Construction of large dams in the Upper Mekong led to major changes in river flows affecting the livelihoods of downstream villages. Throughout the Mekong basin, decision-making is state dominated and strongly centralized. WANI followed a strategy of mobilizing grassroot communities to become more involved in decision-making, whilst facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues bridging local and regional levels.

China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia

The Mekong river basin comprises Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s Yunnan and Guangxi provinces. The area of 2.5 million km² is home to a rapidly growing population of about 300 million people. One of the region’s many challenges is to negotiate the equitable sharing of water resources. Millions of people depend on fisheries and other river products for their livelihoods. Hydropower from numerous dams is used for both domestic energy and export.

WANI’s Mekong Basin project focused on reforming water governance and demonstrating projects that produce livelihoods benefits.   At the local level, WANI supported development and expansion of the Tai Baan network. Tai Baan is a form of villager-led action research that originated in Thailand. It empowers people to use local knowledge to engage with, and influence decision-making processes. WANI helped build the capacities of local people and institutions to represent their interests and make their opinions heard.

WANI also guided region-wide initiatives in water governance. It was instrumental in developing the M-POWER network, a network of non-governmental organizations and academic groups using action research to support water reform. The effort led to publication of two significant books: Democratizing Water Governance in the Mekong Region, and Mekong Region Water Resources Decision Making.

In July 2006, at the Mekong Region Waters Dialogue in Vientiane, Laos, more than 160 participants from the Mekong River Commission (MRC), Asia Development Bank, World Bank, national governments, private sector, academia and nongovernmental organizations, reviewed the strategic plans for the Mekong Basin and shared perspectives on the future of the Mekong.  This led to a new dialogue process in which WANI convened and facilitated national platforms among government agencies and civil society in each of the four Lower Mekong countries, as well as a series of regional dialogues. These dialogues continue to increase representation of local interests and civil society in the development of water resources, particularly hydropower, and in increasing the accountability of decision makers.

In 2008, the Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD) project, in partnership with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, was initiated to work with countries of the Mekong Region to improve water governance. This focused on facilitating transparent and inclusive decision-making to improve livelihood security, human and ecosystem health. This included developing national and regional dialogue processes to improve the flow of information and knowledge, and increase stakeholder participation in decisions that affect them.


Image Galleries: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

Video Gallery showing "Siphandone: The Mekong Under Threat"

Stories: Mekong Dialogues, Upper Mekong Development, Rapids Blasting in the Tai Baan, Giant Catfish Festival

Democratizing Water Governance in the Mekong Region

Mekong Region Water Resources Decision Making

MWBP situational and general documents

Workshop Report: Envionmental flows – ecosystem and livelihoods – the impossible dream?

An Uncertain Future: Biodiversity and Livelihoods along the Mekong River in Northern Lao PDR

Biodiversity Assessment of the Mekong River in Northern Lao PDR: A Follow Up Study