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Mekong River Commission Highlights Concerns Over Tonle Sap’s Reverse Flow Trends

Phnom Penh, April 8, 2024: The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has issued a warning regarding the ongoing disturbing trend in the annual reverse flow of the Tonle Sap River, an event critical to Cambodia's wet season ecology.

During his annual State of the Mekong address in Vientiane, Anoulak Kittikhoun, Chief Executive of the MRC Secretariat, shared insights on the evolving conditions of the Mekong River, noting both positive and negative changes over the past decade. While the Lower Mekong Basin, encompassing Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, boasts a thriving economy valued at US$63 billion, and improvements in living standards, challenges remain, particularly in hydrological and meteorological stability.

Dr. Anoulak drew attention to the adverse impacts of erratic weather patterns, including drought and historically low water flows, on the Tonle Sap's reverse flow since 2020. This unique hydrological phenomenon, vital for the replenishment of the Tonle Sap Lake, has been occurring later, expanding less, and lasting shorter than usual, posing significant ecological and economic threats.

Furthermore, sediment flows have seen a drastic reduction, particularly affecting areas downstream, with Phnom Penh and the Vietnamese town of Tan Chau experiencing a 70 percent and 50 percent drop, respectively. This imbalance is exacerbated by excessive sand extraction in the Mekong Delta, far outstripping the natural replenishment rates.

Despite these challenges, Dr. Anoulak reported that water quality across the Mekong remains largely unaffected, with the majority of measuring sites rating excellently. However, the region's wild fisheries face considerable risks from overexploitation, drought, and infrastructural barriers, notably in the Tonle Sap and the Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok rivers.

In response, the MRC has secured significant international funding, including a U.S.$12 million investment from the Global Environment Fund and a US$16 million commitment from Germany, aimed at enhancing fisheries management, ecosystem health, and community livelihoods.

Dr. Anoulak emphasized the necessity for the Lower Mekong countries to extend their cooperative efforts beyond their borders, citing recent MOUs and planned dialogues as steps towards broader regional collaboration on water security and sustainable development.

The MRC's ongoing dialogue and partnerships underscore the critical importance of transboundary cooperation in addressing the complex challenges facing the Mekong River Basin and ensuring the health and prosperity of the millions who depend on its resources.

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