A River Runs Through Them |China Unlocked

By Zhou Yan, Chen Si

Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho, Vietnam.

Every June when the rainy season arrives, the showers in Laos dispel the summer heat while increasing the risk of natural disasters.

“I always used to worry around this time of year, but the situation is different now,” declared Khanmany Khounphon, director general of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. “The deepening meteorological and water resources collaboration between China and Laos under the Lancang- Mekong Cooperation mechanism has boosted Laos’ capacity to tackle natural disasters and manage water resources.”

In February 2018, the Lao National Water Resources Information and Data Center—built with the help of the Chinese government—began operation. The center features advanced concepts and informational technology that deliver meteorological and hydrological precaution and forecasting models based on Internet of Things (IoT) and China’s BeiDou satellite communications technology. The system enables Laos to obtain the preliminary hydrological data gathering, transmit it and process it to determine precautions and forecasts while achieving connectivity of water resources networks. So far, 25 automatic observation stations have been set up and put into operation and another 26 are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.

The establishment of the Lao National Water Resources Information and Data Center is a sign that China- Laos water resources cooperation has shifted from planning to results.

The Shape of Water

The Lancang-Mekong region is rich in natural resources. For historical and geographical reasons, the Greater Mekong Sub-region has lagged in development. The area has a strong demand for development in fields including industrialization, informationization and agricultural modernization, and the current situation requires joint efforts from all countries to address common challenges such as climate change and natural disasters. In 2002, China’s Ministry of Water Resources signed an agreement on the provision of hydrological information with the Mekong River Commission (member states include Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam). So far, the Chinese ministry has provided free hydrological data on the Lancang River to the Mekong River Commission for 17 consecutive years.

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is situated on low-lying terrain. In October 2011, a severe flood caused by surging tide in the Gulf of Siam threatened Bangkok, resulting in emergency evacuation of 12 million residents.

Upon request of the Thai government, China dispatched a flood expert team to Bangkok on the night of October 14, 2011. After thorough field surveys and analysis, the team devised a “Chinese solution” for flood prevention for the Thai government. The following year, Thailand established a special water resources administrative agency—the National Water Resources and Flood Policy Committee—with an aim to effectively manage water resources nationwide and prevent floods. The Chinese government again dispatched an expert team to provide policy consultation.

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of cross-border collaboration and cooperation. In the summer of 2015, the Ayeyarwady River in Cambodia suffered a catastrophic flood unseen for four decades. A team of Chinese hydrological experts rushed to the Southeast Asian country. After conducting analysis of the basic situation of the Ayeyarwady River, the team provided suggestions on restoring damage, measures for future flood prevention and advice on construction of a non-flood-control system. The Chinese experts played an important role in Cambodia’s long-term flood control and water management.

By sharing cross-border river hydrological information and collaboration on disaster prevention and relief, various nations are enhancing mutual understanding and trust in big ways.

泰国JWG第二次特别会 研究湄公河旱情
The second special
meeting of the Joint
Working Group for
Lancang-Mekong Water
Resources Cooperation
held in Thailand aimed
to devise solutions
for the drought in the
Mekong region.

In March 2016, the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism was established. It took barely a year for the mechanism to transform from proposal to reality. In November 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed building the LMC mechanism at the 17th China-ASEAN leaders’ meeting and received positive feedback from involved countries. In March 2016, the first LMC Leaders’ Meeting passed the Sanya Declaration , marking the official establishment of the LMC mechanism. Water resources cooperation was designated as one of five priorities of the mechanism, opening a new page of Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation.

In 2016, when the LMC mechanism had just been introduced, countries in the region suffered a severe drought as the water level of the Mekong River dropped to its lowest in 90 years. Although China was also affected by the drought, it still opened the sluice gate of its Jinghong Hydropower Station to supply water to downstream areas, effectively relieving drought in countries including Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

River of Prosperity

In February 2017, the Joint Working Group for Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation was established. In June of the same year, China’s Ministry of Water Resources set up the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center to support the joint working group. So far, China has organized and launched various events such as urban-rural water supply planning and management training, river basin and water resources integrated management training, the LMC highlevel water resources personnel training program, and the seminar on sustainable utilization of water resources. More than 1,000 experts and specialists from Mekong countries were invited to China to conduct technological exchange on water conservancy and management.

