelines, or TbEIA, as the joint study has concluded its first phase.

The study results will be shared at the 13th regional stakeholder forum, scheduled to take place on October 5 in Luang Prabang, Laos.

As the MRC looks to fulfill both its basin development strategy from 2021-30 and strategic plan 2021-25, the annual report described the organisation’s five strategic priorities: environmental, social, economic, climate change and cooperation

The press release claimed that the strategies would not only benefit millions of Mekong denizens, but contribute to achieving 10 of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“However, despite the positive news today – which now includes rainfall that’s 40 per cent higher than in 2021 and 2022, water quality along the Mekong mainstream that remains “Good” or “Excellent” in most places, and improved socio-economic growth and living standards across the region – the basin continues to face great challenges,” it said.

In his April State of the Mekong address, MRC secretariat CEO Anoulak Kittikhoun cited five “troubling” trends: changing flow regime, nourishing sediment, salinity intrusion, plastic pollution, and flood and drought exacerbated by climate change.

“As Kittikhoun states in this annual report, these challenges are transboundary by nature, so they require continued cooperation to tackle them, among the riparian countries,” the release said.

“There is ‘one Mekong’,” Kittikhoun wrote in the report’s foreword.

“Ideally, then, we should embrace a basin-wide approach to solution-seeking and decision-making, for everything from hydropower design and river monitoring to navigation rules and irrigation infrastructure,” he added.

The MRC is an intergovernmental agency which aims to safeguard the river, ensure equitable use of its water resources and maximise economic development, while minimising any harm done to the environment or riverine communities, namely the millions of fishing and farming households who rely on it for food and their livelihoods.

“While differences will occasionally arise between national self-interests and what is best for the region, the achievements detailed in this annual report show that collaboration ultimately yields results, and will continue to do so in the future,” the press release quoted a top Thai official as saying.

“Today, the MRC has solid policies and procedures in dealing with transboundary water governance based on cooperative principles, treaty obligations and goodwill,” added Surasri Kidtimonton, a member of the MRC joint committee who is also secretary-general of the Thai office of national water resources.