Managing River Basins and Watersheds is one of the IWRM areas. River basin management (RBM) may be defined as the process of coordinating conservation, management and development of water, land and related resources across sectors within a given river basin, in order to maximize the economic and social benefits derived from water resources in an equitable manner while preserving and, where necessary, restoring freshwater ecosystems.
The key elements to a successful RBM initiative are :
• A long-term vision for the river basin, agreed to by all the major stakeholders
• Integration of policies, decisions and costs across sectoral interests such as industry, agriculture, urban development, navigation, fisheries management and conservation, including through poverty reduction strategies
• Strategic decision-making at the river basin scale, which guides actions at sub-basin or local levels
• Effective timing, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise while working within a strategic framework
• Active participation by all relevant stakeholders in well-informed and transparent planning and decision-making
• Adequate investment by governments, the private sector, and civil society organisations in capacity for river basin planning and participation processes
• A solid foundation of knowledge of the river basin and the natural and socio-economic forces that influence it.
There are actually many ways for building RBM that have been experimented worldwide . Conducting RBM is generally understood as a spiral process; each cycle of the spiral comprising several steps. It is expected that the next cycle of the spiral will be better managed than the previous one, after evaluation and lessons learned. The key steps are globally as follows :
(i) establishing a river basin profile and mapping the stakeholders
(ii) develop water dialogue amongst the stakeholders for identifying issues and opportunities and developing shared vision
(iii) together with the stakeholders, develop a road map with short, middle and long term strategies
(iv) from the road map, develop actions plans that will be mainstreamed into the socio-economic development plan at different level (national, provincial and district) or that may be part of the legal framework
(v) monitor and evaluate the implementation of the actions plans which will be an entry for updating each of the steps during the next cycle.
A cycle may reasonably cover a period of 5 years. The experience world-wide shows than the most important key of success is the strong commitment of all the actors (institutional, private, NGOs, and Civil Society) at all stage of the process. Coordinating this commitment among the stakeholders is sometimes called “Water Dialogue”, which is actually a concept already utilized in Lao PDR and in the Mekong region . It is generally admitted that it is necessary to have an institutional body for maintaining this dialogue and establishing rules for making it transparent, fair and constructive. This support is sometimes called RBO, but there is many other naming such as River Basin Authority, River Basin Initiative, etc….
The role and functions, as well as the members and the way of functioning may be very different from a country to another. This last point is important for Lao PDR because there is still serious questioning in relation with the concept of “RBO” and “Watersheds Committees”, their role, functions and memberships. By the end, and referring to the definition given in the 1st paragraph, the role of the institution leading the RBM process (in our case MoNRE/DWR) is mainly a role of :
• Coordination of the different steps of the RBM cycle
• Coordination of the water dialogue process
• Support for the institutional design and the implementation of the related organization where this dialogue will be maintained and where the RBM coordination may be developed (RBO or any other name)
• Monitor the river basin status, ensure a sufficient level of knowledge (River Basin Profile) and develop tools for sharing these information amongst the stakeholders.
RBM is actually the 3rd statement of the Lao National Water Resources Policies “Integrated water resource management plans are prepared in priority in river basins, sub-basins and groundwater aquifers”. In this context, Lao PDR has started the implementation of several related projects, mainly with the support ADB (Component 2) and WB (Component 3.1). Actually, RBM is one of the key tasks actually developed at MoNRE/DWR levels.
As a consequence, several Professional’s staff have got already extended skills and experiences in this topic. It is why, it will be important to get this staff involved in the training preparation and implementation as resource persons. Lao PDR is nearly entirely comprised in the Mekong River Basin. Within this framework, Mekong Basin Development Plans have been drafted. It is therefore important, as part of the training, to frame the River Basin Management in Lao PDR into the LMB context. In addition, at national level and in a context of decentralization, managing river basins that are shared between provinces and districts is also challenging. Both may refer to trans-boundary river basin management, which means that additional levels of multi-stakeholders collaboration, based on administrative and national boundaries, must be considered.
Actually, trans-boundary management is adding new challenges in comparison with basin being entirely comprised in one administrative unit. The challenge are essentially (i) to extent the multi-stakeholders dialogue (Water dialogue) to higher level of institutions (Province, National, Regional); (ii) to coordinate a planning process that will have to be inserted into several decentralized socio-economic development plans and (iii) sometimes, to find the way within different political, legal and institutional frameworks (mainly the case when considering the LMB). Another approach is to identify the factors to be considered for “smooth relationships” between upstream-downstream such as minimum flow, water quality, natural flow cycle, river ecology, groundwater, etc… and establish mutually accepted rules for maintaining these factors within reasonable ranges.Integrated River Basin Management : Concept Note