Improving management of groundwater resources in Laos and the Sekong Basin

Commencing in March 2021, the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) is supporting the Department of Water Resources (DWR), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) to develop a national Groundwater Profile and a pilot Sustainable Groundwater Management Plan (SGMP) for the Sekong Basin.

Laos is undergoing rapid development that heavily relies on its natural resources including groundwater. Currently, the resource is mainly accessed through shallow wells and boreholes in lowland areas for domestic use and market gardening. The Government of Laos recognises that there is significant scope for expansion in high-value economic sectors, such as irrigation and industry, along with securing domestic needs. However, there is insufficient knowledge and understanding of the resource, including a lack of reliable hydrogeological maps, which provide the ability to make strategic decisions on groundwater management.

An experienced, interdisciplinary team from the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) based at Flinders University, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), and the South Australian Department for Environment and Water (DEW), alongside national groundwater management specialists, are collaborating with DWR in the development of the Groundwater Profile and the Sekong Basin SGMP. They will draw on best practices internationally while incorporating gender equality, disability, and social inclusion into the overall process.

This activity will contribute to the development of hydrogeological maps and databases that help delineate the groundwater development potential in the major aquifer systems of Laos. The activity team will also provide training and skills transfer opportunities for DWR staff to develop their capacity in undertaking groundwater monitoring and assessments and managing the groundwater resources more effectively.

The national Groundwater Profile and the SGMP for the Sekong Basin will assist community members, farmers, local organisations, and government to expand groundwater development for water supply, agricultural production, and strengthen the resilience of agriculture to climatic uncertainties. The scientific information will greatly benefit urban and particularly rural communities through the sustainable use of groundwater and put in place management measures to ensure that groundwater offers a reliable, safe, and secure resource over the long term.

An inception meeting was held on 11 March, providing an opportunity for the Australian Partners to discuss specific tasks, roles, and responsibilities during the project running 2021–2022. In attendance were the consortium of partners from DWR, Flinders University, IWMI, DEW and the national groundwater specialists, together with representatives from AWP and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade based in Vientiane.

The Director General of DWR, Dr Inthavy Akkharath, conveyed that the Department was very pleased to be cooperating with AWP, IWMI, and NCGRT on the project, stating: “This is one of the important steps in order to manage groundwater to conserve the resource, reduce water insecurity and develop a groundwater policy planning process.”

Project stakeholders at the inception meeting, 11 March 2021

The activity is strongly underpinned by the collaboration between the consortium of partners. Both the Australian and Laos partners will benefit from the exposure and knowledge sharing that emerges, with strengthened capacity and expansion of groundwater sector networks expected as important outcomes.

Project Leader Prof Okke Batelaan of NCGRT says, “It is an honour and a great opportunity to contribute to such an important topic as the sustainable groundwater development in Laos. The team has a wealth of local experience and expertise in groundwater and is keen to collaborate closely with our Lao colleagues.”

Feature image: Staff of the District Agriculture and Forestry Office (left) and the International Water Management Institute (middle) monitoring a domestic well in Pakxong district in the presence of the owner (right). Image courtesy of Mathieu Viossanges, IWMI.
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