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Corruption and water governance in the Mekong River Basin

The Mekong River Basin is shared between six countries and displays remarkable and globally relevant cultural and biological diversity. Its natural resources are largely governed by systems in which national and transnational corruption prevail. The countries that share the basin all display varying degrees of authoritarianism, which serve to reinforce these corrupt governance systems, and to determine the choice and type of regional cooperation. These governance systems have clear implications for local communities in terms of food security and production, resettlement and ethnicity, gender, migration, and human rights.

13 October 2022
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Corruption and water governance in the Mekong River Basin

Main points

  • The Mekong Region’s authoritarian governments and its corrupt natural resources governance regimes mutually reinforce each other.
  • Three ‘hydro-corruption domains’ can be identified, comprising infrastructure development (hydropower, irrigation, and climate change adaptation), direct exploitation (sand mining and fisheries), and land re-zoning (along a water/land interface) and resettlement. Of these, infrastructure construction is by far the most important focus for regional corrupt practice.
  • Equating the development of infrastructure with national development is common across the region. While infrastructure is important for regional development, it is noted that ‘softer’ development strategies (for example, improving regional education, or the provision of social services) are rarely emphasised.
  • Regional development choices have had clearly demonstrable environmental impacts and have generally served to complicate transboundary water governance.
  • Because regional populations are so reliant on natural resources, the impact of regional development choices on the environment has significant livelihoods impacts at local scales.
  • Regional relations may be under-pinned by efforts to create suitable conditions for corruption – through, for example, an overwhelming emphasis on the large-scale development of infrastructure.

Cite this publication

Sopera, D. (2022) Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2022:12)

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About the author

Danzig Sopera

Danzig Sopera is a pseudonym for a long-time Mekong-based researcher with considerable experience in the natural resources governance sector. The author holds a PhD from a European university, and can be contacted via the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


Photo: Ian Taylor/CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems CC BY-NC-ND