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The Lower Mekong River Region


First regional workshop

7 May 2002

Summary of workshop discussion


Topic One: What are the key regional issues for protected areas and economic planning?

Migration of people. There is a rapidly increasing population within the region. People are moving from areas of dense populations and diminishing natural resources to those of relative natural resource wealth leading to increased impacts on protected areas. The effects of migration policies need to be assessed and managed.

In all countries there is poor inter-agency and inter-organisational collaboration on development policies and assessment. Protected areas are impacted by road developments, hydro-power development, resettlement schemes, logging and agriculture. There is a need for better communication and effective EIA for projects impacting on protected areas.

The role of PAs in management of water was identified as a key regional issue. An important consideration was the impacts of upstream users on downstream communities. For example the possible impacts on dams on migratory fish and the possible negative impacts of reduced river flows. Other key issues relating to water included pollution of rivers impacting on downstream users and the need for sharing of the costs for pollution control. With water it is clear that good resource management upstream through systems of protected areas will benefit downstream users. Should the cost of this management be shared when clearly the benefits are? For example the protection of nursery areas upstream clearly benefits downstream fishing communities. Collaboration is needed.

The growth of tourism to the region and the importance of PAs was identified as a key issue by the working groups. It was felt that there was a poor understanding of carrying capacity and the impacts of tourism on the environment, especially within PAs. Benefit sharing associated with tourism development is another key regional issue. Large tourism developments have provided little real benefits to local communities. There are very few if any good examples of benefit sharing from tourism developments in the region

Border areas contain a significant proportion of the regions protected areas. These areas offer both a challenge and a major opportunity to manage the natural system collaboratively. Theses areas also highlight a growing awareness for the need for international co-operation on the development of shared resources such as river systems and forests. There is a need for political will to achieve effective cross border management. The is also significant opportunities to begin cooperation on shared management concerns such as fire management, invasive species and wildlife trade.

Illegal activities including wildlife trade and logging where identified as continuing critical issues for protected areas. Illegal activity was regarded as a major contributor to the 'empty forest' syndrome where wildlife in forest areas has been overexploited. Laws often impact on poor local communities but the "big men" or major players were above controls. Greater co-operation across borders is needed for enforcement activities.

There is a growing recognition of the importance of the local level in protected area management. There is a history of conflict between protected area agencies and those who rely on protected areas for livelihood. There is a need for governments and communities to cooperate in achieving sustainable resource management in and around protected areas, including enforcement of agreed controls.

Topic Two: What are the strategies for dealing with these issues on a regional scale?

More extensive use and commitment to existing regional agreements and forums is needed. Many agreements have been ratified but not followed. Existing agreements and legislation need to be reviewed for their potential as a framework for cooperation on PA management (eg. Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin, MRC, 1995 and the ASEAN Agreement on Conservation). Existing working groups and forums should be used to discuss regional issues relating to PA's eg. PAs and tourism through PATA.

A key strategy to deal with many of the regional issues is improved PA education, training and information exchange. The establishment of networks for exchange of information and experience, in particular is a practical and important first step. A range of options were discussed to improve this exchange of information; for example,

  • Joint field study programs;
  • Intensive short training exercises linked with discussions about regional issues;
  • Sharing of information on PA impacts during development project design and implementation;
  • A network for regional protected areas research.

The need to work at a local level in all countries on benefit sharing and co-management approaches. Managers need to understand local community attitudes to PA resources and how they are used. Resources important to local welfare need to be clearly identified. The establishment of procedures to share benefits of PAs with local communities is an important strategy. Putting effective co-management in place with clearly outlined responsibilities and monitoring was also seen as a key to effective management