Story | 20 Apr, 2023

Democratising data for more inclusive governance to strengthen conservation in the Mekong Basin

From 14-16 March 2023, the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, which aims to promote the stability, peace, prosperity, and sustainable development of the Mekong sub-region, hosted the Mekong Research Symposium in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The event brought together researchers, civil society organisations (CSOs), donors, and international non-governmental organisations to share research, tools, and strategies to better understand the current state of the Mekong and discuss opportunities to increase the availability and accessibility of data for use by local communities, CSOs and decision-makers.

During the second day of the symposium, IUCN and the Stimson Center co-organised a session on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in the Mekong Basin. The session highlighted the IUCN Global Standard on Nature-based Solutions and featured a series of interactive presentations from partners from the basin. The presentations covered topics such as: NbS for climate change, the importance of inclusive governance throughout the process of designing, implementing and monitoring NbS, NbS for food and water security and best practices on regional capacity building for NbS.

Ms. Praon Udomprasert, Director of the Wetland Convention Subdivision, Department of Water Resources, Thailand, highlighted a case study from the Bang Pakong River, in which local communities worked with her Department to raise awareness of the ecosystem services provided by the river as well as to promote its restoration and conservation. The site is currently on the list for future nomination as a Ramsar Site, or Wetland of International Importance.

The design of projects should value the diverse experience of communities and draw on the many examples of community-based initiatives in the Mekong Basin and the region more broadly. This process should move beyond data sharing to include more proactive and timely public disclosure in ways that are accessible and meaningful for communities to promote more informed participation and accountability. Communities should feel safe to express views and see clear opportunities to influence outcomes,” said Gary Lee, Southeast Asia Programme Director, International Rivers, during his presentation.

Inclusive governance is one of eight key criteria for effective NbS, as defined in the IUCN Global Standard. The need to further strengthen the inclusion of local communities in decision-making at the local, national and transboundary levels, was echoed throughout the symposium. To do this, scientific data, such as climate change projections and dam release data must be made more readily available to local decision-makers through translation to local languages and simplifying access. Further, local knowledge should be considered as essential data, and should be used to complement scientific data in order to support the development of the most robust conservation measures in the basin.

Rapid economic and infrastructure development, increasing populations and urbanisation in the last two decades have led to immense pressures on the Mekong Basin’s natural resources, impacting their availability and threatening food security and biodiversity. Through its Building River Dialogue and Governance (BRIDGE) programme, and the Shared Waters Cooperation Facility, IUCN is supporting inclusive governance by working with governments and partners in the Mekong Basin to promote water diplomacy and local governance through facilitating cooperation, strengthening inter-governmental capacities and creating spaces for dialogue and agreements.

Financed by the Water Diplomacy Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), BRIDGE (Building River Dialogue and Governance) initiative aims to build water governance capacities through learning, demonstration, leadership, and consensus-building, in particular in transboundary river basins.