A collaboration between Australia and Timor-Leste water sectors supported by the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) was highlighted at the ASEAN-MRC Water Security Dialogue, co-hosted as a hybrid event by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) on 19–20 August. The collaboration demonstrates how simple digital technology being adopted by countries outside the ASEAN region is effectively supporting national flood response efficiency.
With climate change exacerbating the water crisis across Southeast Asian countries and a notable increase in the frequency of droughts and floods, the dialogue provided a platform for ASEAN member states, including MRC member countries and partners, to exchange experience and ideas on addressing water security challenges with a focus on water scarcity, water quality, climate risks and extreme weather.
ASEAN brings together ten Southeast Asian states—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—into one organisation. Australia has been working with ASEAN to address common security challenges since it became ASEAN’s first Dialogue Partner in 1974, and Strategic Partners in 2014.
The MRC is an intergovernmental organisation established under the 1995 Mekong Agreement between its Member Countries—Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam—to jointly develop and manage the sustainable use of the Lower River Mekong River Basin. AWP is currently supporting the MRC in flood and drought management, sustainable hydropower, and fisheries monitoring in the Mekong River Basin.
After learning of the collaboration in Timor-Leste, MRC invited AWP Partner Similie to present the case study at the Water Security Dialogue. Similie CEO and co-founder Mr Craig McVeigh spoke about the Timor-Leste application in a panel session focused on exploring solutions to climate risks, such as how to mitigate flood and drought and manage saltwater intrusion.
Craig explained that he views the approach to an effective and coordinated response from several angles, saying, “We know technology is only one component of a successful program. We also need to look at the ecosystem around the technology including training, mentoring, helpdesk support and coordination of stakeholder engagement”.
Similie has worked with the Timor-Leste Government to train over 500 government and international agency staff to use a free digital platform to conduct a national multi-sectorial assessment and household assessments throughout Dili following the devastating floods in April 2021.
“By working together with Similie, we learned how to use technology to collect data faster. With faster data collection, we were able to take this information to decision makers more quickly and respond to the needs of Timorese,” says Mr Martinho Fatima, Head of the Department of Disaster Preparation, Prevention and Mitigation in Timor-Leste.
Other panel topics were focused on solutions to water scarcity (how to balance water demand and water supply), and solutions to water pollution (how to improve water quality and sanitation). Panellists included representatives from government ministries across Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and from the MRC Secretariat in Laos and the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.
Similie’s participation at the Water Security Dialogue will provide input to the development of a collaboration framework between ASEAN and MRC, a key outcome which summarises the potential approaches, challenges and opportunities for policies, partnerships and technology across the Mekong and broader ASEAN region.