Thursday 20 Jun 2019 | 13:57 | SYDNEY
Thursday 20 Jun 2019 | 13:57 | SYDNEY

The damned Mekong

15 December 2009 08:37

Readers who have consulted my recent Lowy Paper, 'The Mekong: River Under Threat', will be interested to learn of the publication of a joint report by the Australian Mekong Resource Centre (AMRC) of the University of Sydney and Oxfam Australia. With the title, 'Power and Responsibility: The Mekong River Commission and Lower Mekong mainstream dams',  it addresses in greater detail than is the case in my own paper the much-debated issue of the Mekong's governance.

With the Mekong River Commission (MRC) still to produce its own study of the possible effects of projected mainstream dams on the river after it flows out of China, this new paper is timely and realistic.

As I have argued for nearly a decade, many advocacy groups have unfairly criticised the MRC for what it is not. And in this AMRC-Oxfam paper, the limits of the MRC's role are clearly stated. The MRC, the paper notes, is not:

  • a supranational organisation with regulatory power;
  • an organisation that can make decisions to intervene in its own right; or
  • accountable directly to the public.

So the question remains: how is it possible to mandate decisions in the broader interest of all countries through which the Mekong flows if individual states continue to take decisions solely in their perceived national interest?

Given the need to consider this issue against the strong likelihood that mainstream dams will dramatically reduce fish stocks in the Mekong, the AMRC-Oxfam paper repays study.

And it leads to a conclusion which I have argued is beyond dispute: if governance of the Mekong is ever to be achieved in the broad interests of all riparian countries it will only come as the result of commitment at the level of the governments of those countries. It will not be achieved through impassioned criticism of the MRC.

Photo by Flickr user Tobym, used under a Creative Commons license.