The role of wetlands in water security  for the Mekong region

The role of wetlands in water security for the Mekong region

Wetlands are highly important to the food-energy-water nexus of the Mekong region. Rural water security is of specific interest for Mekong-region countries because major rural economic sectors of all countries, especially agriculture and aquaculture, as well as main sources of water for rural household consumption and public water supply, depend on water from wetlands. Many of the most affected people, especially women, children, and senior citizens, are vulnerable groups because of close coupling between wetlands and livelihoods. In preparation for impacts from global change and intensifying water management in the Mekong region, quantification of ecosystem services from wetlands is needed.

Our specific interest is the role of wetlands for water security. The specific objectives of this research are to determine, for a cross-section of wetland types in the Mekong region, how water budgets and water quality provide ecosystem services, community relationships with those ecosystem services, and to project the impact of global and regional change on water security for communities through changes in those services. We will select four wetlands, one from each of four Lower Mekong countries, as our study sites. Each wetland will represent a regionally significant water budget and the way its water resources are being used by varying groups and local communities: a coastal wetland in Cambodia, a groundwater-fed shallow marsh in Lao PDR, an estuarine forest-marsh complex in Thailand, and a peat swamp forest in Vietnam. We will use field measurements of hydrological variables, water quality parameters, and simple models from public data to quantify hydrological budgets, use satellite data and field measurements to quantify vegetation structure, and use community and socioeconomic surveys to describe local land use and water user groups. We will examine the interactions of these systems (natural and human) by identifying key water ecosystem services from the combined biophysical and socioeconomic datasets, and use games to evaluate likely community dependence and responses to change, emphasizing the role of socioeconomic factors, gender roles, and interactions among user groups. We will investigate the roles women play in water uses and in maintaining water security, and identify ways to strengthen these roles. These study sites are representative of rural Mekong-region socioeconomic conditions, including common water use and management conflicts among groups, social equality and gender, rural poverty reduction and roles of water from wetlands in enhancing household economy and livelihoods, and close local dependence on natural resources. We will integrate research findings into an ongoing project to match wetland scientists with local wetland managers: that project will inform this research by improving information flow between local water user groups (including men, women, senior citizens, children) and researchers, and the new project will then be able to leverage its findings by connections to the local wetland managers. Throughout the project we will communicate with local groups (established communications through our pre-existing boundary partners and new ones identified through community surveys) to help them better recognize and manage social structure dependence on wetland-derived water services, using a human-rights based approach. We will accomplish this work using local teams composed of local faculty and graduate students, plus a regional team consisting of project directors and coordinators. The work will require 30 months, including all student projects and other project products.