By School of Engineering and Technology and AIT Public Affairs
29 September 2023 – Experts and stakeholders from Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam convened at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Thailand for the closing workshop of the “Strengthening Groundwater Governance in the Rapidly Urbanizing Areas of the Lower Mekong Region” (GIRA) project. This joint initiative, funded by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), SUMERNET 4 All from 2020 to 2023, aimed to assess groundwater governance in four rapidly urbanizing areas: Vientiane Capital City (Lao PDR), Khon Kaen (Thailand), Siem Reap (Cambodia), and Can Tho City (Vietnam). The project sought to evaluate the current state of groundwater governance and propose recommendations for improvements based on an evidence-based understanding of groundwater availability, use, and potential conflicts under multiple stresses in the future.
Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, Deputy Director of SEI – Asia Centre, emphasized the project’s importance in addressing groundwater governance challenges. She highlighted the crucial role of collaboration in achieving shared goals, stating, “We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with various experts and stakeholders and aim for our efforts to advance groundwater governance for the benefit of our communities. Let’s persist in enhancing our collaboration to ensure that groundwater governance genuinely serves the needs of our region.”
Prof. Sangam Shrestha from AIT, the Principal Investigator of the GIRA Project, outlined the project objectives and outputs, which included a range of knowledge products. The GIRA project aimed to assess the current state of groundwater governance in the Lower Mekong Region, and recommend strategies based on evidence-based understanding of the region. The key objectives of the workshop included sharing project findings, discussing strategies for strengthening groundwater governance, and exploring opportunities for future collaboration. Prof. Shrestha also shared policy recommendations covering the implementation of groundwater regulatory frameworks, fees for groundwater extraction, enhanced groundwater monitoring, and institutional capacity strengthening for sustainable groundwater management. He emphasized the importance of inclusive governance, gender-responsive policies, and supporting marginalized communities. Prof. Shrestha further stressed that the project’s completion signaled the start of new opportunities for future initiatives.
The GIRA project yielded many knowledge products, including one review article, six research articles, 12 conference proceedings, two magazine and website articles, two PhD dissertations, and two master’s theses.
The project presented key findings in four selected areas regarding groundwater management. The project identified that the Khon Kaen, Thailand, and Can Tho, Vietnam, have acceptable groundwater governance, while Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the Vientiane, Lao PDR are at the incipient state of groundwater governance from the dimensional perspective.
The industrial sector in Khon Kaen City heavily rely on groundwater, and future challenges, including institutional capacity, inclusive groundwater formal and informal agencies, and clarity in policies at the local level, need to be addressed to improve overall groundwater governance and its sustainable management. Can Tho City, Vietnam, faces concerns due to overexploitation and water quality issues, requiring improved governance and coordination mechanisms to ensure groundwater sustainability.
Similarly, Siem Reap, Cambodia, primarily uses groundwater for domestic purposes and faces a moderate to high vulnerability due to projected stresses, highlighting the urgent need to formulate groundwater regulatory frameworks and protocols for the enhanced governance and coordination mechanism. Vientiane, Lao PDR, relies on domestic and agricultural sectors for groundwater is expected to be highly vulnerable to future stresses. There is a need to implement the existing groundwater regulatory provisions to develop and strengthen institutional capacity to ensure the sustainable management of groundwater resources. Overall, these regions face varying challenges that underscore the need for improved groundwater governance to secure their groundwater resources in the future.
The workshop featured experts panel discussions, “Advancing Current Groundwater Governance Provisions, Data Challenges, and Research Intervention in the Lower Mekong Region,” moderated by Emeritus Professor. Ashim Das Gupta, AIT, discussed challenges in groundwater governance, emphasizing the importance of monitoring, information sharing, and shifting from a conventional approach to a data-driven approach in groundwater resources assessment and its management. Similarly, another panel discussion was on “Strengthening Groundwater Governance in the Lower Mekong Region” moderated by Dr. Thanapon Piman, Senior Research Fellow, SEI-Asia Center. The second panel consisted of focal persons from the government agencies (boundary partners’) to receive government’s need, provisions, position and perspectives for improved groundwater institutions, policies, data, and cross-country coordination.
Giving the closing remarks, AIT President Prof. Kazuo Yamamoto expressed gratitude to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in Thailand, Lao PDR, Vietnam, and Cambodia, as well as the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology in Cambodia, for their pivotal roles. He appreciated the project’s contributors and highlighted the importance of groundwater governance and data management in its sustainable development. Prof. Yamamoto emphasized the need for ongoing collaboration and knowledge sharing among regional countries. He stated, “The GIRA project has laid a strong foundation for informed decision-making and sustainable groundwater management in the Lower Mekong Region.”