神戸大学大学院国際協力研究科 復旦大学国際関係・公共事務学院 高麗大学校国際大学院

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Risk Management Seminar - “Risk Aversion in Trans-boundary Water Management in the Mekong River Basin”

  On April 8th 2013, the CAMPUS ASIA Program organized a Risk Management Seminar with the topic “Risk Aversion in Trans-boundary Water Management in the Mekong River Basin“, delivered by Dr. Lee Seungho, associate dean of the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS), Korea University. This seminar took place in the Main Conference Rook of GSICS, Kobe University, attracting more than twenty participants.

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  In framing his presentation as risk-management topic, he pointed out that the risk faces in the Mekong River Basin are the non-cooperation behavior of countries in the region which would lead to “ecological catastrophe” and the obsession of them to exploit water resources by constructing dams for having hydropower. Thus, his presentation purpose are to evaluate the extent to which the relationship between China and the Lower Mekong countries have evolved into cooperation through benefit-sharing and to deploy the Benefit-sharing theory for analyzing diverse interactions.
  According to Dr. Lee, the trans-boundary water conflict management, in the context where contemporarily there are lack of international water law and no law enforcement, require a new approach as oppose to the conventional one. By saying conventional, he means the fit-for-purpose trans-boundary institutional arrangement which commonly practices in developed regions (e.g. the Rhine and Danube), and the unilateral plans and developments within territory through second best investment which commonly practices in developing regions (e.g. the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Jordan, and Mekong itself). On the other hand, the new approach is the shared-benefits of cooperative management and development concept. Citing Sadoff & Grey (2002), the speaker mentioned that there are four types of benefit sharing; i.e. 1) benefits to the river in the form of water quality improvement and biodiversity enhancement; 2) benefits from the river which is improved management for hydropower or agriculture; 3) reduced cost due to the river, such as from flood or drought; and 4) increased benefits beyond the river which derived from integrated regional markets.   
  He thus presented the profile of Mekong River Basin (MRB), which stretch about 4,800 km, flowing over China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It is the 10th biggest river in the world based on annual flow with catchment area about 795,000 km2. The upstream area of MRB is locates in China while the downstream is in the remaining countries. Furthermore, he discussed the existed cooperative mechanism in the MRB which are “the 1995 Agreement on Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the MRB” and the foundation of Mekong River Commission (MRC). In terms of MRC, the speaker argued that with a lack of country membership, thus the Procedure for Notification Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) in respective to a plan to dam the river was not effective.

  The speaker further presented that given the institutional arrangement and geopolitical situation of each country in MRB, one of the implications is the observed unilateral development by China, i.e. construction of five dams in upstream area with inadequate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that affecting Vietnam and Cambodian fishery industry and ecosystem wellbeing. Even more, with the non-cooperative manners in the region comes concerning development, as table and figures presented by the speaker, i.e. by 2025 there might be 135 dams existed in MRB threatening the transformation of the river into series of still water.

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  However, the recent development saw a possibility of benefit-sharing implementation through economic cooperation. For example are the China’s engagement in ADB Greater Mekong Sub-region Program and their support for dam development in downstream, as evidences of China’s evolving attitudes towards the other countries. Lastly, the speaker noted that as way forward in MRB the benefit-sharing should be continued by utilizing non-water issues and by persuading China to accept the norms of cooperation.