<img src="../images/logo.gif" width="70" height="70" vspace="5">

The Lower Mekong River Region


Mr. Chantavong delivering the opening remarks

Second regional workshop

Phnom Penh, 17/18 October 2002


Opening remarks
Chanthavong Saignasith, Officer In Charge, Mekong River Commission Secretariat

Excellency Minister,
Distinguished Guests and Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my greatest pleasure to join his Excellency Minister Mok Mareth in welcoming you all to this Regional Workshop. It is the second meeting of this kind. The first Regional Workshop was organized here early this year, where the representatives of the four national review teams, advisory group and people involved in the Protected Area and Development met to share lesson learnt and take stock the result of the field study, as well as to identify and prioritize key issues.

I am very pleased to note that this exercise to review Protected Areas and Development in the Lower Mekong Region is contributing to the development of a meaningful and broad-based coordination and partnership among various key stakeholders. I highly appreciate the most active contribution and insight from the members of the national review teams representing Cambodia, Laos PDR, Thailand and Vietnam respectively. My high appreciation and due acknowledge also go to the International Center for Environment and Management, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), UNDP, the Australian NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services, and the Birdlife International for their valuable technical support and contribution to this important undertaking.

The Review of the Protected Areas and Development is made possible by the contribution from the Governments of the MRC member-states, and the financial technical support from the Danish Development Agency (Danida), Australian Agency for International Development (Ausaid), Asian Development Bank, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Allow me to extend my highest appreciation and gratitude, on behalf of the Mekong River Commission, to our donors for their valuable support and cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The Mekong River Commission is an organization whose charter is driven by a mandate for cooperation that hopes to ensure the sustainable development, utilization, management and conservation of natural assets of immense value the Mekong River Basin. Such a mandate is complex and multifaceted. This task can be simple if it is driven by appropriate knowledge of the complex, diverse and exceptionally rich resources within the region, the expectation of its people for improved livelihoods, the need for access to natural resources so that people might feed their families and resource themselves and their communities. And from a country perspective - a demand for improved infrastructure and socio-economic growth that will bring prosperity to a developing region. These are indeed the imperatives behind the mandate of the Mekong River Commission, which requires a strategic, long term and sustainable approach to development.

At more that 4,300 kilometers long, the Mekong River is one of the world's great rivers, it is the Southeast Asia's largest single natural resource, and it is a major supplier of food and water for millions. With a total basin population of approximately 73 million, the Lower Basin is home to more than 60 million people. Over the past 30 years, the population of the Lower Mekong Basin, encompassing Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, has doubled. By 2025, the population is expected to reach more than 100 million. Three quarters of the people earn their living from agriculture and fishing - occupations that account for 50 percent of the Lower Basin's GDP. Population pressure is placing increasing stress on already low living standards and food security, and exacerbating poverty. There is a great need for significant investment in agriculture, rural development, education and basic health to increase employment, combat poverty and raise living standards.

The pressure on the environment and the regions natural resources is increasing dramatically, as is the demand for additional food, water and energy. It is well known that such expediential growth puts untenable pressure on the environment and gives rise to conflict at all levels. All of these fundamental issues expose the need for a commitment to development that expects sound management of the environment and facilitation of decision making which has the potential to have long-term effect on the sustainability of the region.

To date the Mekong River Commission has approached this responsibility with a complex range of programmes that target the individual components of the Basin's needs. Basin Development Plan is of them.

An understanding of the Basin Development Process (BDP) is an understanding of MRC's approach to sustainable development of this region. BDP is indeed MRC's flagship and one that is being developed in accordance with the new vision of the Mekong cooperation. A vision that exemplifies MRC's commitment to promoting, supporting and coordinating the development of the full potential of sustainable benefits to all riparian countries, consistent with the need to protect, prevent and enhance the environmental and aquatic conditions and maintenance of the ecological balance of the Mekong River Basin.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the Mekong River Commission, we use the slogan Meeting the Needs - Keeping the Balance. Six words couldn't be more simple and more complex.

The challenge, of course for MRC and all of us, is to find that elusive balance between social and economic development and the sustainability of the people and environment on which it depends. We cannot forget that the population of the basin has doubled over the past 30 years and is estimated to grow another 30 to 50 percent in just another 25 years. And that this growing population will dramatically increase the pressure on the basin's resources as demand increases for food, water and energy. The solutions to the issues of sustainable development are complex and multifaceted. But the solutions can be found.

At the MRC, we are pursuing this through addressing the many issues in parallel. Through taking a basin wide and transboundary approach. Through the development of the representative forums through which transparent and cooperative dialogue can take place. By bringing together our decision makers and facilitating their co-operation and dialogue. And by constantly improving the policies and agreements, which guide the decision making.

Today meeting is part and parcel of our efforts towards that goal. I sincerely hope the outcome from this Review Process of the Protected Area and Development will significantly contribute to the BDP process and open up a forum where the point of views of various development sectors and conservation efforts will be shred and taken into serious consideration in the BDP process.

I would like to conclude my remark by urging all participants to actively and constructively contribute to the achievement of the objectives set for this regional workshop. I am grateful to his Excellency Minister for his invaluable leadership and support to the sustainable development.

Thank you. For your kind attention.