The Mekong State Of the Basin Report (SOBR) is published by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) every five years, in advance of the cyclic updating of the Basin Development Strategy. The SOBR plays a key role in improving monitoring and communication of conditions in the Mekong Basin, and is MRC’s flagship knowledge and impact monitoring product. It provides information on the status and trends of water and related resources in the Mekong Basin. The 2023 SOBR is based on the MRC Indicator Framework of strategic and assessment indicators and supporting monitoring parameters, which facilitates tracking and analysis of economic, social, environmental, climate change and cooperation trends in the basin.

FutureWater was hired by MRC to perform the following tasks in support of the 2023 SOBR development:

  1. Data collection on the Extent of Salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta and the conditions of the Mekong River’s riverine, estuarine, and coastal habitats
  2. Analyses of the extents of 2010, 2015, and 2020 LMB wetlands
  3. Analyses of the extents of key fisheries habitat areas in the LMB, and
  4. Data collection for all Assessment Indicators of MRB-IF for the Upper Mekong River Basin (UMB), including reporting and extracting key messages

Implementation of tasks 1 – 3 is achieved by using state-of-the-art remote sensing tools, such as the Google Earth Engine, building on the methods developed in the preceding project.

Task 4 builds on the findings of FutureWater’s contribution to the 2018 SOBR regarding the status of the UMB in China and Myanmar, more details can be found here.

The MRCS regularly undertakes periodic regional and basin-wide studies on behalf of Member Countries to assess potential effects of increasing development, growing population and uncertainty in climate variability in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). Recent basin-wide assessment and reporting were found to be hampered by data limitations across a range of areas. With the basin undergoing rapid and extensive change, tracking changes in conditions, analyzing the potential implications, and working cooperatively to leverage the benefits and avoid the problems are seen as critical to achieving the objectives of the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

To provide a greater strategic direction to the monitoring and assessment effort, the Mekong River Basin Indicator Framework (MRB-IF) was developed and approved aiming at providing a consistent and streamlined approach to data collection, analysis, and reporting. Through the MRB-IF, the MRC Member Countries and stakeholders can be alerted to the key issues and trends across five core dimensions (environment, social, economic, climate change and cooperation). Included in the MRB-IF are (i) the extent of salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta (MD) – Assessment Indicator 14 and (ii) the condition of riverine, estuarine, and coastal habitats – Assessment Indicator 16. A systematic process of collection and analysis of the data for status and trends evaluation regarding these indicators is currently missing.

The aim of this project is therefore to develop a basin-specific systematic approach to periodically assess the extent of salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta and the conditions of the riverine, estuarine, and coastal habitats across the LMB. Methodologies to evaluate both indicators are developed relying on integration of satellite remote sensing data, GIS databases, and station data. The project involves an elaborate review of existing methodologies tested in the LMB and other river basins, an assessment of these methods regarding technical, economic and institutional aspects, and the development of a recommended methodology for adoption by MRCS, including guidance documentation for its stepwise implementation.

In irrigated agriculture options to save water tend to focus on improved irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. These irrigation techniques are promoted as legitimate means of increasing water efficiency and “saving water” for other uses (such as domestic use and the environment). However, a growing body of evidence, including a key report by FAO (Perry and Steduto, 2017) shows that in most cases, water “savings” at field scale translate into an increase in water consumption at system and basin scale. Yet despite the growing and irrefutable body of evidence, false “water savings” technologies continue to be promoted, subsidized and implemented as a solution to water scarcity in agriculture.

The goal is to stop false “water savings” technologies to be promoted, subsidized and implemented. To achieve this, it is important to quantify the hydrologic impacts of any new investment or policy in the water sector. Normally, irrigation engineers and planners are trained to look at field scale efficiencies or irrigation system efficiencies at the most. Also, many of the tools used by irrigation engineers are field scale oriented (e.g. FAO AquaCrop model). The serious consequences of these actions are to worsen water scarcity, increase vulnerability to drought, and threaten food security.

