Saturday, 31 May 2008

Mekong countries call for flood warning system

Radio Australia

Delegates from countries along the lower Mekong River have called for an early warning system for floods in an effort to avoid mass tragedies.

Presenter: Bo Hill

Speakers: Bart Schultz, facilitator of the sixth annual Mekong Flood Forum and professor in land and water development at the UNESCO Institute for Water Education.

SCHULTZ: We are currently at the start of the wet season and flood forecasting is important. Every year there are problems even with casualties and damage. Forecasting and early warning, the issue of course is to reduce it, to try to reduce it in the future years and you see that reduction is taking place over that time but that is a gradual process.

HILL: Currently the Mekong River Commission acts as a forecast centre, and warnings are issued by the government of each member country. How does the message get through to the communities along the Mekong?

SCHULTZ: On a daily basis the forecasts are put on the wesbite of the Mekong River Commission and they are sent by email to the member states and in between is the exchange of data among the centre and the members states, they keep each other very well informed mainly by email.

In some cases it goes better then in other cases because in many of the villages don't have access of course to the internet. But the countries are working very hard but you can imagine that all these things have to be issued at short time so there is a lot of effort going on to improve and of course also the type of messages that you issue may be different for different type of communites. For example by hand phone, by mobile phone you can send for example SMS. Now all these systems are under development nowadays.

HILL: There must be thousands of very remote villages though along the Mekong. How do they get the warning?

SCHULTZ: Of course not but especially those villages which are located nearby roads that is quite ok at the moment, but the remote villages it's not yet ok. It is different in the different countries so some countries are more advanced than the others for example Thailand and Vietnam they are quite well developed, you may say Cambodia and Laos maybe they lag behind compared to the other two countries but they are all working to improve on it.

HILL: Are these floods natural or man-made?

SCHULTZ: Because of deforestation you can get more problem with the flash floods especially. On the other hand, there is also in this region you should realise there is also a relatively high population density and that there is urbanisation going on. But also, for example, in Cambodia flood warning are very important for fisheries and agriculture.

So in fact, in that case, and that is especially in Tonle Sap Lake, that is a large lake in Cambodia, in fact they need the floods for fisheries and agriculture. In parts of the system they really like because during the floods a lot of sediment is coming down and that is basically a natural fertiliser for the agricultural area and the fisheries.

HILL: What is being done to help strengthen the region's forecasting and warning systems?

SCHULTZ: The Mekong River Commission is, at the moment, testing an improved system for issuing the flood forecast and they hope that they can implement it. So they will test it in the coming flood season. Software systems are being improved or replaced and in addition there is a lot of work going on to make better use of satellite images.

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