“Mekong countries are undergoing rapid industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization, and all of them have an urgent need to construct water conservancy infrastructure and improve water resources management,” noted E Jingping, Chinese Minister of Water Resources and head of the Chinese delegation at the third summit of the Mekong River Commission in Siem Reap, Cambodia on April 5, 2018.

From signing of the agreement on water resources cooperation under the China- Thailand LMC Special Fund to the first Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum and the release of the Five-Year Plan of Action on Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation (2018-2022),  efficient and pragmatic Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation has injected enormous momentum into cooperation among countries involved. All parties have received substantive benefits from the cooperation and gained confidence in the future. Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation has shifted into a fast lane as relevant cooperative projects continue to gain steam.

In 2018, the first group of 132 projects under the LMC Special Fund was implemented including nearly 30 infrastructure and industrialization projects that have made great contributions to economic and social development in the Lancang- Mekong region.

“China’s Ministry of Water Resources has provided strong support for Laos in terms of basic integrated river planning and human resources training,” stressed Lao Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Sommad Pholsena. “It has helped Laos train more than 70 water conservancy professionals and is assisting us to build 51 hydrological observation stations. These projects will greatly enhance Laos’ capacity building in fields of meteorology, hydrology and water resources management.”

Representatives attending the Ministerial Meeting of Lancang-Mekong Water
Resources Cooperation visit the South-to-North Water Diversion Project in China.

Drawing a Blueprint Together

A small town surrounded by mountains along the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is the oldest city in Laos with a history of more than 1,000 years. On March 29, 2019, the national consultation meeting on the overall planning for the Nam Ou River was held there. Experts from China’s Ministry of Water Resources were invited to conduct joint planning and engage in specialized discussions with their Lao counterparts. The thorough discussions resulted in experts from both countries providing advice and suggestions for planning development on the Nam Ou River that was highly praised by Minister Sommad Pholsena.

In recent years, experts from China’s Ministry of Water Resources have often provided river management suggestions for Mekong countries. In 2011, Chinese water conservancy experts were invited by the Thai government to evaluate the emergency response to flood disasters in Thailand, and they provided face-to-face consultation for Thai state leader. In June 2012, a team of Chinese experts visited Thailand to draft a report concerning flood control of the Menam River. In 2015, Chinese water management experts were invited by Cambodia to advise planning for emergency restoration of flooddestroyed projects along the Ayeyarwady River and future flood prevention. The team presented a brief consultation report on flood control of the river to the Cambodian government. Many Mekong countries are gaining greater confidence in Chinese technologies, adopting Chinese standards, listening to Chinese voices and embracing Chinese solutions.

Because effective water conservancy and consistently safe drinking water in rural areas are crucial prerequisites for people living in the Lancang-Mekong region to develop through engaging in regional cooperation, they are key to building a regional community of shared future.

China’s Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center has gathered experts to survey a wide array of problems related to drinking water safety in rural areas. Rural communities and other stakeholders are encouraged to participate in efforts to promote drinking water safety. This approach will be gradually implemented across the entire region. The Chinese side will provide experience and technological support for water security in rural areas of the Lancang-Mekong region.

Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation aims to improve the living standards of people in countries involved by enhancing water management capacity and achieving sustainable utilization of water resources in the Lancang- Mekong region. The cooperation mechanism is tailored to meet the common demands of all six countries and ensure relevant affairs are handled through consultation. The result has been greater effects than the sum of individual efforts and each country finding a water conservancy strategy suited to its national conditions. The ultimate goal is to build countries in the Lancang-Mekong region into a community of shared future.

Layout by Tian Yuerong

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