There is an urgent need to develop simple and pragmatic tools that can evaluate the impact of field scale crop-water interventions at larger scales (e.g. irrigation systems and basins). Although basin scale hydrological models exist, many of these are either overly complex and unable to be used by practitioners, or not specifically designed for the upscaling from field interventions to basin scale impacts. Moreover, achieving results from the widely-used FAO models such as AquaCrop into a basin-wide impact model is time-consuming, complex and expensive. Therefore, FutureWater is developing a simple but robust tool to enhance usability and reach, transparency, transferability in data input and output. The tool is based on proven concepts of water productivity, water accounting and the appropriate water terminology, as promoted by FAO globally (FAO, 2013). Hence, the water use is separated in consumptive use, non-consumptive use, and change in storage (Figure 1).

Separation of water use according to the FAO terminology.

A complete training package is developed which includes a training manual and an inventory of possible field level interventions. The training manual includes the following aspects: 1) introduce and present the real water savings tool, 2) Describe the theory underlying the tool and demonstrating some typical applications, 3) Learn how-to prepare the data required for the tool for your own area of interest, 4) Learn when real water savings occur at system and basin scale with field interventions.

Focus is on the following sections:

  • Flow condition at Phnom Penh, Tan Chau and Chau Doc
  • Salinity intrusion in Delta
  • River bank erosion, river channel condition and sediment transport, sand mining
  • Flood and drought data
  • Climate change covering greenhouse gas, extreme events, temperature, rainfall
  • Navigation

A snapshot of the results of this project are presented on this website:

Emerging markets and low-income countries continue to need large investments in infrastructure to remove constraints on growth; create job opportunities; respond to urbanization pressures; and meet crucial development, inclusion, and environmental goals. In 2009, ADB estimated that an infrastructure investment of $8 trillion would be required during 2010–2020 to maintain current levels of growth in Asia.

Infrastructure for transport and communications, energy generation and transmission, and the supply of water and sanitation are critical for development. These types of infrastructure usually have long service lives, which renders both the region’s existing infrastructure stocks and its future infrastructure investments vulnerable to changes in climate conditions that may take place in the near and medium terms. One of five overarching reasons for concern cited by the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014 was the existence of systemic risks “due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.”

The Technical Assistance study focusses on “building climate change resilience in Asia’s critical infrastructure”. The expected impact of the study is scaled-up support for effective climate change adaptation. The expected outcome of will be an enhanced knowledge base on climate change risks to critical infrastructure in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Specifically, by the end of the study it is expected that Asian Development Bank (ADB) and its Development Member Countries (DMC) will have a fuller understanding of the actions and innovation needed to make critical infrastructure in South Asia and Southeast Asia more resilient to climate change.

The study will focus on 11 countries in South and South-East Asia with three countries in specific: Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre (RFMMC) has been established in Phnom Penh, Cambodia under the umbrella of the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The Centre plays an important role in maintaining the national and regional availability of important flood-related tools, data, skills and knowledge; producing accurate regional forecasts with suitable lead time, and a timely and effective dissemination of it; in providing accurate, well documented and consistent tools for basin-wide flood risks assessment and trans-boundary impact assessment.

The main objective of the RFMMC at present is to establish an improved, robust and reliable flood forecasting system for short and especially medium-term forecast periods. This system is identified as the new MRC Mekong Flood Forecasting System (MRC Mekong FFS).

By far the largest source of error in the Mekong system is the inconsistency of accurate precipitation inputs. These errors can accumulate over a season and lead to modeled basin conditions that drift from reality. Previous MRC consultants recommended the RFMMC should investigate methods to use observations from rain gauge measurements to adjust satellite rainfall estimates (SRE) prior to being input to the forecasting system. Implementing this recommendation would allow significant improvements in accuracy for the MRC Mekong flood forecasts.

Taking into account the required and expected performance of the new MRC Mekong Flood Forecasting System (FFS), this project responds to these recommendations and the following outputs were delivered during this assignment:

  • The scientific basis for adjusting the bias of NOAA SRE with rain gauge information available for the Mekong Basin, considering its unique properties
  • A proposed operational methodology/tool to implement rain gauge-based bias correction to NOAA SRE into the MRC Flood Forecast operations
  • Implementation of rain gauge-based bias correction to NOAA SRE into the MRC Mekong FFS (Mekong-FEWS).

