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Mekong Leaders Encourage Cooperation and Support While Meeting with New Mekong Commission Executive Director

PHNOM PENH: To better protect the largest waterways in Southeast Asia, the new Executive Director of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat is now meeting with member countries to hear firsthand their priorities, and to aim to reduce the growing threat to people's lives and livelihoods, according to an MRC press release.

Dr. Anoulak Kithi Khuon, who was elected the first Lao Executive Director for the Mekong River Commission Secretariat in January 2022, visited Cambodia and Vietnam this month to hold discussions with senior officials from the Mekong River Cooperation. The purpose of the meeting was to deepen regional and international partnerships, with one of the top priorities being the expansion of efforts to monitor and measure economic development, water infrastructure projects and climate change, including addressing the problem of floods and droughts, which affect millions of people living in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Dr. Anoulak, who served for more than a decade at the MRC Secretariat before being unanimously elected in January as the third executive director from the Mekong countries, said: "This open dialogue will help me implement a more influential work program for river basins that closely aligns with national and regional priorities. We need to be innovative because the MRC has become a strong regional institution equipped with state-of-the-art technology and knowledge that can provide timely services to countries and its citizens."

The MRC includes four countries that directly benefit from Mekong-related development: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, with the two northern neighbors of China and Myanmar granted special status. Each of these countries has different interests for according to respective nationalities, specific priorities, and challenges that make cooperation complex but of a satisfactory value.

On 2 March 2022, Dr. Anoulak Kithi Khuon met with the Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology and Chairman of the National Mekong Committee of Cambodia, Lim Kean Hor, and the Permanent Vice President of the National Committee for the Mekong River of Cambodia, Te Navuth, in Phnom Penh. During the meeting, Minister Lim Kean Hor highlighted the need to monitor and share more hydrological data to accurately measure the impact of low or high flows on socio-economic well-being in the region. Meanwhile, to provide a clearer picture of 2022, China has begun sharing its dry and rainy season data. However, the MRC should take the lead in creating a more complete picture by installing more monitoring stations on the Mekong Delta.

Minister Lim Kean Hor stated, “With more data in the long run, we can create clear trends, predict future patterns, and implement an effective early warning system. With a common understanding, we can take more effective action in the short and medium term."

On 10 March 2022, Dr. Anoulak met with the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Vietnam, Dr. Tran Hong Ha, and the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Vietnam in Hanoi, Le Cong Thach. Dr. Tran Hong Ha, who served as a member of the MRC Council for Vietnam, also urged the MRC to study more environmentally friendly energy solutions in addition to current hydropower use and highlight major projects and modernization in which member countries work together to address future challenges.

"We must ensure that this cooperation is here because it is what makes our basin connected, prosperous and secure, In the process, the MRC will continue to serve as a model for other river basins when it comes to cross-border water cooperation, ” said Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha.

At the same time, Dr. Anoulak also met with Lao leaders in Vientiane, which is also the headquarters of the MRC. Dr. Anoulak's team is now planning trips to Bangkok and Beijing to meet with representatives of Thailand and China.

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