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The Value of Water in the Mekong Basin

MK2 – On Water Valuation
Project leader
Yumiko Kura
1 Jun 2010
31 Aug 2013

Girl fetching water from river in Lao, PDR. Credit Yamiko Kura
All around the Mekong River Basin, there are indications of rapid change. Limited water resources are being stretched by the growing demand at both reservoir and catchment levels from an increasing number of different users and activities. Hydropower dams are being built on various Mekong tributaries, including those in remote areas of Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam, but the development process does not always take into consideration the full range of costs and benefits to various water users.
To date, dams and reservoirs have been developed primarily to maximize the value of water for single sector interests---e.g.  Hydroelectricity generation or irrigation for agriculture--- and have often overlooked or underestimated the negative implications on other values of water for fisheries, riparian communities, and the environment. How to optimize water uses to meet competing demands while protecting ecosystem functions and the livelihoods of local communities is a major challenge for sustainable economic development of the countries in the Mekong Basin.

The need for a holistic valuation approach

With a few exceptions, economic valuation studies to date have focused on a single aspect of resource use or management strategy, and not been successful in being implemented holistically. Existing valuation tools are designed for the purpose of assessing biodiversity or wetlands. This indicates a need to develop an integrated assessment framework that brings together different values of water resources, in the context of hydropower dam development in the Mekong region. It is necessary for this valuation framework to incorporate opinions and priorities of different stakeholder groups, using consultative, participatory processes. It is also important that such a framework can highlight that water usage decisions are likely to result in a positive impact on some users and a negative impact on others, and can identify where the main trade-offs are.

MK2 – On Water Valuation

The MK2 – On Water Valuation project will assess the value of water across the various uses at selected study sites in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam, and also estimate the costs and benefits of different uses of water at reservoir and catchment levels. Each case study will assess local water use patterns for key direct and indirect uses (agriculture, fisheries, transportation, livestock, drinking, bathing, and/or hydropower), and apply quantitative and qualitative valuation techniques to estimate future changes in the water value associated with different water management strategies and scenarios.
Towards this end, the WorldFish Center is working with five partner institutions to develop a science-based framework to address water valuation, as one of the suite of projects under the Mekong Basin Development Challenge of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water & Food (CPWF).

Improved water governance

The project will ultimately provide improved information on the variety of water values (and, in particular, the integrated social, environmental and economic value to different user groups), which will lead to improved management and planning in ways that better reflect the actual multi-use/multi-user nature of water resources. This will, in turn, lead to fairer and more equitable development opportunities for all water users across the countries within the Mekong Basin.
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