Civil Society Participation in Transboundary Water Governance  19th International River Symposium in New Delhi, India

Community leader in Vam Nao village explained the operation of the irrigation system of Vam Nao River. Photo by Socheata Sim/Oxfam

Civil Society Participation in Transboundary Water Governance 19th International River Symposium in New Delhi, India

The 19th International River Symposium (IRS) was held this year in New Delhi, India, with a focus on the South Asia River Basins, the Ganges, the Indus and many other rivers important for the livelihood of the population in the region. Among the key focuses of the symposium was the special session organized by The Asia Foundation (TAF) highlighting the important roles that civil society plays in the transboundary (bB) water resource management. Oxfam’s Mekong Regional Water Governance Program team was invited to be part of the panelists to share the experiences working with civil society in the Mekong Region.

I shared three significant learnings and experiences of the civil society engagement in Tb governance of the Mekong. Firstly, the Mekong Region is diverse in its political environment with economic growth being experienced by many countries; yet many countries are undergoing a changing environment with the closing and opening up of civil society space ( i.e. Cambodia Vs Myanmar). However, there is a common and consistent theme of higher control on the management of natural resources as a foundation for economic development in each country in the region. The political space determines the civic space and engagement of CSOs.

Secondly, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) plays a vital role for Tb cooperation and management. The National Mekong Committee (NMC) in the four member states provides a platform for civil society engagement in dialogue regarding water resources development on the Mekong. “Oxfam considers the interaction between country’s NMC is seen highly important for Tb understanding and technical exchanges on key issue related to water resource management and governance”.

It is observed that the debate on the Tb water governance issues in countries and in the region has been led by the government with limited space for civil society engagement. It is almost counter-intuitive for countries to pay much attention to Tb issues because national governments protect the sovereignty of their resources. Yet, Tb issues are important with significant impacts so it needs regional mechanisms such as the MRC for this to happen.  With the legislation available under 1995 Mekong Agreement, it is really the people’s choice (civil society) to engage in and make use of the mechanism to further the course. It also enables the platform whereby communities are put in touch with each others.

Oxfam’s Mekong Regional Water Governance Program has strengthened the capacity of civil societies, NGO partners and national river networks and empowered communities to demand for a better water management and fair sharing of the water resource in the Mekong Region.  Access to information is seen as an important enabling factor for meaningful participation in the dialogues.

We believe that communities and civil society needs to be  involved in a timely fashion in  the decision making processes regarding water resources in the Mekong, in an informed and organized manner.