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Cablegate: Lower Mekong Initiative: Forecast Mekong in the Delta

VZCZCXRO7600
RR RUEHAST RUEHCHI RUEHDH RUEHDT RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHNH RUEHPB RUEHPOD
RUEHSL RUEHTM RUEHTRO
DE RUEHHM #0674/01 3501126
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 161126Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6156
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 4051
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 0461
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 0005
RUEHSV/AMEMBASSY SUVA 0001
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 6399

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 HO CHI MINH CITY 000674

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR OES, EAP/MLS AND EAP/PD
USAID FOR LJOHNSTON
INTERIOR FOR USGS/NAT WETLANDS CENTER/JPOWELL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON ENRG EAGR SOCI PREL PGOV EAID TH VN
SUBJECT: LOWER MEKONG INITIATIVE: FORECAST MEKONG IN THE DELTA

REF: A) BANGKOK 3117 B) PHNOM PENH 747 C) SECRETARY 14 D) HCMC 665

HO CHI MIN 00000674 001.2 OF 004


1. (U) Summary: One practical byproduct of the Secretary's
Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) is the U.S. Geological Survey's
(USGS) effort to help the Mekong countries assess how climate
change and human activities impact the Mekong basin. USGS held
a Forecast Mekong workshop in Can Tho city December 8-12 for
regional scientists and officials. Despite impressive
environmental modeling by local scientists of some aspects of
issues facing the Mekong basin, the workshop highlighted the
ongoing need for better data integration and coordination --
something that USGS provides -- especially because some
government researchers and academics face difficulties with
releasing data. Chinese participation proved invaluable for
integrating upper and lower Mekong water-management issues,
especially as hydropower and food security emerged as dominant
issues. Participants will now submit detailed proposals for
research gaps and data integration needs. End Summary.

SCIENCE WORKSHOP IN THE DELTA

-----------------------------

2. (U) The Delta Research and Global Observation Network
(DRAGON) Institute-Mekong at Can Tho University is located at an
important urban crossroads in Vietnam's Mekong delta. On
December 9-12 DRAGON hosted a conference attended by more than
75 participants, including Vietnamese provincial and lower
Mekong government officials, NGOs, scientists from the
University Network for Wetland Research and Training in the
Mekong region, regional State Department and Consulate Ho Chi
Minh representatives and USGS scientists and program managers.
The workshop's goal was for scientists from Laos, Cambodia,
Thailand, and Vietnam to identify top research priorities, data
integration needs and information gaps in the Mekong basin. A
government wetlands institute administrator/scientist from
China's Yunnan province also attended.

PRIORITIES: MODELING RICE, FISH, FLOODS, INFRASTRUCTURE

--------------------------------------------- ----------

3. (U) Country presentations focused on water quality and
sedimentation, hydropower, climate-change adaptation, and
fisheries productivity. Laos stressed economic development
needs, which meant hydropower dams; Laos could build as many as
60 dams on the mainstream or tributaries. Cambodia noted
concerns over effects from planned Laotian dams but asserted
that Cambodian dams would be on distant tributaries with less
downstream impact. The Vietnamese presenter (from the Ministry
of Natural Resources and Environment) stated that Vietnam
opposed upriver mainstream dams; other Vietnamese scientists
echoed his assertion of negative downstream effects. Both
Thailand and Vietnam (the two largest rice exporters in the
world) noted the vulnerability of their rice crops to changing
weather patterns caused by climate change. For the Thai
presenter, plans to divert river flow by upstream countries
means that for the first time on the Mekong, large amounts of
water for irrigating dry season rice could become a "game
changer" in trans-boundary issues. Several participants listed
water quality as a looming issue due to impacts from
agriculture, chemical runoffs, and deforestation. All agreed
that climate change could damage agriculture and fisheries
productivity, especially through sea-level rise and
acidification and through salinization of delta rice paddies.

WHAT WE SAW, WHAT THEY WANT, WHAT THE U.S. CAN OFFER

--------------------------------------------- -------


HO CHI MIN 00000674 002.2 OF 004


4. (U) We noted several areas of possible USGS collaboration
with Mekong region scientists. Although substantial data
collection and sophisticated modeling within the Mekong
countries already exists, the USGS Forecast Mekong initiative
can provide needed satellite data and data integration. Given
the physical similarities between the Mississippi River and the
Mekong, the U.S. can provide lessons learned from Mississippi
management history, particularly in areas of dams,
channelization and sedimentation. That local presenters
displayed solid science but a lack of ability to integrate data
for decision makers provides an opportunity for U.S. experts to
work with local partners to integrate technical information and
policy decision-making.

Field trips: Pesticides and Fish Feces

---------------------------------------

5. (U) A visit to local rice fields showed over 90 rice strains
in use, but also indicated a lack of preparation for
climate-change-related threats such as salinization and new
invasive alien species. A visit to various "cage" (in-river)
fish farms dramatized the huge amount of unregulated fish waste
being dumped into regional waterways and how such industrial
agricultural pollution can combine with the effects from climate
change and hydropower development to threaten local livelihoods.


