In 2005, recognizing the need for integrating research and the use of scientific evidence in policy-making, SEI and partners across the Mekong Region launched SUMERNET, hosted by SEI’s Asia Centre in Bangkok.

Financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the network has the overarching goal of contributing to sustainable development in the Mekong Region. Over the last 10 years, it grown to include researchers from Cambodia, China (specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Together, they work to build and share knowledge to inform and engage policy-makers, planners and communities as well as media and the public.

Last week, on 26–28 January, SUMERNET celebrated its 10th anniversary with an annual meeting and policy forums that drew about 100 participants from across the region, including dignitaries, policy-makers, and SUMERNET researchers and project partners.

As part of the meeting, SUMERNET partners shared 10 “stories of change” highlighting the network’s impact over the last 10 years, published in a booklet.

SUMERNET’s research teams have used their expertise in both the natural and social sciences to further knowledge and understanding of a range of issues, including climate risks, gender, forest conservation, regional economic integration, ecotourism, and working with local community knowledge.

For example, Dr. Nguyen Duy Can, of Cantho University, Vietnam, led a project called “Reducing flood risks for local communities along the Cambodia-Vietnam border”. The project developed a livelihoods vulnerability index based on the “livelihood capitals” approach, which considers the range of “capitals” – from finance, to natural resources, to social capital – that underpin livelihoods. The index and associated methodology have since been applied and refined, a training course has been developed, and the method has been disseminated in local languages.

“The dissemination of our research findings and the Assessing Livelihoods Vulnerability trainings have directly improved people’s livelihoods and helped reduce flood damages in the provinces along the Cambodia-Vietnam border,” Dr. Can said.

A focus on Mekong drought

The Mekong Region continues to go through an unusually long and intense dry spell that started in 2015 and is attributed partly to the El Niño effect.  Drought was be a key topic at the SUMERNET policy forum, with a panel titled “Drought in the Mekong: A new normal?”

Along with SUMERNET researchers, the panel included several prominent senior policy-makers, water and drought specialists and policy advisors from the Mekong Region, including representatives of the Irrigation Department, the Mekong River Commission’s Drought Management Programme, the Mekong SERVIR project, and the Mekong Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) project of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Other panels focused on how researchers can contribute more to planning and policy decisions; the value of conserving and restoring wetland services; and trade-offs and synergies between climate and other considerations in development.

Reflecting on SUMERNET’s first 10 years, Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheeva, SUMERNET Programme Manager and Deputy Directory of SEI Asia, said: “Although the journey has been long and hard, we have built an active and engaged network of regional experts that have grown from an initial 14 to 60 institutes at present. SUMERNET continues to work towards achieving sustainable development, and we will continue trying to bring positive changes to the lives of the people in the Mekong Region.”

Learn more about SUMERNET (external link to programme site)