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The Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity and Sustainable Use Programme (MWBP) is a five-year (2004 – 2009), $30 million initiative working in the four Lower Mekong countries – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is a joint UNDP/IUCN – The World Conservation Union (IUCN)/Mekong River Commission (MRC) managed programme, running in parallel but closely coordinated with the MRC structures and decision-making processes.

The programme goal is the conservation and sustainable use of wetland biodiversity, and this will be achieved through capacity strengthening at regional, national and provincial levels in order to address the root causes of wetland degradation. It will work particularly through:
1.Establishment of a multi-sectoral planning process operational at national and regional levels
2.Strengthened policy framework and macroeconomic environment supportive of wetland biodiversity conservation and sustainable use
3.Provision of adequate information to support sound wetland policy, planning, and management decision-making
4. Improved human and technical capacity to better conserve and sustainably manage wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin
5.Improve community-based natural resource management of wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin
The Programme is divided into two phases – Phase A – “Creating the Enabling Environment” (2004 – 2006) and Phase B (2006 – 2009). Funding for Phase B from the GEF is dependent upon the achievements of Phase A.

Outline of the programme
The programme will work at three levels. At the regional level, the basin-wide policy framework and economic environment will be developed to be more supportive of wetland biodiversity conservation and sustainable use through influencing ministers and developing wetland policy guidelines. The institutional capacity to implement these policies will be strengthened. This regional approach will be made possible through a strong partnership with the MRC.

Encouraging a multi-sector approach, through building capacity, and increasing public involvement will enhance planning processes at the national level. The information base needed to support sound wetland policy, planning and management decision-making will also be strengthened. The programme will work with the national institutions responsible for wetland and Ramsar issues in each country, as well as the four National Mekong Committees.

At the local level, integrated planning and equitable community-based natural resource management will be implemented at four demonstration sites. In this way, the programme will contribute to reaching the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The four sites (Stung Treng Ramsar Site, Cambodia; Attapeu Province, Lao PDR; Lower Songkhram Basin, Thailand; and Plain of Reeds, Vietnam) have been selected by the national Governments on the basis of a list of agreed criteria. Each site represents one of the four key wetland ecosystems representative of the Lower Mekong Basin as a whole.

In the demonstration sites, the programme will help to identify the values of the freshwater ecosystem, and work with local people to develop improved management systems and alternative livelihood options. Training will be provided and information will be disseminated as part of targeted awareness campaigns.

Conceptual framework
The programme is very complex and the outputs are interconnected, leading through institution building to the overall programme goal of conservation and sustainable use of wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin. In order to clarify how the programme will work and how the pieces are connected to each other a conceptual framework or programme dynamic has been developed.

The programme dynamic takes as its starting point, the existing status of wetlands, which can be defined in terms of their resource base – physical, natural, human, social and economic – the capital assets of the system. The development of knowledge and information about these and how the status is changing in response to outside factors is a key activity for the programme.

With this information it will be possible to develop strategies for building the capacities and capabilities of regional, national and provincial governmental and non-governmental organisations, and communities for wetland conservation and sustainable use. This may require changes in laws and policies, and in the planning processes, so that the significance of wetlands can be fully recognised. Equally the programme will be strengthening the capacities and capabilities of communities in the demonstration sites, and trying to effect behavioural change, so that the patterns of use of wetlands and their natural resources become more sustainable.

The programme will also work to provide operational support for both resource users and local government’s implementation and enforcement of the laws and policies together with encouragement of compliance with these laws and policies. It will help to develop mechanisms for ongoing financing of these processes. Throughout the process, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) will play a critical role in maintaining a watch over programme initiatives and their impacts.