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The Lower Mekong River Region


First regional workshop

6 May 2002

Opening speech by Joern Kristensen, Chief Executive Officer, Mekong River Commission


H.E.Dr Mok Mareth
Minister, Ministry of Environment
Donor Representatives
Distinguished Participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honor and pleasure to welcome you to this important workshop on "Review of Protected Areas and Development in the four countries in the Lower Mekong Basin. On behalf of the Mekong River Commission, I wish to extend a warm welcome to our partner organizations, participants from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and China, and to NGOs and International Organizations. I would like to thank the International Center for Environment and Management (ICEM), IUCN and other partners for assisting with organizing this workshop.

Distinguished participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

The Mekong River Commission was established under an agreement signed in 1995 between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam where the four countries agreed to cooperate in the sustainable development of the Mekong Basin. They now coordinate their development for the mutual benefit of all four riparian states, and work together to protect the environment from the harmful effects of poorly planned development activity.

In Viet Nam, around 40% of national food requirements come from the Mekong Delta. In Cambodia, close to 80% of the population depend in some way on the River and it associated waterways. In Lao PDR much of the population depends on the Mekong and its tributaries for food and livelihoods. Many of these people are among the poorest in the world. For them development is vital if they are to have the opportunity to escape from poverty. But they are also the most dependant on the natural resources of the region, which can sometimes be threatened by development that is not carefully planned.

The MRC has recently commenced the implementation of a regional development process for the lower Mekong basin. It will involve a process of basin wide planning, and produce the first integrated basin wide development plan. The inception report will be presented in Ho Chi Minh City next week. It will outline a participatory planning process, which will draw on the expertise of government agencies from all four countries as well as the work of the MRC sector programmes. The planning process will seek ways to promote economic development. At the same time it will ensure that access to the natural services and products that are obtained from the environment is maintained.

One way that these two parallel goals can be achieved at the same time is through the wise use of protected areas.

The countries of the region have already identified the implementation of protected areas as a development strategy. Almost 15% of the lower Mekong region contains protected areas of various kinds. This represents a very large commitment of resources, and a new perception of what constitutes wise development. An increasing range of development sectors, such as Forestry, fisheries and tourism are all making increasing use of protected areas.

This workshop is built around the national reviews of protected areas being undertaken by MRC's four member countries. The national consultative processes have now been running for six months so this is an opportune time to bring together the national teams and begin to distil common approaches and possible regional strategies.

The initial reviews of national lessons and field studies have been completed, and we will be hearing of them over the next two days. This will lead to the preparation of national reports that set out options for the future. Importantly for the MRC Basin Development Programme it will also lead to a regional report that will input to the planning process.

I opened my talk by welcoming you to this important forum by emphasising development and protection. Our discussions are about protected areas, but they are equally about development, and the vital role protected areas will play in meeting the future economic and social aspirations of the people of the Mekong.

Distinguished participants
Ladies and Gentlemen

Once again, on behalf of the Mekong River Commission, I would like to wish all the participants, facilitators and workshop organiser a very successful workshop and a pleasant stay in Phnom Penh.

Now I have the honor to declare the first regional workshop on "Review of Protected Areas and Development in the Lower Mekong Basin" open.

Thank you for your kind attention.