The Mekong Region continues its drive towards regional economic integration and a gradual shift towards more open political systems and a market economy. Sustainable development is a major challenge as environmental degradation takes a toll on both ecosystems and livelihoods, and competition over limited natural resources becomes increasingly common, often cutting across national boundaries. Poverty and social inequality – including gender inequality – remain significant concerns in the region.

The policy choices made today are thus crucial to ensuring socially inclusive, equitable and sustainable development in this region.

The Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET), an initiative for research and policy engagement bringing together 70 research and policy partners, aims to support the sustainable development of the Mekong Region through scientifically robust, policy-relevant research and outreach.

In Phase 4 of its programme (2019-2028), titled SUMERNET 4 All, the network will focus on water insecurity throughout the Mekong Region by linking evidence-based research on regionally relevant water issues and engaging with policy, local community and vulnerable groups across the region.

Woman drawing water in Central Myanmar

Photo: Rajesh Daniel, SEI Asia.

Onion farming near the Ayeyarwady River

Photo: Rajesh Daniel, SEI Asia.

SUMERNET was launched in 2005, supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Membership has grown from the initial 14 to 70 organizations comprising academics, government line agencies, independent research institutions and international organizations.

SUMERNET supports policy-relevant research and outreach activities to inform and engage decision-makers, planners and stakeholders bringing together research partners engaged in sustainable development in the six countries of the Mekong Region: Cambodia, China (specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Within this context, it pursues an evolving agenda in response to questions and policy issues that arise in the region.

In this present 4th phase called SUMERNET 4 All, the network will focus on reducing water insecurities for all, in particular, the poor, marginalized and socially vulnerable groups of women and men in the Mekong Region.

This new phase of SUMERNET 4 All will continue working towards sustainable development of the Mekong Region by putting knowledge-based policy engagement at the heart of its activities.

SUMERNET 4 All has the mission “to improve the policies and practices in reducing water insecurity by conducting collaborative research, engaging in the policy process, and promoting scientifically sound research and innovation while considering gender and social equality, human rights, conflict sensitivity, environmental integrity and poverty reduction in the Mekong Region.”

Our overarching mission is to improve policies and practices in the Mekong Region that reduce water insecurities in ways that are gender- and socially-responsive by: conducting collaborative research; engaging in the policy process; promoting scientifically sound research and innovation.

Water insecurity is defined as “not having the rights or access to sufficient water of adequate quality or being made increasingly vulnerable to unacceptable levels of water-related risks.” Water insecurity has important implications for health and wellbeing, gender equality, as well as livelihoods, income generation and productivity. Water insecurity is multi-scale: spatially, it may be applied to individuals, households, communities, nations and region; temporally, it may refer to just a particular time of year or season with high risks, or it may apply to entire years or decades, in particular under impacts of climate change which are highly uncertain.

Key research themes

In response to changing demands and policy debates in the Mekong Region, SUMERNET 4 All will focus on three research themes:

  1. Water access, rights & allocation in times of scarcity. Improve understanding of how development policies, projects and practices influence water insecurities that affect urban and rural livelihoods; agricultural water productivities; viability of fisheries and aquaculture; and ecosystem integrity during seasons and years when water is scarcest, in particular under climate change.
  2. Governance and management of flood disaster risks. Improve understanding of the impacts of water-related disasters in urban and rural settings and the effectiveness of risk reduction measures and decisions, on human insecurities and ecosystems under current and plausible future climate conditions.
  3. Transboundary interactions with water systems. Improve understanding of international transboundary interactions among the water, energy and food production systems including the impacts of hydropower dams and irrigation schemes.

SUMERNET promotes the use of scientific knowledge in policy-making not just by producing policy-relevant research, but also by engaging development actors, decision-makers and other stakeholders directly in the research process. Engagement with these actors, whom we call ‘boundary partners’, is built into SUMERNET’s research activities, which helps ensure that the work is aligned with our boundary partners’ priorities and can be effectively integrated into their plans and programmes. Boundary partners also include actors active in promoting a gender policy lens to sustainable development, and thus would include gender/feminist organizations and individuals whose work is committed to building a democratic, inclusive and just Mekong future.

SUMERNET’s boundary partner model has led to the strategic engagement of decision-makers and influencers at all stages of research and dissemination, making SUMERNET research credible and policy-relevant. Boundary partners and other stakeholders are also engaged through media, communication and dialogue activities such as policy forums that will consciously integrate gender and social analyses and issues.

SUMERNET monitors emerging regional policy issues so that it can anticipate and be responsive to knowledge demands. The rapid development of the Mekong Region makes it essential that SUMERNET maintain a degree of flexibility to reorganize around emerging issues. SUMERNET’s structure is highly inclusive: partners can propose new strategic directions for the network to consider by the SUMERNET Steering Committee. This ensures that SUMERNET’s work remains directly relevant and driven by the region.


