Sustainable Development in Cambodia and the Mekong Basin


WWF & Luc Hoffmann Institute


KnowlEdge Srl, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences

Problem Statement

To manage tradeoffs between food, energy and water security with the primary goal of sustainable economic development in the Siphandone-Stung Treng-Kratie Landscape of the Mekong Basin.

Case Study

Sustainable Development is an important goal for the Royal Government of Cambodia. The Ministry of Environment is playing a leading role in developing these concepts and legal frameworks in preparation for the country to apply the national policy and strategic plan for green growth 2013-2030. Sustainable management of the Mekong River is at the center of this goal of sustainable development in Cambodia. Notwithstanding, Cambodia is grappling with threats to the natural flow regime of the Mekong River and unsustainable harvesting practices that might decimate its fish supply (Australian Mekong Water Resources Program, 2011).

The LIVES project works in the provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng (the Mekong Flooded Forest landscape) where the increasing number of water diversion projects and the growing area of agriculture production coupled with the extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are threatening both water availability and water quality. At the local level irrigation is promoted by the Royal Government of Cambodia as a major component of poverty reduction and economic development. Agriculture comprises 40% of Cambodia’s GDP and accounts for more than 60% of the total employment. The government promotes Agriculture Water Management (AWM) as a major part of its development plans. However, there are competing objectives that drive policy decisions at local and national scales.

For example, water diversions are in contrast with a second strategy for economic growth: the creation of hydropower dams (primarily for electricity export). Additionally, climate change, coupled with water diversion for irrigation, is reducing river flow and has the ability to threaten the operation of hydropower dams as well as the ecology of the area. Cambodia’s position is further complicated because it is being threatened by both local development priorities (e.g. energy-hungry growth in rural areas) and by international agreements (e.g. the Chinese and Lao-Thai projects on the Mekong mainstream).

The decision-making landscape in Cambodia has evolved over the past few years. Generally speaking, water-related issues are handled by several overlapping ministries and committees with differing yet specific mandates, ambitions and policies. Responsibilities for water resources policy and planning are increasingly delegated to sub-national authorities and the Provincial Department of Water Resources and Meteorology (PDOWRAM). This decentralization of water management is consistent with the government’s wider process of sub-national governance reform, recognizing the need to introduce new systems of governance at provincial, municipal and district levels (CDRI, 2011).

The aim of the work being undertaken through this project is to support the dialogue on implementing green growth in the Mekong Flooded Forest Landscape so that local natural assets can support sustainable development for people in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. This is being done through the creation of knowledge and tools to take a systemic view at planning in Cambodia. Taking into account the decision-making landscape, the project work is being carried out at the provincial level with an explicit design to also inform national decision-making, such that national decision-making would better take into account the local context. The goal is to reach a shared understanding of the drivers of change, to make use of synergies across sectors and actors and avoid bottlenecks and side effects. This will contribute to ensuring sustainable development at the local level, and hence at the national level also.

Outcomes & Lessons Learned

  • Collaborative system mapping is critical to creating a common understanding of relationships between varying objectives.
  • It is useful to create the demand for a monitoring system during the establishing the decision context phase.
  • Training local technicians to carry out systems mapping and modeling has been crucial to process salience, relevance and credibility.
  • Working at the provincial level allows for understanding of local systems to be incorporated into national dialogue.

Relevant References

  • Australian Mekong Water Resources Program. (2011). Annual Program Report. AusAID.
  • CDRI. (2011). Improving the governance of water resources in Cambodia: A Stakeholder Analysis.
  • General Secretariat of National Council for Sustainable Development. (2015). CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION PLAN 2016-2018. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Royal Government of Cambodia: Ministry of Environment.
  • IWMI. (2013). Agricultural Water Management Planning in Cambodia.
  • IWMI. (2013). Local Institutions for Irrigated Agriculture in Cambodia.


Socio-ecological systems, FEW Nexus, Mekong


Cambodia, Mekong Basin


Ministry of Environment, Farmers, National Council for Sustainable Development, decision-makers at national and provincial levels

About the Knowledge Platform

The Knowledge Platform is designed to promote and showcase an emerging set of approaches to water resources management that address climate change and other uncertainties -- increasing the use of "bottom-up approaches" through building capacity towards implementation, informing relevant parties, engaging in discussion, and creating new networks. This is an ongoing project of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) funded by the World Bank Group.

Contact AGWA

Alliance for Global Water Adaptation
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Corvallis, Oregon 97330