Mekong countries commit to environmentally sound economic development
The ministers made their commitment in a joint statement issued at the end of an inaugural meeting held here, with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). WWF was one of several representatives of civil organizations invited to the meeting to share their perspectives.
“The environment ministers can help ensure a development agenda that also secures conservation and the sustainable use of the Mekong's rich biodiversity for the long-term benefit of both people and nature,” said Kim Carstensen, WWF Denmark's Secretary-General, who attended the meeting.
The meeting provided the ministers with the opportunity to underline the vital importance of conserving and maintaining high-quality ecosystems, such as forests and rivers, in the light of increasing and intensified economic development in the Mekong.
The ministers' commitment is timely as their leaders prepare to advance discussions on regional economic cooperation. The leaders will be holding their second summit meeting in July in Kunming, China, which will focus on infrastructure development and associated trade, investment, and production opportunities.
Infrastructure is being planned along "economic corridors", which will link major ports and cities with each other as well as with other less developed areas. The opening up of some of these areas, through the building of roads and dams and accompanying infrastructure, will threaten the Mekong's rich natural heritage and rural livelihoods if adequate measures are not taken to prevent or mitigate associated negative and cumulative impacts.
The environment ministers have agreed on a joint programme to help shape and guide sustainable development, particularly in areas of concentrated economic activity and in key investment sectors, including energy, transport, and tourism.
The environment programme calls on the six countries to investigate and address the social and environmental impacts of economic development in the Mekong. It also proposes valuation of environmental goods and services to help demonstrate the economic value of maintaining high quality ecosystems.
One concrete step already agreed is maintaining biological corridors linking important parks and reserves, which are home to several endangered species such as tigers and Asian elephants.
WWF recognizes that while economic corridors are necessary for development in the region, having biological corridors will help ensure nature is not forgotten and that it can continue to provide essential ecological services such as supplying drinking water and regulating climate.
"Poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation have to go hand in hand. When rivers run dry or forests are destroyed, it is the poor who suffer most," said Mr. Carstensen.
"The Greater Mekong subregion environment programme is a step in the right direction in ensuring that development in the Mekong is not at the expense of its people and nature."
WWF is encouraging the environment ministers to underline the importance of using innovative approaches and greater public participation in finding solutions to economic development that balances social and environmental considerations.
The global conservation organization hopes that political and funding commitment is forthcoming for implementing the biological corridors and additional preventive measures to mitigate negative impacts of infrastructure development, and calls on the international community to support the initiatives.
1. With offices and activities in Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, WWF has a long-term commitment in ensuring sustainable development in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) for the benefit of both people and nature.
2. The Joint Ministerial Statement of the six GMS environment ministers is available on the website of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
3. The first GMS Summit of leaders was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 2002.
For more information:
Eric Coull, WWF Indochina Representative
Tel: + 84-4 736 6375
Dermot O'Gorman, Deputy Director
WWF International Asia-Pacific Programme
Tel: +41-22 364 9262