By Igor Kossov
Phenom Penh, May 23, 2016
Dams and water diversion projects along the Mekong River threaten to overwhelm an ecosystem that supports 60 million people and thousands of species, according to a consensus of scientists, NGOs and governments. But amidst this pending crisis, the main mechanism set up to protect the river is becoming all but irrelevant.
The Mekong now needs more protection than ever, experts say, but the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – an international body that manages Mekong development and water resource use – has been steadily losing power for years, say current and former employees who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Mekong member countries consider the [MRC] ‘consultation process’ as a complete failure and will imminently take benefit of this weakness to promote and carry out their own controversial projects,” said a former employee, who remains in contact with many current MRC members and other river experts.
With frustrated donors turning away from the MRC, the commission is losing more than half its funds and employees. Development partner funding totalled $115 million for the 2011-2015 period, while the 2016-2020 period will see only $53 million, Truong Hong Tien, the officer in charge of the MRC secretariat, said in January. The commission is also reducing its staff from 180 to 90 people.
“It’s too big. We want to become faster, more effective,” Tien said in an interview. But MRC employees and other experts believe the size reduction will only serve to make the commission weaker and encourage its members to act unilaterally in building projects.