- Created in response to a recommendation of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, this COMMITTEE joins Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in common utilization of the immense potential of the Mekong River.
- Extensive studies by teams of scientists and engineers from the riparian and cooperating nations have now produced an overall Basin Plan with both mainstream and tributary projects.
- Among the projects for the mainstream of the Mekong, three have a “one” priority.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “purposeful progress toward harnessing one of Asia’s greatest river systems, setting aside divisive national interests in deference to regional opportunities.”
Mobilizing Asia’s resources to meet man’s growing needs is often crippled by narrow sectional and traditional loyalties. Such shortsighted insistence upon more immediate and personal advantage frustrates rational solutions to many common problems.
Since it was established nine years ago, the MEKONG COMMITTEE has shown what can be achieved for farmers, fishermen and new industry by international cooperative effort in one of the world’s most troubled regions. Created in response to a recommendation of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, this COMMITTEE joins Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in common utilization of the immense potential of the Mekong River. Technical and financial assistance has come from 21 countries outside the basin, 12 United Nations agencies, three foundations and a number of private business organizations. To date, equipment, technical services, grants and loans totalling some US$105 million have been marshalled—about one-third pledged by the four riparian countries.
The hitherto untamed Mekong — one of the world’s 10 largest rivers — rises among the snows high on the Tibetan Plateau and has carved a twisting course, often through rugged mountains, some 4,600 kilometers to the South China Sea. The Lower Mekong Basin, which is the focus of this effort, extends for some 2,500 kilometers from the forests of the Burma border, through Laos, along the dry northeastern frontier of Thailand, through jungles and deltas of Cambodia and Vietnam. It drains an area nearly twice the size of Japan that is inhabited by some 20 million persons.
Extensive studies by teams of scientists and engineers from the riparian and cooperating nations have now produced an overall Basin Plan with both mainstream and tributary projects. These multi-purpose projects will provide irrigation, power, vastly improved navigation, expanded fisheries, control of seasonal floods and many other benefits. Navigation improvements now permit night sailing upriver to Phnom Penh. In November 1965 the King of Thailand inaugurated at Nam Pung one of the two electric power and irrigation projects already completed. Construction is underway on four other tributary projects and one tug and barge building program.
Among the projects for the mainstream of the Mekong, three have a “one” priority. At Pa Mong, just above Vientiane, a massive dam between Thailand and Laos will create a reservoir more than 200 miles long, have an installed generating capacity of over one million kilowatts and irrigate roughly one million hectares, or two and one-half million acres. Sambor, in Cambodia, will be the site of a second major power and irrigation dam. A barrage across the Tonle Sap waterway in Cambodia, that each year alternately admits Mekong water to the Great Lake and then drains it, will amplify fisheries and irrigation and hold back silt from delta lands in Vietnam while deepening water in the shipping channel to the sea.
When the Lower Mekong Basin program for the period 1965 to 1975 is completed at an estimated cost of more than three billion dollars, the largest single natural resource of southeast Asia will be substantially under productive control. The fact that, despite turmoil, war and other differences in the region, so much headway has been made represents a triumph of reason and consideration of mutual well-being.
In electing the COMMITTEE FOR COORDINATION OF INVESTIGATIONS OF THE LOWER MEKONG BASIN and COOPERATING ENTITIES to receive the 1966 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes purposeful progress toward harnessing one of Asia’s greatest river systems, setting aside divisive national interests in deference to regional opportunities.
On behalf of the MEKONG COMMITTEE—that is to say on behalf of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and the Republic of Vietnam—and on behalf of the United Nations and the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, whose Executive Secretary is with us this afternoon, I should like to express profound thanks to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for the great honor you are conferring upon us.
We are especially pleased by your mention of the entities cooperating with us: notably ECAFE, and also 11 other members of the UN family; 21 countries from outside the basin, three foundations, and a number of private business organizations.
Our Mekong project has two origins. On the one hand is the vast Mekong River itself: tenth largest river in the world, 4,600 kilometers long, draining in its lower basin an area larger than all France and twice as large as Japan, inhabited—in our four countries—by 20 million people, and pouring annually more than 400 million acre feet of water into the South China Sea. On the other hand is the appreciation, slowly dawning upon our four countries, of the tremendous underutilization of this great resource. Our objective in the MEKONG COMMITTEE is to bring this great resource into use. In doing so, our four-member MEKONG COMMITTEE—one member from each of our four countries—follows one basic rule: we work for all the people of the basin with absolutely no distinction as to nationality, creed, or politics.
