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Press Release
19 July 2004
For Immediate Release

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$ 30 million Mekong wetlands biodiversity
programme gets green light

Vientiane, Lao PDR: A new US$ 30 million programme to promote conservation and sustainable use of the biodiversity of wetlands in the lower Mekong Basin was launched in Vientiane, Lao PDR today. Representatives from the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam attended a ceremony held in Vientiane to launch the scheme.

The Mekong River Basin Wetland Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Programme (MWBP) is a joint initiative of governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam. The programme is executed by UNDP Lao PDR in partnership with IUCN – the World Conservation Union and the Mekong River Commission (MRC). Collaborating with civil society organizations, NGOs and rural people, the programme is the first of its kind to undertake a combination of assessments, dialogues and pilot interventions addressing a range of ecological, economic and social challenges to the region.

IUCN will collaborate with riparian governments to implement conservation, biodiversity and community management programs through the national offices and through the demonstration sites representing the different types of wetland ecosystems of the Mekong Basin. Developing management approaches and action plans the programme will support planning at community, provincial, national and regional levels. This experience and information generated will be fed into the Mekong River Commission’s Basin Development Plan and subsequently contribute to the development of agreements on water use.

In addition to specialist knowledge on possible environmental, socio-economic impacts of potential changes in river flows, the role of the Mekong River Commission will be to provide a mechanism for information exchange, integration and mapping of socio-economic and biophysical resources to support planning and decision making in the region. This will form a critical link bridging the gap between grass-roots policy implementation and the highest level of policy making through the MRC Joint Committee and MRC Council.

According to Peter-John Meynell, UNDP Programme Team Leader, the diversity of wetlands in the Mekong – such as rivers, streams, ponds and even rice fields are fundamental to the livelihoods of rural people.

“It is the poor who are the most reliant on wetland-based resources such as fisheries and forests and who are the first to suffer the negative impacts of large-scale infrastructure development, land conversion and unsustainable exploitation of resources,” he said.

"The programme will support the governments of the region to build capacity for more integrated planning and appropriate wetland policies, and to incorporate assessments of the impacts of development on wetland resources in decision-making,” said Mr. Meynell.

The bulk of the funding for the venture (US$20 million) has come from the Global Environment Facility, UNDP regional and country programmes, the Royal Netherlands Government, the IUCN Water and Nature Initiative and the MRC, with in-kind contributions from the four governments. The programme hopes to secure a further US$10 million funding over the next five years.

The programme will be staffed by about 50 people in total, with a regional management unit based in Vientiane, national offices in each country and provincial offices serving four sites - in Stung Treng, Cambodia; in Attapeu province, Lao PDR; in the Songkram river basin, Thailand; and in the Plain of Reeds, Vietnam.

Notes for editors:
Photos of the signing ceremony available on request.

The governments were represented at the launch ceremony by HE Mr. Sitaheng Rasphone, Vice-Minister for Agriculture and Forestry in Lao PDR, HE Mr Khieu Muth, Secretary of State for Ministry of Environment, Cambodia, Mr Chatree Chuayprasit, Thailand’s Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Dr. Tran Hong Ha, of Vietnam Environment Protection Agency together with UNDP Resident Representative, Mr Finn Reske-Nielsen, MRCS Officer-in-Charge Dr Chumnarn Pongsri and IUCN Asia Regional Director Ms Aban Marker Kabraji at the Settha Palace Hotel, Vientiane.

For more information please contact: Peter-John Meynell, UNDP Programme Team Leader, Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Programme, Tel: +856 (0) 21 216 401/240 904, Fax: +856 (0)21 216 127, Email: [email protected], Website: www.mekongwetlands.org

OR: Damian Kean or Saysamone Srithirath at the UNDP Laos Information Office. + (856 21) 213395 (wk), + (856 20) 617 250 (mb), [email protected], [email protected]

OR: Virginia Addison Communications Officer at Mekong River Commission, Vientiane, Lao PDR. +(856 21)263263. [email protected]

UNDP is the UN’s global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners.

IUCN – The World Conservation Union is a unique union of states, government agencies and NGOs. It’s mission is “to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.”

The Mekong River Commission is an intergovernmental organisation between the four countries of the Lower Mekong Basin. Its mission is to promote and co-ordinate sustainable management and development of water and related resources for the countries' mutual benefit and the people's well-being by implementing strategic programmes and activities and providing scientific information and policy advice.