The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is undergoing rapid development that is heavily reliant on its natural resources, increasingly also groundwater. At present, groundwater is mainly accessed for domestic use and market gardening in lowland areas. However, there is significant scope for expanding groundwater use in high-value economic sectors, such as irrigation and industry, while securing domestic water needs from the same source. However, the ability to make strategic decisions on groundwater development is hindered by insufficient knowledge and understanding of the resource, including reliable hydrogeological maps.
On this background, the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) is providing financial support to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) in Lao PDR for a project running from 2021 to 2022 with the aim of developing a national Groundwater Profile and a pilot Sustainable Groundwater Management Plan (SGMP) for the Sekong River Basin, which is a basin given high priority by DWR.
This project team will comprise of representatives from the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) at Flinders University, Australia, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the South Australian Department for Environment and Water (DEW). Together with Lao groundwater management specialists, the team will collaborate with DWR to develop the groundwater profile and SGMP. The overall process will draw on international best practices while incorporating considerations for gender equality, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI). This project will contribute to the creation of hydrogeological maps and databases, which will help to expand sustainable groundwater development and strengthen climate resilience of agriculture. The team from NCGRT, IWMI and DEW will provide DWR staff with training and opportunities for skills transfer, with the aim of building their capacity to undertake effective monitoring and assessment and mainstream gender equity in groundwater resources management in the long term.
An inception meeting to commence the project was held on March 11, 2021. Participants included the project team from NCGRT, IWMI and DEW; representatives from DWR, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Vientiane, and AWP; and national groundwater specialists. The meeting provided an opportunity for the partners to discuss specific tasks, roles and responsibilities during project implementation.
The project leader, Professor Okke Batelaan, Flinders University/NCGRT, stated that it was an honor and a great opportunity to contribute to such an important topic as sustainable groundwater development in Lao PDR. He also highlighted that the project team has a wealth of local experience and expertise in groundwater issues from previous engagement, and is keen to collaborate closely with colleagues in Lao PDR.