Pact’s Mekong Programs staff at the Mekong Community Institute

Local communities that depend on the Mekong River for fishing, farming and tourism were front and center of a reporting tour of Thailand’s resource-rich northeast, from 24-25 March.

Staff from Pact’s Mekong Programs accompanied Thai journalists and US embassy officials, including some from USAID, on a visit to Chiang Saen and the surrounding district, which is part of the Lower Mekong Basin. The trip enabled 14 journalists, including reporters from Thai PBS, Internews and the Bangkok Tribune, to hear first-hand about the work currently being implemented by Pact.

The day began with a briefing of media participants at the River Breeze Hotel in Chiang Saen, overlooking the banks of the Mekong. Dr Pinida Leelapanang Kampaengthong, Mekong Programs Manager highlighted Pact’s work on the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership (SIP) and Mekong Connections programs, which are supported by the US Department of State. She noted that Pact’s Mekong programs have the dual purpose of “filling gaps” and “eliminating duplication” in solving problems related to Mekong water resources management.

Dr Pinida Leelapanang Kamphaengthong addresses participants in the reporting tour on 24 March, 2022.

Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership

Under the SIP program, Dr Pinida highlighted the Mekong Water Data Initiative (MWDI), which, she said, has increased public access to water data through its portal, providing access to water data and tools from more than 50 government agencies, research institutes and private companies in the Mekong region and beyond. The program has contributed to building capacity of government staff and agencies in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam through training in the use of satellite data, models and decision support tools, as well as in groundwater management.

Dr Pinida drew attention to the way in which SIP helps coordinate knowledge transfer and development assistance to the Mekong region among US Government agencies and Friends of the Mekong, a donor coordination group that includes the Mekong River Commission (MRC) secretariat, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. The program’s dissemination of a report by Eyes on Earth on “Monitoring the Quantity of Water Flowing Through the Upper Mekong Basin Under Natural (Unimpeded) Conditions”, sparked public discussion around the influence of upstream dams on Lower Mekong people’s livelihoods. After this report was released, China began sharing year-round water data with Lower Mekong countries.

SIP Capacity Building in Numbers

Since 2016, the program has:

  • Improved the technical capacity of 1,028 trainees in aspects of water resource management
  • Provided more than 10,500 hours of training
  • Engaged with 287 organizations in 13 countries
  • Researched, written and distributed 321 reports, briefs and related articles to stakeholders

Mekong Connections

While SIP works mainly with government agencies, the Mekong Connections program works mainly with civil society to encourage the use of scientific evidence in developing policy recommendations from the ground up, and presenting them to governments. Dr Pinida presented the work of Mekong Connections in enhancing transparent policy making and strengthening civil society networks on three transboundary themes: conserving and protection water and water-related ecosystems of the Mekong and Ayeryarwady Rivers, combating environmental and wildlife crime; and promoting health security through the ‘One Health’ approach.

Mekong Connections in Numbers

In the first year of its operation, the program has:

  • Provided grants of $25,000 to eight civil society organizations
  • Supported work in four Lower Mekong countries on all three program themes

Project Visits

The day concluded with visits to two Mekong Connection grantees: the Mekong Community Institute and the Rak Chiangkhong Conservation Group.

The Mekong Community Institute presented its work in empowering women civil society leaders in Chiang Rai province. The project is engaging with 50 women from 10 villages to document traditional knowledge and livelihood strategies.

The Rak Chiangkhong Conservation Group is developing a citizen science platform that will enable the participation of local communities in collecting water and environmental quality data. The project will help promote the practice of public participation, build community awareness of ecology, and strengthen networks in the Mekong Basin.

Pact’s Mekong Programs staff at the Chiangkhong Conservation Group

Alongside Pact’s Mekong Programs, funded by the US Department of State, The Asia Foundation, WWF and the Stimson Center also presented their important work to protect ecosystems and support livelihoods of local communities, funded by USAID, in the Lower Mekong region.