On the mainstream of the Mekong we are pushing the planning of three major projects which will be among the largest in the world. We hope and believe that these three mainstream projects, or at least two of them, will be at the finance and construction stage by or before the end of the present decade—the United Nations Development Decade.
The COMMITTEE also has projects scheduled for the 34 principal Mekong tributaries. Here the COMMITTEE’s wark has gone beyond. planning to construction. On 14 November 1965 His Majesty the King of Thailand officially opened the first of the MEKONG COMMTTEE’s tributary projects to be brought physically into being: the Nam Pung in the parched northeast of Thailand. This was followed on 14 March 1966 by a similar ceremony at which His Majesty opened the much larger Nam Pong Project, also in northeast Thailand. Two modest but welcome hydroelectric projects are advancing in Laos, near Pakse and Luang Prabang. In 1965 the COMMITTEE and its friends concentrated fundraising activities in the US$24 million Nam Ngum tributary project in Laos. These efforts culminated in success; Nam Ngum in Laos and Nam Pong in Thailand are to be interconnected, pursuant to a covenant signed by the four MEKONG COMMITTEE members and the United Nations, and work is now proceeding whereby power generated at Nam Pong in Thailand will be in use across the Mekong in Vientiane, Laos, by mid-1967.
The stage is also set for construction of the Prek Thnot tributary project in Cambodia. Some work has already begun and the MEKONG COMMITTEE, assisted by the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Executive Secretary of ECAFE, is now exerting every effort to arrange financing for this project pursuant to an ECAFE resolution endorsing the MEKONG COMMITTEE decision to consider 1966 as “Cambodia Year.”
No less determination is invested by the COMMITTEE in its efforts to improve navigation in the maritime lower reach of the river, in the canal network of the delta, and in the Lao and Thai reaches of the river upstream of the Khone Falls.
We are also pressing forward with a large number of ancillary projects, including a network of experimental and demonstration farms, forestry and fisheries development, power market projections, mineral surveys, industrial planning, and social development and public health projects.
Training is a vital part of our activity. Forty-one percent of the COMMITTEE’S professional staff are drawn from the four riparian countries; these staff members are contributing greatly to the COMMITTEE’S progress, and at the same time are growing with the COMMITTEE. In addition, the COMMITTEE sponsors an extensive program of seminars, study tours, and fellowships, and obtains considerable quantities of textbooks and technical studies for use throughout the basin.
Much money is needed for all this work. We are happy indeed to have received some US$110,000,000 in pledges to date. And we are proud that nearly one third of this is coming from our four Mekong governments themselves.
President Marcos, Senator Manahan, and members of the Board of Trustees, may I say in conclusion that your decision to present to us the Ramon Magsaysay 1966 Award for International Understanding marks an important milestone in our work. For the first time in our history an eminent body from outside our basin, a body with which we have had no previous contact, has paid tribute to what we are trying to accomplish. Through this major and splendid Award, you give each of us deep inspiration, which will be a source of assurance and strength in all that lies ahead. You have touched the Mekong Spirit with something of the spirit of Ramon Magsaysay.
My friends, allow me to record our deep appreciation.
The Mekong River Development Project has been called the “greatest single example of regional cooperation in Asia today.” To coordinate the work of developing the river and its lower basin area, the COMMITTEE FOR COORDINATION OF INVESTIGATIONS OF THE LOWER MEKONG BASIN was set up in 1957, consisting of one representative from each of the four riparian countries—Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
Over the ensuing years, working under the aegis of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), the COMMITTEE has become an instrument for international as well as regional cooperation, engendering financial and technical involvement from 21 countries outside the basin.
From its very beginnings, it has been a cardinal principle of the COMMITTEE’s work to seek the development of the water and water-related resources of the basin for the benefit of all the people of the basin with no distinction as to nationality, creed or politics. Devotion to this principle has enabled the MEKONG COMMITTEE, as it is familiarly known, and its cooperating entities to work together to promote understanding and unity, and to achieve substantial progress toward their goal despite devastating floods and numerous and often bitter internal political difficulties leading to civil strife and external interventions and invasions.
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