By Shawn Kelly
Groundwater plays a crucial role in terms of water security, poverty reduction and sustainable development. However, in many countries groundwater is underutilized or over exploited and adversely impacted by rapid urbanization, population growth, climate change and climate variability.
The Asian Institute of Technology together with its partners from Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, has secured a new project called “Strengthening Groundwater Governance in Rapidly Urbanizing Areas of the Lower Mekong Region” funded by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) under the SUMERNET 4 All program: Groundwater Integrated Regional Assessment.
Project leader Prof. Sangam Shrestha of AIT’s Water Engineering and Management program, explained that the major objective of the project is to evaluate the current state of groundwater governance and inform the policymakers about its improvement in the face of uncertainties such as climate change, urbanization, and rapid population growth.
Four rapidly urbanizing areas of the Lower Mekong Region – Vientiane Capital in Lao PDR, Khon Kaen Municipality in Thailand, Siem Reap City in Cambodia and Can Tho City Tau in Vietnam – have been selected as case study areas where groundwater is seen as a major source of water for beneficial uses.
“The project will recommend ways to strengthen groundwater governance from evidence-based understanding of groundwater availability, its use and potential conflicts under multiple stresses in the future, focusing on vulnerable and marginalized groups,” Prof. Shrestha said.
The initiative kicked off on 19 January 2021 at a virtual project launch ceremony and inception workshop. The online event involved boundary partners from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Lao PDR; Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand; Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, Cambodia; and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Vietnam, as well as project donors and relevant stakeholders of groundwater development and management in the respective countries.
AIT will implement the 2.5-year project in association with study partners at the Northern Agriculture and Forestry College (Lao PDR), Institute of Technology Cambodia (Cambodia), and Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam).
AIT President Dr. Eden Woon opened the project and delivered welcome remarks at the online event. “I thank SUMERNET 4 All, SEI and the boundary partners for your trust in AIT’s role in project implementation. We are honored to be a part of this international cooperation effort,” he said.
“The fact that experts of the four countries are working together indicates the significance of this project and the high hopes for results that we expect to get out of the initiative,” President Woon added.
The president informed that AIT has five thematic research areas: Climate Change, Smart Communities, Food, Energy and Water Security, Infrastructure, and Technology, Policy and Society. He noted that the project is in line with the mission of AIT, specifically in the thematic research area of Food, Energy and Water Security, and it has implications for impact spillover into the other thematic areas of the institute.
Niall O’Connor, Director of Stockholm Environment Institute–Asia Centre, emphasized the close partnership that SEI has enjoyed with AIT for intellectual engagement, joint research applications, and capacity building. “This project is a great outcome of these efforts,” he said.
SEI is an organization that bridges science, policy and practice towards environmental sustainability and inclusive development, Mr. O’Connor explained, and the new project falls under one of its core global focus areas, namely – sustainable resources use and sustainable ecosystems.
Director O’Connor added that SEI stresses achieving impact in its work with partners by improving decision-making amongst policy makers, enhancing capacities and changing agendas.
“Groundwater regional assessment is one of the key regional assessment projects that SEI is working on with AIT,” Mr. O’Connor said. “This project can set the scene towards best practices in the region.”
In her remarks to open the inception workshop, Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, SUMERNET 4 ALL Program Director, said the organization aims to reduce water insecurity in the Greater Mekong Region. She echoed the SEI director by stating that the highly competitive grant was the largest under the organization. Dr. Chayanis called the cross-border endeavor “one of the most important research projects SUMERNET has supported.”