“Around the world, transboundary river commissions have often been described as toothless. They’re often said to lack any real powers to manage shared watercourse systems. MRC is certainly no exception,” said Dr An Pich Hatda, Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat.

Boat on Mekong river
Boat on Mekong River. Photo: icoachingu / Pixabay.

What an opening to the The Indo-Pacific Virtual Conference on “Strengthening Governance of Transboundary Rivers”!

However, not all agreed with this sentiment. It was clear that different transboundary bodies have alternate roles, the Danube’s intention is not to be seen as a global regulator, but a partner who is concerned with the welfare of all riparian countries, while the MRC had a more diplomatic approach to delivering reasonable and equitable water use.

The MRC is key to the management of the Mekong and a leading institution in water governance across Asia. However, the conference raised issues around constitutions being fit for purpose, roles, stakeholder engagement, diplomacy and political security.

With such a wide agenda to cover, the event was rich in insights and knowledge.

A core area highlighted by the Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET) was the stakeholder engagement panel. Introducing the panel, Brian Eyler of the Stimson Centre highlighted the role that SUMRNET has played across the region over the last decade. He encouraged everyone to seek out further insights from the website on local voices highlighting issues in Mekong water management. I was a panelist in my role as research coordinator for SUMERNET and shared a short overview of the need for Asian water governance bodies to move from water government to water governance .

I look forward to seeing the continuing discussion of the role, need and capacity of transboundary water governance bodies to deliver on both their immediate issues of water management and the longer-term UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The conference was hosted by the East-West Center with over 90 participants on 15 October 2020.