  • Initiate and implement cross-border collaborative research projects
  • Apply the scientifically proven results and innovations in pilot areas
  • Implement the activities related to proposal development and dissemination of research findings to the policy and wider public through small grants
  • Build capacity through ongoing skills trainings, and investing resources to develop capacity of researchers in the region by incorporating mentoring support of research project teams
  • Convene and support assessments of the state of the knowledge on policy issues in the region
  • Raise awareness, build capacities and highlight the need for gender analysis of emerging environment and development trends in the region and subsequently create gender-responsive measures to mitigate adverse effects on socially vulnerable groups of women and men
  • Convene and join panels at policy and research events across the region
  • Publish comparative policy analyses on timely Mekong Region issues
  • Support dissemination of research findings through books, peer-reviewed journals, policy briefs, and the media
  • Facilitate coordination and networking for knowledge exchange and sharing, both within and outside of the SUMERNET network
  • Monitor and evaluate SUMERNET programmes implementation and achievements, to ensure increased network capacity and contributions to independent discourse on regional sustainable development issues.

Below is a selected list of recent outputs from SUMERNET

Journal Articles

Shrestha, M., Piman, T., Grünbühel, C. (2021). Prioritizing key biodiversity areas for conservation based on threats and ecosystem services using participatory and GIS-based modeling in Chindwin River Basin, Myanmar. Ecosystem Services, 48. 101244. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoser.2021.101244

Shrestha, M., Matheswaran, K., Polpanich, O., Piman, T., Krittasudthacheewa, K. (2021). A stakeholder‐centric tool for implementing water management strategies and enhancing water cooperation (SDG 6.5) in the Lower Mekong Region. In Pandey, P. V., Shrestha, S. and Wiberg, D. (Eds.) Water, Climate Change, and Sustainability, pp. 239-256. Wiley Online LIbrary.

Ainsley, S. et al. 2018. Fish species diversity and fisheries resources from wetlands in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia, Cambodian Journal of Natural History, Volume 2018 No. 1. Centre For Biodiversity Conservation Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Nguon, P. et al. (2018) Co-production of salient, credible and legitimate environmental knowledge: Cambodia National REDD+ Strategy. Journal of Sustainability Science. Springer.

Kusakabe, K. and Myae, Aye C. (2017) Precarity and Vulnerability Under Expansion of Rubber Plantation in Northern Laos and Northern Shan State. Journal of Contemporary Asia. Routledge.

Elazegui, D.D., Maria Ana T. Quimbo, and S.G. De los Santos (2016) Adaptation Pathways for Climate-Resilient Development: Lessons from Selected Local Government Units in Central Luzon, Philippines. Journal of Development Policy Review. Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Overseas Development Institute.

Books, book chapters and policy briefings

Melati, K., Aung, M. T., González, J. G., Nguyen, P., Htway, T., Bhatpuria, D. (2021). Policy recommendations for environmental conservation in the Chindwin River Basin. SEI policy brief. Stockholm Environment Institute.

Krittasudthacheewa, C., Maung, W., Lebel, L., Daniel, R. and Hongsathavij, V., eds (2021). Chindwin Futures: Natural resources, livelihoods, institutions and climate change in Myanmar’s Chindwin River Basin. Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

Trung N.H., Duc N.H., Loc N.T., Tuan D.D.A., Thinh L.V., Lavane K. 2019. Urban Water Management Under Uncertainty: A System Dynamic Approach. In: Stewart M., Coclanis P. (eds) Water and Power. Advances in Global Change Research, vol 64. Springer, Cham.

Krittasudthacheewa C., Hap, N., Bui, D.T., and Voladet, S. (eds.). (Forthcoming 2019). Addressing the Impacts and Uncertainties in Development and Climate Change in the Mekong Region. SIRD, Selangor, Malaysia.

Nguyen, V. K., & Howie, C. (Eds.). 2018. Conservation and Development of the Floating Rice Based Agro-Ecological Farming Systems in the Mekong Delta. Agricultural Publishing House, Hanoi.

Lebel, L., Hoanh, C.T., Krittasudthacheewa, C., Daniel, R. (Eds.). 2014. Climate risks, regional integration and sustainability in the Mekong region. SIRD,Selangor, Malaysia.

Daniel, R., C. Grünbühel, V. Hongsathavij (eds.) SUMERNET Research Projects: Policy Briefings Phase 3 (2013-2018). SEI Asia, Bangkok, Thailand.


Saving Chindwin’s Biodiversity  (~11 mins. in Myanmar language with English subtitles, June 2019).

SUMERNET film series on “Climate change and water insecurity”, 2018. Producer: Rajesh Daniel, SEI Asia, Bangkok, Thailand.

