The Mekong region is rich in natural resources. The area includes the Mekong River, which runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, and is home to more than 60 million people whose livelihoods depend on the existing water resources.
There is growing concern, however, that large-scale exploitation of the region’s natural resources is unsustainable. Hydropower development is a particular worry. While big dams provide reliable energy and support economic growth, they also impact fishing and farming communities, jeopardising food security and affecting the livelihoods and well-being of local communities, both within and across countries.
The people who are most affected by how Mekong water resources are used are often excluded from participating in related consultations and decision-making processes. Poor and ethnic minority communities are particularly vulnerable because of their strong reliance on natural resources.
Engaging affected communities in water governance
A regional Oxfam initiative is promoting the participation of local communities and civil society in water resource governance and decision-making in the Mekong region, thereby helping these groups to better sustain their livelihoods.
This initiative, called the Mekong Inclusion Project, is based on the premise that including the men and women, civil society organisations and national river networks most affected by decisions on water resources in governance processes will make public policy and decision-making more effective. Such inclusion will reduce potential conflict and will increase accountability and respect for local communities’ rights.
The Inclusion Project aims to promote women’s participation in decision-making and encourages women’s leadership in civil society and water governance agencies. Oxfam advocates for the need to include women’s perspectives in impact analyses of natural resource development projects and analyses the effect of water governance policies and practices on women.
A second component aims to strengthen the capacity of local communities, civil society groups and river networks to effectively manage water resources and participate in decision-making. Oxfam provides civil society partners with knowledge and skills on water governance, collaborates with them on joint research, and supports them in forming alliances with other groups.
Joining with partners, Oxfam convenes and facilitates policy dialogues on inclusive water resource management at the local, national and regional levels. Dialogues seek to ensure that public consultations are held on major projects and that governments and the private sector uphold safeguards and standards in water infrastructure development. This includes making sure that civil society views and rights are considered, and that there are increased opportunities for civil society and affected communities, including women, to engage in policy dialogues.
Promoting improved water governance in Vietnam
In Vietnam, Oxfam engages with a range of partners, including research institutes, mass organisations, government agencies and business sector . The project also works closely with members of the Vietnam Rivers Network and has so far signed partnership agreements with four network members. This includes an agreement with WARECOD to support community empowerment in an integrated water management project in An Giang province.
In another project, Oxfam and Green ID have brought local voices to the community consultations and consolidation of feedback run by an independent group of experts on the proposed Don Sahong hydropower dam in Laos. More than 500 women were supported to participate in the consultations and expressed their concerns. These concerns contributed significantly to Vietnam’s national reply to Laos during regional consultations on the dam.
Together with the Vietnam Rivers Network, Oxfam is planning a series of policy dialogue on the Mekong Delta Study, which analyses the impact of upstream infrastructure development on downstream countries.
Project: Inclusion Project in Water Governance
Location: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam
Time frame: 2014-2017
Funding: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
 Centre for Water Resources Conservation and Development (a Vietnamese NGO).
 Green Innovation and Development Centre (Vietnamese NGO).