IWA Publishing

The legal regime of the Mekong River: a look back and some proposals for the way ahead

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In 1957, the four lower Mekong River states jointly organized the development of the basin and established a legal regime that has spanned five decades of cooperation. In 1995, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam concluded the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin and formed the Mekong River Commission, which has been lauded as the most progressive of river institutions and a model for the world. At the core of the 1995 Mekong Agreement is the concept of sustainable development. Guided by this sustainable development paradigm, the Lower Mekong River Basin states attempt to balance the maintenance of water quantity with protection of water quality, and agree to cooperate and use the Mekong's water resources in a manner in which the river system's environmental conditions and ecological balance are conserved and maintained. However, development of the Mekong and its tributaries has rendered the efficacy of the Mekong legal regime to support holistic water resources management questionable. More than ten years of experience has shown that there are aspects of the 1995 Mekong Agreement that should be strengthened in order to secure the environmental, economic and social benefits that it promises.

Keywords: International water law and policy, 1995 Mekong Agreement, Mekong legal regime, Mekong River, Sustainable development

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