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Ms Srey Sap Sak in her rice paddies in the village of Thmey Cambodia.

Mekong River Commission

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) was formed by agreement between the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, to jointly manage the shared water resources and economic development of the Mekong River. China and Myanmar are considered dialogue members of the commission.

The MRC’s job is to make sure the management and development of the river is sustainable and in the best interests of all of those living on its banks.

Assessing the impact of development

The MRC commissioned a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to ensure that dams proposed for the Mekong mainstream (as opposed to tributary dams) were evaluated with full knowledge of potential costs and benefits to all the countries along the river’s banks.

The SEA details the impact of mainstream dams on communities reliant on the Mekong River, but unlike other Environmental Impact Assessments that look at the impact of each dam individually, this SEA addresses the cumulative effects of 12 mainstream hydropower dams.

Individual dam proposals are examined through a process called Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), a requirement of the MRC for all development projects. The aim of the PNPCA process, which also considers the findings of the SEA report, is to come to a unified agreement before any action is taken.

Xayaburi Dam in Laos recently triggered the PNPCA process.

Keeping an eye on the MRC

Oxfam Australia and the Australian Mekong Resource Centre at the University of Sydney have released a report, Power and Responsibility (PDF 5.3MB), which examines the role, responsibility and effectiveness of the MRC in addressing concerns and informing debate around controversial proposals to dam the Mekong River.

The report notes that the MRC’s own research finds the proposed dams to be a serious threat to the ecology and fisheries of the river, endangering the livelihoods of many Mekong communities.

The report also questions whether the MRC is fulfilling its mandate to ensure the region is sustainably developed, by acting on its own research and analysis, and considers whether the commission is seen as responsive to the needs of the wider basin community.

Power and Responsibility: the report