By Sommad Pholsena, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Lao PDR
Water constitutes an essential founding block for all things under the heaven, for life and for civilization. Water and the services it provides support our efforts on poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. From food security, energy security to human and environmental health, water improves people’s quality of life in various dimensions, advances inclusive growth and profoundly affects economic and social development.
As a landlocked developing country, Laos’ primary task is to develop its economy and improve people’s living standards, hence the stakes on the sustainable management and development of water are high.
In March 2016, the first Lancang- Mekong Cooperation (LMC) Leaders’ Meeting adopted the Sanya Declaration, which listed water resources cooperation as one of the five priority areas. The leaders of the six LMC countries agreed to strengthen cooperation on the sustainable management and utilization of water resources, rolling out a new chapter of development for Laos-China bilateral cooperation and also for Lancang- Mekong cooperation. The water authorities of both countries are closely matched with their strategies and actions, implementing the consensus reached by the two LMC Leaders’ Meetings and advancing substantive progress in Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation.
In 2017, Laos and China signed a memorandum of understanding on water cooperation at the witness of Bounnhang Vorachith, general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and President of Laos, and Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chinese president, marking a higher level of mutual commitment to water cooperation. In recent years, I have paid multiple visits to China with the purpose of discussing with my Chinese counterparts such topics as water resources management, development and utilization. For example, in 2019 alone, I met with Mr. E Jingping, the Minister of Water Resources of China, three times. I also had the honor of visiting the Three Gorges project and the South-to-North Water Diversion project, seeing with my own eyes China’s achievement in water conservancy. Laos looks to China for valuable references in the fields of flood control of major rivers, typhoon resistance and emergency rescue, given the fact that China has registered remarkable successes in flood control and disaster reduction.
The complexity of water challenges in China is nowhere else to be seen. Chinese administrations invariably attach paramount importance to water conservancy, and accumulate rich experiences. Particularly since the reform and opening-up, the Chinese government has initiated historic water conservancy projects including the Three Gorges project and South- North Water Diversion project with a responsible attitude and in a scientific manner, improved water resources management system and mechanism, and strengthened human resource cultivation. These efforts have enabled China to achieve flood security, water supply security, food security and energy security, and also to triumph in reducing poverty and bettering people’s lives. More and more Chinese are living a well-off life.
China’s shifted focus to harmonizing development and protection is another practice worth noting. As prescribed by President Xi Jinping, the Chinese water community acts upon the Guidelines for Water Governance that encompass “prioritizing water conservation, balancing development with geographical distribution of water resources, practicing systematic governance and achieving government-market synergy.” As Xi said, lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets. China also pursues a green development path that highlights the ecological values. Our Chinese colleagues are also committed to making up the shortfall in water works and strengthening supervision of the water sector, in a bid to provide maximum support for high-quality socio-economic development. Laos, together with other developing countries, needs to draw useful lessons from China’s practices on water governance.
By virtue of the LMC mechanism, Laos and China have embarked on practical cooperation, implementing a number of water resources cooperation projects and LMC special funding projects. China aided the construction of the Laos Water Resources Data Center, as well as 25 completed modern hydrological demonstration stations. Another 26 stations are under construction. China has also helped us draw up major river plans, the outcomes of which are highly recognized by the central and local governments and various stakeholders in Laos. The completion and operation of a myriad of hydropower stations invested and constructed by China, such as the Nam Ngum 5 hydropower station and the cascade hydropower stations on Nam Ou River, electrify the northern mountainous areas of Laos, bringing tangible benefits to the people. Public welfare cooperation projects on dam safety and drinking water security, jointly designed by China and LMC countries, will be launched one after another. More and more Lao people will stand to benefit.
In addition, China has contributed tremendously to nurturing Lao talents. Upon our demand, the Ministry of Water Resources of China and Laos have exchanged more than 30 groups of experts. More than 100 Chinese experts have visited Laos for technological cooperation and training, and over 300 Lao professionals went the other way round. During my most recent visit to China, I got to meet nine Lao students studying at Wuhan University. I was very pleased to hear about their study progress in China. My sincere thanks goes to the Chinese government for helping nurture the young talents from LMC countries. At present, the Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center and Hohai University are jointly training 28 Lao graduate students in water-related fields, and they will be the high-caliber talents that are urgently needed by Laos for water resources management.
As the Chinese saying goes, “We depend more on our close neighbors than relatives faraway.” As a country in the upper reaches of the Lancang- Mekong River Basin, China has actively undertaken its responsibility to share data and information with downstream countries and carry out emergency cooperation. In 2016, when the Mekong countries suffered from the worst drought ever seen in 100 years, China came to the rescue by implementing emergency water release, which was highly acknowledged by the governments of downstream countries including Laos, as well as by the international community. It epitomizes the relationship among the six LMC countries which help and care for each other. It is also a perfect example of cooperative water governance.
In the second half of last year, Lao staff were sent to work at the Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center, with two missions in mind: One is to implement the consensus reached by the six countries to develop the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center under the principle of consultation, contribution and shared benefits, in a bid to better harness its role as a platform for Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation. The other mission is to learn from Chinese colleagues and other Mekong experts, explore a common ground for cooperation, and enhance water resources cooperation under the LMC mechanism.
On April 30, 2019, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and Chinese President Xi Jinping and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and Lao President Bounnhang Vorachith signed the Action Plan on Building a Community of Shared Future Between the Communist Party of China and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party , in which Lancang-Mekong Cooperation and water resources cooperation feature prominently. As Laos is undergoing rapid economic and social development, we cherish the invaluable support provided by our Chinese colleagues and by the Lancang-Mekong regional cooperation platform, because I believe that through unremitting efforts by the Lao people, we can go a long way in improving water resources management, contributing not only to better lives in Laos, but also to the realization of a community of shared future for China and Laos.
Under the LMC mechanism, the six riparian countries treat each other with respect and mutual assistance, working together to address challenges. Water resources cooperation has come to be an ever-significant buttress for regional development. I believe that the six countries should take advantage of the good opportunities available, chart out a higher-level of future cooperation, better harness the role of water resources cooperation as a lead and support to economic and social development, develop and protect the Lancang-Mekong River in a sound way, contribute to the realization of water related goals under the UN 2030 SDGs, help build the LMC economic development belt and a community of shared future for Lancang-Mekong countries, and ultimately provide lasting impetus for regional peace and development.