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Optimizing Water Management for Local Livelihoods in the Mekong Basin

MK1-On Optimizing Water Management in the Mekong Basin for Livelihoods
Project leader
Sonali Senaratna Sellamuttu (IWMI) Yumiko Kura (WorldFish)
1 Jul 2010
31 Dec 2013
With the high potential of hydroelectricity development, the Mekong Basin region faces a rapid, widespread development pressure in the decades to come. Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam are the main focus areas where more hydropower dam projects are to be built along the Mekong tributaries. Though such projects significantly contribute to regional and national economic growth, local riparian communities are the ones who bear the brunt of the environmental impacts they cause.  Livelihoods of local communities heavily depend on water from rivers and other natural resources in the area a complex way but this complexity is often overlooked by the environmental and social impact assessments conducted for hydropower projects. The past projects in the region, and from around the world, give us a glimpse of the magnitude of short-term and long-term impacts on the livelihoods of riparian communities.      
Large dams and reservoirs are typically developed primarily to maximize the output for single sector interests, e.g. hydroelectricity generation or irrigation for agriculture. There is an urgent need for optimizing the future hydropower development in terms of its design and operation, to generate more local benefits. One of the promising approaches is to consider alternative water management and access regime for hydropower dam reservoirs, as multi-purpose reservoirs. 
The main purpose of optimizing reservoir management for multiple uses is to increase the total benefits derived from the reservoir, and also to help mitigate negative livelihoods impact on local communities caused by the dam construction and resettlement. Resettled communities suffer difficulty in adapting to the new environment and rebuilding their livelihoods and need as much external assistance and new livelihood opportunities as are available to them, such as secured access to the new reservoir.

Benefits to Local Livelihoods

The main aim of the project is to promote the optimization of reservoir water management to benefit local livelihoods. The project “Optimizing Water Management in the Mekong Basin for Livelihoods” will explore ways in which riparian communities can improve their livelihoods by taking advantage of agricultural, fisheries and other opportunities afforded by improved access to from reservoirs.  Suitable strategies will de identified and tested to broaden the uses of reservoir water to support livelihoods, benefit riparian and downstream communities alike, increase the lifespan of reservoirs, while maintain hydropower generating capacity.
The main approach taken to achieve this is through a study on the current livelihoods system of the people in the impact zones and by exploring reservoir management scenarios based on various stakeholder needs and priorities for water use. Research is being undertaken on water use and livelihoods, taking into account the various needs (agriculture, fisheries, hydropower, environmental e.g. wetlands preservation) of different user groups (gender), as well as seasonal variation.
The project will produce strategies for optimizing reservoir water management that increase the productivity of agriculture and fisheries, improve community livelihoods and contribute to environmental conservation, at an acceptable cost to hydropower generation and irrigation. Resource use options and livelihood adaptation strategies will be identified by using decision support system tools, under a set of development and management objectives prioritized by stakeholders for each impact zone of the selected reservoirs. Finally the project will indentify enhanced, improved or alternative livelihoods options available for farmers, fishers and riparian communities, through optimizing benefits of the selected reservoirs.