  1. The Last Drop (~7 mins., Myanmar with Eng. subtitles).
  2. This Shifting Ground  (~7 mins., Myanmar with Eng. subtitles).
  3. Burning dilemmas (~12 mins in Thai with Eng. subtitles).
  4. Protecting the wetlands of Kulen Prom Tep (~12 mins., Khmer with Eng. subtitles).
  5. Assessing the wetlands of Kulen Prom Tep (~15 mins., in Khmer and English).
  6. Floods, pollution and water insecurity in Can Tho (~12 mins., in Vietnamese with Eng. subtitles).
  7. Co-generating knowledge: Organic rice in Savannakhet (~12 mins., in Lao with Eng. subtitles).

SUMERNET is open to organizations and individuals with an interest in contributing to sustainable development in the Mekong Region through knowledge-based policy engagement. We welcome partners to serve in different capacities and participate in various activities, e.g. research project implementation, knowledge exchange and sharing, capacity building and mentorship, joint publications, and contributing to policy debates and public forums.

To become a member of SUMERNET, interested parties can send an email to: [email protected].

Photo: Rajesh Daniel, SEI Asia.

Grants for collaborative research for policy and practice for Mekong Region researchers

The Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET) announces a call for concept notes for its research grants for 2019. This phase of the programme (2019-2028) is titled SUMERNET 4 All,  focusing on water insecurity in the Mekong Region. The total fund available in this round is 12,000,000 SEK for 12 research projects with the budget not more than 1,000,000 SEK per project (approximately US$ 107,000 per project).

Submission deadline: 15th May 2019, 23:59 (Bangkok local time)

Be part of research for policy and practice that makes a difference to all

SUMERNET 4 All is a knowledge-based policy research programme. The programme wants to support research projects that focus on reducing water insecurity for all in particular for the poor, marginalized and socially vulnerable groups of women and men in the Mekong Region. Within this focus are three themes:

(1) water access, rights and allocation in times of water insecurity;

(2) governance and management of water-related disaster risks;

(3) transboundary interactions with water systems.

SUMERNET provides financial support and technical assistance to consortia of researchers and practitioners from the Mekong Region together with the possible involvement of other Southeast Asian country partners. Consortia will carry out policy-relevant research over 2.0-2.5 years (24-30 months) in one of the above research themes.

SUMERNET will fund collaborative research and other innovative approaches that directly address policy settings and issues to meet programme goals. SUMERNET 4 All has a mission to “improve the policies and practices in reducing water insecurity by conducting collaborative research, engaging in the policy process, and promoting scientifically sound research and innovation while considering gender and social equality, human rights, conflict sensitivity, environmental integrity and poverty reduction in the Mekong Region.”

Research granting process

The concept notes will be reviewed by SUMERNET advisors, SUMERNET Secretariat and other regional experts and approved by the SUMERNET Steering Committee.

Those consortia (about 12 teams) whose concept notes have been shortlisted will be invited to submit draft full proposals. Full proposals will be developed at the proposal development workshop (tentatively planned during August 2019 in Bangkok)

Concept note details and templates

Download a PDF explaining the details of this call here.

Please download the concept note template here and selection criteria here.


Application deadline is 15th May 2019, 23:59 (Bangkok local time).

Kindly complete your concept note by using the template and upload your concept note through the online application form by clicking the link below.

Before making the online submission, please ensure that you have reviewed the criteria checklist and completed all parts of your concept note.

For further information please contact: [email protected] or [email protected]


This section provides highlights from the website of the SUMERNET programme. The website is the platform used to reach out to the network partners from the Mekong to highlight work on sustainable development, poverty alleviation, gender and social equality and the incorporation of a rights-based approach in natural resource management.

The website also supports the dissemination of SUMERNET work with other Southeast Asian countries beyond the Mekong Region to promote greater regional collaboration and knowledge exchange.

During this current phase called SUMERNET 4 All, the website will feature stories and multimedia network on the overall theme of “water insecurity”.

Below is a selected list of recent highlights from the SUMERNET website:

“Marginalized communities are at the centre of our work on water insecurity”: Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, SUMERNET Programme Director.

On the occasion of World Water Day, 22 March 2021, Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa explains the importance of SUMERNET work to address the impacts of water insecurity on marginalized communities.

Remote research and ethics during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a wide range of direct and indirect impacts on the lives and work of the people of the Mekong region. This article explains how the pandemic has affected our ability to conduct ethical research, and the roles that remote (including online) research activities can play to ensure the SUMERNET ethical principles and standards  are upheld.

SUMERNET research on water insecurity in the Mekong region: Some perspectives from researchers

SUMERNET researchers share their ideas and perspectives about their work on “water insecurity” in the Mekong Region.

Myanmar-The Last Drop

In the dry and arid central region of Myanmar, water for drinking and farming is scarce. Climate risks are worsening the situation as dry seasons get longer and more intense; most young people are migrating to the cities.

This is part of the SUMERNET documentary film series on “Climate Risks and Water Insecurity in the Mekong Region” produced by SUMERNET. Watch the seven short films here .