WAOP: Case Mekong Basin

Cambodia and Vietnam aim to improve road infrastructure in the Mekong floodplains

In the framework of Delft Cluster, UNESCO-IHE, World Wild Fund and Mekong River Commission started a project to develop guidelines for the planning and design of roads in the fragile floodplains of the Lower Mekong Basin.


The floodplains in the Lower Mekong Basin are amongst the few remaining examples of a relatively intact and functioning floodplain in a large river basin. It is widely accepted that this feature is one of the main reasons behind the incredibly productive fisheries of the Mekong, as well as its tremendous biological diversity. These productive fisheries and fertile agricultural land support the livelihood of the basin’s population and are replenished by nutrients provided by the annual flood.

Many of the people in these areas are among the poorest in Asia. While the annual flood cycle of the Mekong provides resources for these people, it is a fragile balance that can easily be tipped the wrong way. The most recent examples are the 2000-2002 floods, which caused extensive loss of life, property and livelihood. The floods severely damaged the infrastructure, including the roads. On the other hand, roads and road development can themselves have a considerable effect on the floods. They fragment wetlands and interrupt the natural flow of water, sediments, nutrients and aquatic life, thereby impacting on the beneficial effects normally brought by the natural flood cycle. These environmental impacts are not always properly taken into account.

The population in the Lower Mekong Basin is expected to rise from about 60 million to 100 million by 2025 and roads will be increasingly needed in the future. The challenge is to make future road structures more flood-resistant and provide greater through-flow capacity while reducing their negative environmental impacts. This would reduce flood-damaged and associated costs and would also benefit biodiversity conservation, as it will allow floods to run encountering as few obstacles as possible. In Cambodia and Vietnam, large floods affect national and international roads. Many provincial and local roads in the natural floodplains of Cambodia are not flood-proof. In the highly developed Vietnamese part of the Lower Mekong Basin, roads, canal embankments and dikes provide an integrated system for flood protection, but serious flooding still occur in many parts.
The ‘Roads and Floods’ project develops guidelines for a better planning and design of roads. These guidelines are meant to (re-)define and adopt new standards for the planning, design and construction of roads and to develop environmental impact assessment methodologies. The results will be integrated into the work of the Lower Mekong Flood Management and Mitigation Programme (FMMP) Centre in Phnom Penh.

An interrelated approach

The project consists of three strongly interrelated components - a scientific component, a policy component and integration with the FMMP.

The scientific component consists of several technical analyses that are integrated into a policy analysis. In the technical analyses, hydraulics and damage at pilot sites in Cambodia and Vietnam will be monitored and analyzed during the 2006 and 2007 flood seasons, providing input for an inundation model and damage assessment. The findings at the pilot sites will be scaled-up sub-floodplain areas to analyze road and flood interactions, using the inundation model. Environmental, economic, social impacts will be analyzed through literature and case studies. The policy analysis will deliver a better understanding of current standards and implementation practices. For a number of cases, the interaction and trade-off between flood risk and damage, along with the structural durability, economic and financial efficiency, and hydrological and environmental effects will be analyzed. This assessment will form the basis for recommendations to improve guidelines for road planning and design. Results will be presented at the Annual Flood Forum 2007.

The policy component will translate the findings of the scientific component into policy recommendations and ensure that those recommendations are known and understood by the key stakeholders. Line agencies and development banks’ representatives in Cambodia and Vietnam, led by the respective National Mekong Committees, will discuss the political and institutional recommendations.

The integration component will ensure that results are made available to the FMMP Centre in Phnom Penh and that they are accessible to others. A permanent mechanism will be put in place – hosted by the FMMP Centre – to ensure that recommendations are made available to all relevant Lower Mekong stakeholders.

Organization and knowledge dissemination

The project results will benefit Cambodian and Vietnamese line agencies, the national ministries and provincial authorities responsible for planning, construction and maintenance of national roads, as well as development banks that fund infrastructure projects.
The results of the ‘Roads and Floods’ project will also be shared with agencies in Lao PDR and Thailand to identify their applicability in the rest of the Lower Mekong basin.
In a broader perspective, this project will demonstrate the importance of adopting an international river basin management framework that, if successful, will contribute to biodiversity in the Mekong Delta and increase the efficiency of infrastructural investments in the region.

This two-year project (2006-2007) is a significant collaboration between Delft Cluster, the Flood Management and Mitigation Programme of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and the WWF Greater Mekong Programme. MRC-FMMP has defined the project scope and coordinates interaction with both the National Mekong Committees and the field survey groups. WWF together with the FMMP support the policy component. Delft Cluster (UNESCO-IHE, Delft Hydraulics and Geodelft) is responsible for the scientific component, and for the overall project management. The project is co-funded by Delft Cluster, MRC-FMMP and WWF Greater Mekong Programme.

Contact persons

Dr. Wim Douven, UNESCO-IHE (w.douven@unesco-ihe.org)
Dr. Marc Goichot, WWF (marc.goichot@wwfgreatermekong.org)
Mr. Huynh Minh Ngoc, MRC-FMMP (ngoc@mrcmekong.org)

In January 2007 an article about this project has been published in “Geotechniek”. (This article is in Dutch)

Meer Weten?
De projectleider: Bert Enserink
Email: b.enserink@tudelft.nl
Telefoon: 015 - 27 88 071

More information