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International rivers, such as the Mekong, are crucial arteries carrying the lifeblood of freshwater that sustains human existence and ecosystems around the world. It is estimated that there are 276 transboundary river basins (TRB) and 200 transboundary aquifers around the world but 60% of the world’s transboundary basins lack any type of cooperative management framework. To ensure the protection of freshwater ecosystems and to promote transboundary cooperation, effective international water legislation needs to be in place.

Gender integration in water governance policies received a boost in the Lower Mekong Region through a recent workshop co-organised by Oxfam and IUCN. Held from July 11 to 12 in Phnom Penh, the workshop provided a platform for knowledge-sharing and dialogue for over 50 representatives from government and civil society organizations (CSOs) across Cambodia, Viet Nam, Myanmar and Lao PDR.  ​

On the banks of the river Rhine, the annual BRIDGE (Building River Dialogue and Governance) meeting took place in Bonn, Germany on April 4th to 8th, 2016. The programme is led by the IUCN Global Water Programme and the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, in collaboration with the IUCN Asia, Mesoamerica, South America, East and Southern Africa, and Central and West Africa offices.

Hosted by the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, the global coordination meeting was held to learn and share experiences across the regions. It also aimed at setting strategic objectives and discussing the implementation of the third phase of the Programme (January 2016 to December 2018).

During the BRIDGE meeting in Bonn, IUCN colleagues from the regional offices as well as the Global Water and Environmental Law Programme gathered to strategize in the face of new challenges ahead in the context of transboundary waters. They reviewed the successes of BRIDGE so far, as well as the roadmap ahead for strengthening multilevel water governance.

In the second phase of BRIDGE (April 2013- December 2015), incremental steps in building transboundary water cooperation in each basin were carried forward. In fact, BRIDGE 2 implementation has resulted in new dialogues within the river basins and has strengthened capacity building. In addition, BRIDGE became a global programme in July 2014 with the launching of BRIDGE Africa in five additional water basins.

In the third phase of BRIDGE (January 2016 to December 2018), one of the challenges is consolidating basin institutions and enhancing water governance capacity at all levels. However, it is expected that this new phase will be as successful as the previous one.

ThumbnailThe UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) entered into force on August 2014 when Viet Nam became the required 35th country to ratify the UNWC. This represented a milestone for the global management of trans-boundary waters and a significant opportunity for countries and regions lacking cooperative management frameworks for shared waters.

This entry into force of the UNWC presents an opportunity to seek a common approach for strengthening trans-boundary water governance both in the Mekong Basin, specifically regarding the Mekong Agreement and globally.

This IUCN paper, published under the BRIDGE programme,  “A window of opportunity for the Mekong Basin: The UN Watercourses Convention as a basis for cooperation. A legal analysis of how the UN Watercourses Convention complements the Mekong Agreement’ provides a comparative analysis of the key substantive and procedural principles and obligations provided for in the two treaties.

The result is a finding of overall general legal compatibility between the UNWC and the Mekong Agreement. Moreover, where gaps and inconsistencies between these instruments exist, the UNWC addresses them.

The results of the analysis point clearly to the benefits of ratification of the UNWC by all the Lower Mekong Basin states and members of the MRC. It further recommends that the UNWC would reinforce rather than replace the Mekong Agreement and the MRC, as well as strengthening its broader normative impact as the most important legal instrument for the governance of trans-boundary watercourses globally.   

This document is part of a training package supporting the BRIDGE work on hydrodiplomacy. It was produced at the request of BRIDGE practitioners and partners in the Lower Mekong Basin region and will be used during BRIDGE trainings. It will also be widely disseminated in the Lower Mekong Basin countries. BRIDGE envisages that this document will further strengthen the principles of the UNWC and its compatibility with the Mekong Agreement, as well as contribute to the regional dialogue on trans-boundary water cooperation.

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On 8-9 December 2015, IUCN along with WWF, GIZ and Oxfam co-organised the “Workshop on Global Water Conventions & Relevance for Cambodia” in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.. The main objective of this workshop was to disseminate knowledge and to explore the potential benefits of the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) and the UNECE Water Convention for water governance in the Mekong basin, particularly their relevance to Cambodia. A broad cross-section of participants from Mekong countries, and specifically Cambodia, were involved, comprising: officials from Ministries of Cambodia; a representative of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, Vietnam; officials from the Mekong River Commission (MRC); missions from partner/donor-countries; academia; and international as well as local non-government organisations (NGOs).

Recommended actions included: joint advocacy activities in order to promote the benefits of both conventions for lower Mekong countries; and NGOs undertaking to investigate processes required for Cambodia to accede to the UNWC.

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Common Framework for Water Ecology Assessment in the 3S BasinsOn 4 December 2015, IUCN, as a part of the BRIDGE programme, facilitated the second consultation meeting on the ‘Common Framework for Water Ecology Assessments in the 3S Basins’ theme. The consultation, attended by stakeholders from both the government and academic sectors in Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR, build on the outcomes of the first consultation meeting held in February 2015 . The first consultation meeting introduced BRIDGE stakeholders to an indicator-based approach to the framework development and gathered their feedback on the next steps that BRIDGE could support towards its operationalisation.

The second consultation was organized with the following objectives:

1.    Re-confirming the framework objectives to ensure that the framework best addresses each country’s needs and considers each countries’ resources and situation.
2.    Defining a common set of considerations for inclusion and assessment within the framework.

The second consultation was beneficial in furthering the concept of a trans-boundary water ecology assessment framework, with participants offering constructive input on issues that are of importance in their respective countries. Participants also suggested that IUCN should work with National Mekong Committees (NMCs) and form Working Groups in each of the 3S countries to further develop and promote the idea of a trans-boundary water ecology assessment framework. For more information on the outcomes of the second consultation meeting, please read the report, downloadable from the link below.

