The MWRAS: Justifying large water infrastructure with transboundary impacts

Carl Middleton, International Rivers Network
Monday, January 29, 2007

The Mekong Water Resources Assistance Strategy (MWRAS), proposed by the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and Mekong River Commission promotes the construction of controversial water infrastructure projects in three sub-regions of the Mekong Basin where transboundary impacts would occur that include dams, irrigation schemes, and water transfer projects.

This paper, presented at the Regional Center for Sustainable Development conference "Critical Transitions in the Mekong Region", examines the central tenets of the MWRAS and explore its wider implications for water resources development in the Mekong region. The paper begins by examining the MWRAS's use of hydrological modeling to justify large infrastructure development. Shortcomings in the model's application are identified and the broader implications of computer modelling in water-resources planning are discussed. The paper then highlights the new relationship between the Banks and the Mekong River Commission (MRC), and briefly explores the implications of the MRC's new role. The paper then considers whether application of the principles of ‘Integrated Water Resources Management', as promoted by MWRAS, will lead to equitable and sustainable water resources management as evaluated in the light of experience from the Mekong region to date. The value of wide stakeholder participation is also discussed. In the final section, the paper discusses the MWRAS's upcoming major project in the Sesan-Srepok-Sekong river basin. It is argued that the MWRAS will allow hydropower developers to ignore their accountability to downstream affected communities because the MWRAS will take responsibility for developing necessary mitigation programs, reframing them as ‘win:win' scenario development projects despite the fact that no integrated planning has taken place.