The Australian government is giving $3.2 million to help fund improvements to 17 recording stations along the Mekong River, which should increase the speed and accuracy of flood forecasts.
On Friday, Australian Ambassador Louise Hand signed the agreement that will help the Mekong River Commission improve the recording stations and fund other MRC projects.
The upgraded stations in Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam will have river level readings from other stations in the region, said Sok Saing Im, senior hydrologist at the MRC.
To date, technicians at the stations, some of which were built in the 1960s, have copied local data by hand and then transmitted the information to one another, the MRC and other authorities.
“It wasn’t useful for immediate warnings,” Delia Paul, an MRC spokeswoman, said.
Last year, the worst flooding in the Lower Mekong Basin in at least 40 years killed 800 people, many of them children, and caused $400 million in damage, according to the MRC. The floods drove one million residents of the lower Mekong area—including Cambodia, and Vietnam—from their homes.
Paul estimated that 15 of the 17 stations—two are in China, four in Cambodia, the rest in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam—will be upgraded in time for this year’s rainy season. Improved communication between stations should also help the monitoring of river levels in the dry season, provide information for navigation, agriculture and fisheries.
“The benefit will be felt when there is a system to disseminate the information” to those living in the flood plain, Paul said.
Friday’s agreement, through AusAid, will also benefit two other MRC projects—the creation of a joint Basin Development Program at a cost of $450,000 over three years, and a “twinning arrangement” with the Murray-Darling Basin Commission in Australia at $400,000 over three years.