Integrative socio-economic modelling capacity for the Mekong River Commission

Nam Ou River at Nong Khiaw village, Laos (Credit: Fabio Lamanna)

The Australian Water Partnership (AWP) is supporting the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in increasing its capacity in integrative socio-economic modelling, critical to reporting on the social and economic impacts of water resource developments in the Mekong Basin.

AWP Partner Sustainable Futures Institute Australia (SFIA) has been implementing a series of activities with the MRC to improve the accuracy, currency and depth of its socio-economic modelling systems, providing the capacity to assess the impact of pending development strategies on poverty, land use, livelihoods, and migration.

Prior to this activity, assessments were conducted using very limited spreadsheet-based calculations, lacking crucial information on important socio-economic processes. Between January and September 2019, SFIA worked with MRC to develop a prototype model, ‘MerSim’, to serve as the basis for a participatory planning process to further refine the model and tailor it to the detailed needs of the MRC and its member countries of Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

Within ‘MerSim’, GIS information and population data for the entire lower Mekong was added, extrapolation algorithms were developed to upscale current household survey data to the entire lower Mekong basin, and up-to-date data was added for all mainstream hydropower plants in the lower Mekong basin. Additionally, code and algorithms were implemented and revised for the simulation of hydropower-based electricity generation, to link between fisheries and hydropower to quantify food security and estimate GDP growth potential, and to value natural resources. Finally, the user interface and reporting mechanisms were updated according to requests by member countries.

Four workshops with MRC member countries were held between July and August this year where MerSim was reviewed and discussed. Workshop agendas were designed in collaboration with member countries and National Mekong Councils and tailored to their own unique requirements. The methodology, functionality, user interface and reporting mechanisms of MerSim were presented and discussed, and participants given the opportunity to operate and experience the model themselves.

SFIA Director Dr Alex Smajgl said, “The feedback we received was extremely encouraging, highlighting the clear need for socioeconomic modelling in the MRC. The MRC member countries expressed the need to extend this project to add more socio-economic indicators, implement the model to specific scenarios in selected focus areas, and to conduct meaningful in-country capacity building.”

The SFIA combines scientific assessment methods, participatory processes and local capacity building to effectively contribute to evidence-based decision-making leading to more sustainable natural resource management in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

AWP CEO Prof Nick Schofield said, “It is anticipated that there will be significant increases in poverty in parts of the Mekong River Basin. Accurate and effective modelling is critical for the MRC indicator framework and we are pleased to have been able to assist the MRC to better plan for an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong Basin.”

A final capacity building workshop for MRC Secretariat staff, covering the underpinning modelling methodology, the model use, and the analysis of model results, will be held before the end of the year.

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