Wetlands biodiversity programme for the lower Mekong Basin

06/08/2004

Press release

19 July 2004
For immediate release

$ 30 million Mekong wetlands biodiversity programme gets green light

Vientiane, Lao PDR: A new US$ 30 million programme to promote conservation and sustainable use of the biodiversity of wetlands in the lower Mekong Basin was launched in Vientiane, Lao PDR today. Representatives from the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam attended a ceremony held in Vientiane today to launch the scheme.

The Mekong River Basin Wetland Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Programme (MWBP), led by UNDP Lao PDR, is a joint initiative between UNDP, IUCN - the World Conservation Union, and the Mekong River Commission (MRC). Working in partnership with the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam as well as civil society organizations, NGOs and rural people, the programme is the first of its kind to undertake a combination of assessments, dialogues and pilot interventions addressing a range of ecological, economic and social challenges to the region.

IUCN will collaborate with riparian governments to implement conservation, biodiversity and community management programs through the national offices and through the demonstration sites representing the different types of wetland ecosystems of the Mekong Basin. Developing management approaches and action plans the programme will support planning at community, provincial, national and regional levels. This experience and information generated will be fed into the Mekong River Commission's Basin Development Plan and subsequently contribute to the development of agreements on water use.

In addition to specialist knowledge on possible environmental, socio-economic impacts of potential changes in river flows, the role of the Mekong River Commission will be to provide a mechanism for information exchange, integration and mapping of socio-economic and biophysical resources to support planning and decision making in the region. This will form a critical link bridging the gap between grass-roots policy implementation and the highest level of policy making through the MRC Joint Committee and MRC Council.

According to Peter-John Meynell, UNDP Programme Team Leader, the diversity of wetlands in the Mekong - such as rivers, streams, ponds and even rice fields are fundamental to the livelihoods of rural people.

"It is the poor who are the most reliant on wetland-based resources such as fisheries and forests and who are the first to suffer the negative impacts of large-scale infrastructure development, land conversion and unsustainable exploitation of resources," he said.

"The programme will support the governments of the region to build capacity for more integrated planning and appropriate wetland policies, and to incorporate assessments of the impacts of development on wetland resources in decision-making," said Mr. Meynell.

The bulk of the funding for the venture (US$20 million) has come from the Global Environment Facility, UNDP regional and country programmes, the Royal Netherlands Government, the IUCN Water and Nature Initiative and the MRC, with in-kind contributions from the four governments. The programme hopes to secure a further US$10 million funding over the next five years.

The programme will be staffed by about 50 people in total, with a regional management unit based in Vientiane, national offices in each country and provincial offices serving four sites - in Stoeng Treng, Cambodia; in Attapeu province, Lao PDR; in the Songkram river basin, Thailand; and in the Plain of Reeds, Vietnam.

-- contributed by Dr. Charlotte MacAlister, Aquatic Ecosystems Specialist ~ MWBP Program Manager, Environment Division ~ Mekong River Commission Secretariat, Po Box 6101 Vientiane, Lao PDR.

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