The first hurdle to overcome is how to present the topic. As noted previously, the Mekong river governance structure is complex from a legal perspective. But, this is simply one facet of a larger picture. Water governance includes geopolitics, hydrological factors, water and food security, energy production, historical issues, international bargaining power, outside influence from foreign governments and funding sources, and how these all fit together. The challenge we face at ODM is keeping such an analysis flexible enough to adapt to new developments, simple enough to be understood by a broad audiences, and nuanced enough to avoid making a caricature out of the complexity.
The project began as a relatively straightforward analysis of regional and international agreements governing the construction of dams, which I have introduced in my previous blogs. This covered the Mekong Agreement and the Mekong River Commission, the role does the UN Watercourses Convention plays, and how the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Mechanisms changes these.
We realized this approach was too narrow. Without the larger context, such an analysis would be easy to misunderstand. So, we had to rethink how we would present the issue within the developing Stories section of ODM’s website. Thankfully, the timing worked out well. We are at a place where this new Stories section can be adapted. A rigid structure is appropriate for landing pages where the information should be presented in a uniform manner. A user should be able to go to a land page and a trade page and recognize the style. The Stories section is more fluid. Depending on the Story, a narrative may need one or ten pages.
In this case, we’ve tentatively divided the Story into five or six subparts plus an introduction/index page. Once we decided how to categorize the issues, we must arrange the issues so that it makes sense. We want to answer three questions. First, if I were reading about water governance in the Mekong for the first time, what would I need to know? What would I want to know? Where could I learn more? From here, we use building blocks, starting at the national level and working our way through regional then international.
There is a disconnect between the language used at the regional and international levels regarding the Sustainable Development Goals. While many in the international development field look to use these as a guide, the MRC rarely addresses them directly. Nevertheless, the MRC talks about the same issues and how to tackle many of the same problems. For example, a lot of time in Mekong water governance in the MRC and national level is dedicated to Integrated Water Resources Management. IWRM is directly addressed in Sustainable Development Goal 6.5, but aside from one meeting immediately preceding the SDG’s publication, very little is said about it. This is interesting because the region is in need of development aid and yet chooses not to frame the discussion in UN terms.