CHINA AND THE UPPER MEKONG

-------------------------

6. (SBU) Dr. Kun Tian, ecology professor at the Chinese
Southwest Forestry Center (SFWC), gave a presentation on water
management in the Chinese section of the Mekong. His
presentation showed high fish counts, biodiversity and the same
conflicts over sustainable development that is occurring in the
lower Mekong. The central government had taken over several key
water-quality sites to employ conflict-management systems that
had improved water quality in critical area. There appeared to
be a lack, however, of holistic assessment systems for the
existing or planned mainstream dams. Tian explained that China
was taking greater account of environmental impact assessments
and scientific data in making decisions on whether to build
hydropower dams. Tian described the extensive scientific
studies of water management, but also noted the many data gaps.
Tian said there was a keen appetite among Yunnan scientists and
water managers for scientific exchange among the U.S., Yunnan
and the lower Mekong countries. Many of the challenges were the
same: the adverse effects of channelizing and damming the river,
managing forests in private hands, and water pollution.

OBSTACLES TO REGIONAL SCIENCE DATA SHARING

-------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Participants identified challenges to establishing
DRAGON as a central data clearinghouse for researchers working
on Mekong issues. Since the first DRAGON conference nearly a
year ago (Ref B), local scientists have largely failed to
contribute data to USGS. In Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam,
government control of the universities made permission to share
data problematic. For Thailand, government restrictions are not
the problem, but scientists face some of the same incentives
that U.S. scientists have in not wanting to give up data without
compensation. Yet it was evident that scientists wanted to
share data and benefit from USGS data integration. (COMMENT: One
solution might be to use the University Wetlands Network of 17
lower Mekong universities as a springboard for data integration

HO CHI MIN 00000674 003.2 OF 004


with a joint research or funding of its annual wetlands training
course in return for data release to USGS. USGS has supported
the wetlands network in the past, and an ESTH small grant
supported the course last year. End Comment.) Another solution
would be to use ESTH officers to explain to host governments the
Forecast Mekong program and seek facilitation in release of
university data. USGS will dub its visualization DVD into the
four lower Mekong languages to facilitate government interest in
Forecast Mekong.

NEXT STEPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS BEYOND DRAGON

--------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) The Can Tho workshop provided a good foundation for
future Forecast Mekong activities and laid the groundwork for
strengthened relationships with Mekong region scientists and
organizations. Participants will now develop detailed proposals
for USGS collaboration in the next weeks. With help from
embassy ESTH officers, USGS will coordinate with others who have
or plan data integration programs to find synergies and avoid
duplication, including the Asian Development Bank's Greater
Mekong Subregion program, World Bank, Worldfish and the
government aid organizations of Finland, Australia and Germany.
Some, such as NGO Worldfish, have a mandate to share data;
others may have a more proprietary approach. Forecast Mekong
will endeavor to coordinate with the Mekong River Commission for
both data sharing and to feed into MRC assessment efforts.
Forecast Mekong should be able to add value to the MRC's
strategic hydropower assessment, knowledge sharing platform and
integrated basin management programs. Interaction with USAID's
Famine and Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), in which
USGS has participated, would be useful to build on FEWSNET's
work on water management and its impact on agricultural
productivity.

9. (SBU) The workshop brought out keen interest in exchanges
between U.S. and Mekong scientists. Posts could contribute to
Forecast Mekong through State Department programs such as
international visitor and speaker and embassy science fellows.
USGS will explore seconding a scientist to the MRC or the DRAGON
institute. Seconding of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife service
scientist would be helpful as well for fish migration studies.
Study visits to the U.S. would be particularly helpful in the
following areas: the Mississippi delta to visit river
infrastructure and rice agriculture; U.S. Army Corps of Engineer
projects in new fish passage technology on the Snake River;
sediment monitoring projects; and upstream infrastructure sites
such as the Missouri river.

COMMENT

-------

10. (SBU) Although USGS realizes that ESF programming does not
extend to China or Burma, DRAGON is providing a useful mechanism
to bring Chinese scientists into dialogue with the Lower Mekong
scientists and managers. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is
making strides in this area also (Ref A). With Forecast Mekong
mingling the scientists and the MRC with officials, there is a
good opportunity to integrate data and science along the entire
length of the Mekong. The workshop showed much good science
underway, but the scientific efforts are isolated from each
other, making clear the need for USGS expertise in data
integration and modeling to create decision-making tools. As
with many areas of development, there is the danger of
duplication both within the USG and among other donors. The
workshop also showed the need for USGS expertise, and Forecast
Mekong will use the coming weeks to coordinate with other donors

HO CHI MIN 00000674 004.2 OF 004


and to respond to the research gaps and begin data integration.
End Comment.

11. (U) This cable was coordinated with US Embassy Bangkok and
US Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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