Mekong River Commission (MRC) – Strategic Plan 2016-2020

Project completed
Fisherman netting fish, Lao PDR. © MRC.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been supporting the Mekong River Commission (MRC) since the signing in 1995 of the “Agreement on Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin (a.k.a. “1995 Mekong Agreement”) by the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam until 2005. In 2011, SDC reinstated its support and contributed to 3 of MRC’s Programmes, namely the Basin Development Planning, the Environment, and the Flood Mitigation and Management Programmes. Currently, SDC supports the MRC with a contribution of CHF 7.5 million to a multi-donor basket fund for implementing the new Strategic Plan 2016-2020.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Public sector policy
01.06.2016 - 31.12.2020
CHF  7’500’000

The Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) provides water, nutrients, fish and other aquatic resources for over 60 million people in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The value of capture fisheries alone is estimated at USD 1.5 to 4 billion, varying from year to year. In the LMB, fisheries, especially from wild capture, make up between 50 and 80% of all animal protein consumed by the people.

MRC is the only Mekong region intergovernmental body. So far it has mainly acted as a knowledge hub for key basin development issues to improve coordination and policy-making by the Member Countries (MCs). The main challenges in the basin are related to the development of hydropower projects with its impacts on fisheries and sedimentation, environmental degradation and poverty. China is not a Member Country of the MRC (but since 1996 a “Dialogue Partner”, like Myanmar) and has constructed several large dams on the Upper Mekong. Currently, 11 Lower Mekong mainstream hydropower projects are in varying stages of planning (7 in Laos, 2 in Cambodia) or construction (2 in Laos), plus 94 on its tributaries.

Large-scale land acquisitions by international and domestic investors for industrial agriculture, logging and mining have also impacted on the quantity, quality and pulse of the Mekong’s water flow. Floods and droughts are frequent occurrences. All these developments put pressure on the people whose livelihoods depend on the sustainable use of water resources.


The MRC’s vision for the basin is “an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River Basin”. Its mission is “to promote and coordinate sustainable management and development of water and related resources for the countries’ mutual benefit and the people’s wellbeing”.

The Strategic Plan 2016-2020 strengthens MRC’s profile as the regional platform for water diplomacy.

Outcomes sought are:

  1. Application of evidence-based knowledge by policy makers and project planners.
  2. Environment management and sustainable water resources development optimised for basin-wide benefits by national sector planning agencies.
  3. Guidance for the development and management of water and related projects and resources shared and applied by national planning and implementing agencies.
  4. Effective dialogue and cooperation between MCs and strategic engagement of regional partners and stakeholders on transboundary water management.
  5. Basin-wide monitoring, forecasting, impact assessment and dissemination of results strengthened for better decision-making by MCs.
  6. Effective and coherent implementation of MRC Procedures by MCs.
  7. More efficient and effective organisation in line with decentralisation and reform plans.

Expected results:  

SDC expects that:

  • MRC continues to be utilised as a valuable platform for regional cooperation for sustainable development of the various water-related sectors in the Lower Mekong Basin.
  • MRC and the 4 National Mekong Committees coordinate decentralisation of River Basin Management functions to Member Countries’ line agencies to improve coherence in planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting across the region and across sectors (e.g. including energy, agriculture and forestry) and to avoid conflicts of objectives.
  • Member Countries’ line agencies’ current strategies, plans and capacities reflect their changed and more demanding roles.

Results from previous phases:  

Apart from assisting to increase the general capacity for water resource management at regional, national and local levels; key achievements of Switzerland’s co-funding to MRC so far can be summarized as follows:

  • The Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre in Phnom Penh and its FMMP programme greatly improved flood forecasting and preparedness in the MCs by upgrading Emergency Management Systems across the basin and by disseminating best practice guidelines. This has a direct positive impact especially on vulnerable riparian communities.
  • The Environment Programme (EP) developed MRC’s Procedures for Water Quality (PWQ) that were adopted by the Member Countries. It monitors Mekong water quality and disseminates annual Water Quality Report Cards. It supported establishing laboratories in each Member Country to conduct their own water quality and aquatic health analysis and monitoring.
  • The Basin Development Planning Programme (BDP) led the development of the first Mekong Basin Development Strategy (BDS) in 2011. In 2014, with SDC support, the BDS was significantly updated to include more emphasis on poverty, environmental and social sustainability, and served as the basis for the development of the Strategic Plan 2016 – 2020.

Directorate/federal office responsible SDC
Credit area Development cooperation
Project partners Contract partner
Other International Organization
  • Other OI
  • SDC Field Office

Other partners

MRC Development Partners Consultative Group (15 members). SDC as current Incoming Chair of the “Troika” will take over from EU as Incumbent Chair in Aug. 2016, with Australia as Outgoing Chair. Other members are Germany; Finland, Luxembourg, Sweden, France, Japan, Belgium; USA, World Bank, UNDP; IUCN and WWF.

Budget Current phase Swiss budget CHF    7’500’000 Swiss disbursement to date CHF    7’061’069
Project phases Phase 2 01.01.2021 - 31.12.2025   (Current phase)

Phase 1 01.06.2016 - 31.12.2020   (Completed)