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River Hardware and Software: Perspectives on National Interest and Water Governance in the Mekong River Basin

  • Philip HirschEmail author
Chapter
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Part of the SpringerBriefs in Geography book series (BRIEFSGEOGRAPHY)

Abstract

At a global level, river basin development and management has shifted from a ‘hardware’-driven approach based around engineering river systems in the form of dams, diversions and other large structures, toward a ‘software’-driven approach under the broad rubrics of governance and integrated water resource management. Nevertheless, large-scale water resource development is still being pushed ahead. There is clearly not an ‘either/or’ scenario in terms of hardware and software approaches to river management. This chapter examines the implications of new approaches to river basin governance for the planning and implementation of river engineering structures in a transboundary river setting. The context for the study is the Mekong river basin. The Mekong has achieved prominence among the world’s more than 260 river basins that cross national boundaries, as a river and a basin that is actively managed across borders. One of the reasons for such prominence is the established institutional basis for cooperation among the four lower countries of the basin and the international support for this governance framework. Another is the longstanding and continuing plans for significant impoundment and diversion of the river and its tributaries. At present, the Mekong is moving toward something of a crisis of transboundary water governance. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is at the heart of this crisis. At one level, the conundrum is the tension between management of the river for ecological sustainability and social justice, on the one hand, and the drive for development of a relatively under-exploited set of water resources on the other. This tension is exaggerated in a river basin whose population remains economically poor and heavily dependent on the natural resource base for livelihood. At another level, the conundrum is one of scale of governance, and this poses both challenges and opportunities for the MRC as an integrated water resource management agency.

Keywords

Water governance Transboundary issues Integrated water resources management Mekong river commission Scaling issues 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This chapter is based in part on research carried out with the support of the Australian Research Council and Danish Overseas Development Assistance. Please note that the original manuscript was produced in 2006.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Mekong Resource Centre, School of Geosciences (F09)University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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