Between 21 September to 28 September 2015, the 3S component of the BRIDGE programme facilitated a series of workshops on the theme ‘Hydro-diplomacy: International Water Law and Regional Cooperation’. These workshops were organized at the request of key stakeholders from four Lower Mekong Basin countries, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Viet Nam.

The aim of these workshops is to improve stakeholders’ understanding of International Water Laws and its key provisions, in particular the UNWC (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses), 1997. These workshops also provided a platform for discussion, giving participants the opportunity to compare the UNWC with the Mekong River Agreement (MRA), 1995 and understand how the two agreements complement one another.

The consolidated report on the proceeding of these workshops provides an overview of the technical presentations and highlights the common points and specific issues raised by participants.

Participants contributing to the development of an integrated water resource management strategy.

The BRIDGE forum provided us with the much-needed opportunity to interact with other civil society organisations, share knowledge, learn from each other's work and collectively develop solutions to manage our shared river basins.

AgendaBRIDGE, through facilitation from IUCN, is supporting the development of a common strategy on IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management) for the 3S basins. To achieve this, over the next two years the BRIDGE programme will be organizing a series of specific dialogue platforms to collate perspectives from key stakeholder groups including CSOs, Government Agencies and the Private Sector on the requirements for such a strategy. The 3S CSO Forum on 16-17 December 2015 at Holiday Inn Hotel, Sukhumvit Soi 22, Bangkok, is the first of this series of sector specific consultations.

The forum aims at compiling the priorities for achieving effective IWRM in the 3S basins as perceived by Civil Society Organizations (CSO) working in the area (Sekong, Sesan and Sre Pok rivers, in Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR).

The forum will be attended by local and international NGOs which work on sustainable water resource management and ecological conservation in the 3S Basins. As a networking platform, the forum will also provide opportunities for strengthening trans-boundary cooperation between those CSOs.

The main output of this forum will be a synthesis document highlighting the CSOs priorities for the development and implementation of an IWRM strategy in the 3S Basins. This synthesis document will then be used to initiate dialogues with other sectors involved in the 3S Basins.

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Raphaël Glémet, Senior Programme Officer for Water and Wetlands within IUCN’s Asia Regional Office, talks to us about his passion for all things water, and shares his excitement about innovative approaches to transboundary water governance.

A BRIDGE workshop on a key aspect of hydro-diplomacy, benefit sharing, will take place during 15-16 July 2015 at the Four Wings Hotel, in Bangkok, Thailand. Selected government officials from the 3S countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam) as well as representatives from NGOs will be attending.

Benefit sharing principles and approaches provide tools to achieve win-win outcomes for multiple stakeholders in a shared river basin. The method incorporates Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and allows for better governance of shared waters.

This workshop will help participants understand benefit sharing concepts, including joint identification of benefit enhancing water management scenarios and negotiation of benefit enhancing agreements. Participants will additionally learn about the data and institutional needs for operationalising benefit sharing.

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On June 4, at an international conference in Ben Tre, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh spoke strongly about the risks of growing competition over water and the need for greater international cooperation to avoid conflict. He urged countries to "develop new ways of thinking", to deliver "tangible cooperation on efficient and sustainable water management" and above all "to translate words and commitments into concrete actions."  

Over the last few years there have been numerous meetings between Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam but no agreement supported by all four countries on how to decide whether or not to build dams that could have major irreversible impacts on human and economic security.

This publication is used as support material during various BRIDGE trainings on hydro-diplomacy. This book is intended for those working on the management of shared waters and who are not experts in law, bringing them closer to understanding laws, agreements, treaties and institutions within an international context. Using international law as a starting point, this book explains how principles and conventions provide an appropriate vehicle for good governance and for the management of shared waters, as well as for the promotion of the proper management of water basins, moving away from the idea that the law is merely an obstacle to change.

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This report on the proceedings of the BRIDGE Technical Forum on ‘Data Sharing and Developing a Common Framework for Water Ecology Assessment in the 3S (Sekong, Sesan and Sre Pok) Basins’ summarizes the presentations and the discussions at the forum.  The forum was attended by 46 participants from 28 different organizations.  It identified the key challenges and opportunities of data sharing and also the concepts and tools that could be utilized for the development of a common framework for the assessment of river ecology in the 3S Basins.

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“Awareness on the principle and laws governing use of international waters is the key to resolve conflict and strengthen cooperation in shared river basins”

Mr Tek Vannara, Executive Director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, and an active member of BRIDGE Champion’s Network, speaks about why data sharing and collaborative governance among Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam is required and how BRIDGE project can support an improved transboundary governance for the region.  He argues it is important to secure the livelihoods of people who rely on the rich natural recourses of the 3S Basin

This paper is authored by H.E. Mr. Botkosal Watt, the Deputy Secretary General of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee Secretariat (CNMCS) and a member of BRIDGE Champion’s Network. The paper evaluates the needs and opportunities for trans-boundary water cooperation in the 3S Basins based on existing documents and databases. Most of the trans-boundary projects and studies in the 3S Basins have focused on visioning and stakeholder engagement approaches to promote trans-boundary water cooperation. This paper deliberately takes a more technical approach and argues that the implementation of a regional ‘technical’ cooperative assessment is long overdue.

Citation: Botkosal Watt (2015). Strategic Priorities for Trans-boundary Water Cooperation in the Sekong, Sesan and Sre Pok (3S) Basins. Bangkok, Thailand: IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). 46pp.

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“Cooperation” was the key word that echoed throughout a forum meant for technical experts working on the 3S Basins held last month.