Informed and Fair: Water and trade futures in the border regions of mainland southeast Asia
by Tira Foran and Louis Lebel (2007)
The Upper Mekong region where five countries of Vietnam, China, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) meet is experiencing dramatic changes. It is going through rapid and profound political, economic and social transformations, and the dynamism is evident in terms of water and trade.
All states are trying to strengthen their formal authority in these areas. New land and water institutions are being introduced on top of local institutional systems. However governance gaps remain significant. The quadrangle is arguably the least “governed” area in the region. From the viewpoints of Bangkok, Yangon (Rangoon) and especially Beijing, however, this region is located in a periphery. Troubles with trafficking of drugs, wildlife and girls and women continue; poverty is pervasive and health risks are exceptionally high. The region is home to many ethnic minority groups and they tend to be especially vulnerable. How would they fare in the proposed scenario of enhanced state regulation and regional economic integration? Which institutional frameworks would result in informed and fair decision-making about regional development and resource management?
In this dialogue event held in Chiang Mai the 20-21 October 2006 we brought together actors from the four countries together with other knowledgeable resource persons, and a wider group of young institutional specialists from other parts of the world to work together to
1) explore broad alternative futures for the region working towards the year 2025; and,
2) debate plausible institutional frameworks for cooperation in assessment, development, and natural resources management.
We paid specific attentions to the North-South Economic Corridor (NSEC), the Asian Development Bank’s “flagship initiative” for its Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) program. NSEC includes actually two corridors: the Kunming – Chiang Rai and Kunming – Hanoi Corridors. Click here to see the map. The GMS envisions and advocates “connectivity, competitiveness, and community” in the Mekong region. The core component of the economic corridor proposal of the ADB includes road and water transport infrastructure improvement projects, facilitation of movement of goods and people across borders, regional energy cooperation including development of electric power grid, and special border economic zone in Chiang Rai province of Thailand.
Building scenarios together and assessing NSEC from inside and outside
This event was conducted mainly in small discussion groups which will engage in building sets of contrasting future scenarios. Through smaller-group discussions, we identified key uncertainties and built alternative scenarios, at three levels: global, regional and local. The discussions surrounding the choice of uncertainties, plausible but distinct alternative futures, and the assumptions we make about what will interact with what, what pre-conditions are needed, and so on, we hope lead to a better appreciation by all of what is known, what remains very uncertain, and what we fundamentally see differently.
The scenarios, having captured the main uncertainties of interest in each group, were used in different ways at different levels. Global scenarios, for instance, were used as a "wind-tunnels” for exploring the ADB’s North-South Economic Corridor initiative. Regional scenarios were treated as alternatives to the NSEC scenario and compared for assumptions and expected outcomes. Local scenarios took the NSEC initiative as their framing reality and explored consequences of NSEC for different local scenarios.
The discussions around building scenarios together were aimed at helping participants better appreciate the different perspectives and assumptions held about the objectives and pathways of development. Working together we hoped to identify some of the bigger opportunities and risks.
This event was a follow up to and built upon the 'Mekong Region Waters Dialogue' to be held in Vientiane, Lao PDR, on the 6-7 July 2006 and co-sponsored by M-POWER.