With Cambodians still suffering from last year’s record flooding, the Mekong River Commission is hoping to better prepare for this year’s fast approaching rainy season and its potentially devastating flood waters.
At least 56 delegates from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, China, as well as members from the World Bank, UN Development Program and other NGOs convened a two-day conference at the MRC’s Secretariat to discuss ways to minimize the havoc that floods in this region can cause.
“This organization is a tremendous opportunity to help people in the region,” said Marshall L Silver, senior technical adviser to the UN Development Program.
The conference is designed to come up with workable policy proposals to help blunt the destruction wrought by the year 2000 floods, in which 347 people were reportedly killed.
The recurring theme of Tuesday’s session was the need for Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand to develop better communications and early warning systems. The delegates broke themselves in subgroups to address the specific needs of each country.
Most of the subgroups agreed that the cause of the severe flooding was from a combination of deforestation, sedimentation, and the confluence of severe tropical storms and high tides.
“We would like to have a flood-management vision. It depends on the vigilance of the countries. I can’t say how long it will take, [but] we have the lesson from the year 2000. We don’t want to see it happen again,” said one Cambodian MRC official, who asked not to be identified.
Last year’s flooding was the worst since 1961. According to a release provided by the MRC, the flooding, which was aggravated by high tides, had two peaks, one in July—a full month before the Mekong typically floods—and the second in September. The flooding affected almost 3 million Cambodians. Nearly 13,000 homes were destroyed, leaving more than 500,000 people to be evacuated.
As the conference ends today, officials say they hope to have a coherent set of objectives to work into future flood-management policy.
In his closing remarks on Tuesday, Silver asked the delegates to make sure that their work does not get bogged down in bureaucracy. Too many people, he said, are depending on a workable solution to the flooding.
“It’s not something we can think about and understand. We have to speak it” to the public, Silver said. “We can’t let these things get to committees and then just die.”