In November, NL EVD International commissioned a call to write a proposal for an ‘Early Deliverable’ to be presented in Vietnam. The goal of this ‘Early Deliverable’ was to demonstrate to the people in Vietnam what the Dutch water sector can offer to Vietnam, with respect to Water & Climate related services. This project was performed in collaboration with the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) and the Netherlands Water Platform (NWP).

Drought Risk Index map of the Mekong River basin.

Drought is a serious threat to the people and the environment of Vietnam. Especially for Vietnam, there are some typical examples of the impact of droughts. During 2003-2005 there was a drought which costed over 60 million USD. Another drought occurred in June 2010, which affected 40,000 households. Besides these past droughts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in their latest Assessment Report that low rainfall and higher temperatures will intensify drought in Vietnam substantially.

FutureWater has developed a Drought Monitoring and Impact Assessment Toolbox (DMIAT), which can be seen as an integration of four types of drought: meteorological drought, agricultural drought, hydrological drought, and socio-economic impacts. A DMIAT is a combination of remote sensing, models, and decision trees. For this ‘Early Deliverable’ for Vietnam, FutureWater showed some applications of the DMIAT for a small region in Vietnam. These results were finally presented during the Water & Climate Services workshop in Ho Chi Minh City.

The impacts of flash floods, droughts and the effects of climate change have become a topic of strong political and public interest in Vietnam. Studies have shown that the Mekong Delta is very vulnerable to floods and droughts, which will intensify due to climate change. With more extreme weather events such as typhoons, the delta is more vulnerable to floods and droughts, affecting people’s livelihoods and reducing agricultural productivity. The past year’s floods and droughts have cost the government of Vietnam millions of dollars.

Currently, these threats are not adequately monitored and information on such threats is inconsistent and only scattered available. As a result, no nationwide policy is made and mainly local measures are taken. Therefore Vietnam is in need of data sharing systems and advanced models in the water sector, where space borne imagery and state of the art water-models support on predicting future behaviour of the water resources. Vietnam has selected the Mekong Delta as one of their four main priority areas and is investing in (international) knowledge and products to resolve this urgent problem.

The objective of this project is to develop, implement, and demonstrate an integrated information portal of the river basins in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. It will supply an integrated approach to water management. The pilot project aims to improve water management in a pilot area in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta by providing a web-based information portal and decision support system for flood control and water resources management. The system gives access to scattered information, analyses and various monitoring data on the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. Because of its online access and real-time modelling possibilities, the platform is not only a valuable instrument to support policy development in water management, but at the same time it can be used as a decision support system during calamities and other operational conditions.

Nelen & Schuurmans takes the lead in this project. FutureWater will develop a Drought Monitoring and Impact Assessment Toolbox app as part of the integrated information portal.

Climate change is likely to pose major challenges for the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). Therefore, information on climate change, its impact and climate change adaptation are required to enable decision-making to develop and implement appropriate response measures. A monitoring and reporting system on climate change and adaptation can help to track changes and to store relevant data for assessing status and impacts of climate change in the LMB for supporting adaptation planning.

With this study, the Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (CCAI) of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) offers a review of existing monitoring systems and indicators to improve the understanding of riparian governments, relevant line agencies and others on the status and impacts of climate change. The report should inform the establishment of a database and monitoring system by the CCAI, to build knowledge on climate change and adaptation in the LMB and support information to other activities of the CCAI and MRC programmes.

The review suggests indicators to measure climate exposure, climate impact and climate adaptation activities within the LMB focusing on the thematic areas hydrology, land, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity, hydropower, food security, and poverty as well as employment. Based on this comprehensive review, recommendations are developed on how to improve baseline data and the sharing of data, what tools are needed for the establishment of the basin wide CCAI monitoring system and what capacity building activities can be useful to this end.

Four types of climate monitoring systems and their time horizon, availability and overall accuracy
Four types of climate monitoring systems and their time horizon, availability and overall accuracy