Agriculture is the most water demanding and consuming sector, globally responsible for most of the human induced water withdrawals. This abstraction of water is a critical input for agricultural production and plays an important role in food security as irrigated agriculture represents about 20 percent of the total cultivated land while contributing by 40 percent of the total food produced worldwide.

The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP) is concerned about this increase in water use over the last decades that has led to water scarcity in many countries. This trend will continue as the gap between water demand and supply is projected to widen due to factors such as population growth and economic development, and environmental factors such as land degradation and climate change.

Unfortunately, solutions to overcome the current and future water crisis by looking at the agricultural sector are not simple and have often led to unrealistic expectations. Misconceptions and overly simplistic (and often erroneous) views have been flagged and described over the last recent decades. However, uptake of those new insights by decision makers and the irrigation sector itself has been limited.

The “Follow the Water” project will develop a Guidance Document that summarizes those aspects and, more importantly, quantifies the return flows that occurs in irrigated systems. Those return flows are collected from a wide range of experiments and are collected in a database to be used as reference for new and/or rehabilitation irrigation projects.

The FAO/FutureWater project will also develop a simple-to-use tool to track water in irrigated systems using so-called “virtual tracers”. The tool will respond to the demand for a better understanding the role of reuse of water in irrigated agriculture systems. An extensive training package, based on the Guidance and the Tool, is developed as well.

FAO plays an essential role in backstopping the development of the Guidance and the Tool and promoting. FutureWater takes the lead in development of the Guidance, the Tool and the training package. With this, FAO and FutureWater will contribute to a sustainable future of our water resources.

The Mekong State Of the Basin Report (SOBR) is published by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) every five years, in advance of the cyclic updating of the Basin Development Strategy. The SOBR plays a key role in improving monitoring and communication of conditions in the Mekong Basin, and is MRC’s flagship knowledge and impact monitoring product. It provides information on the status and trends of water and related resources in the Mekong Basin. The 2023 SOBR is based on the MRC Indicator Framework of strategic and assessment indicators and supporting monitoring parameters, which facilitates tracking and analysis of economic, social, environmental, climate change and cooperation trends in the basin.

FutureWater was hired by MRC to perform the following tasks in support of the 2023 SOBR development:

  1. Data collection on the Extent of Salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta and the conditions of the Mekong River’s riverine, estuarine, and coastal habitats
  2. Analyses of the extents of 2010, 2015, and 2020 LMB wetlands
  3. Analyses of the extents of key fisheries habitat areas in the LMB, and
  4. Data collection for all Assessment Indicators of MRB-IF for the Upper Mekong River Basin (UMB), including reporting and extracting key messages

Implementation of tasks 1 – 3 is achieved by using state-of-the-art remote sensing tools, such as the Google Earth Engine, building on the methods developed in the preceding project.

Task 4 builds on the findings of FutureWater’s contribution to the 2018 SOBR regarding the status of the UMB in China and Myanmar, more details can be found here.

In irrigated agriculture options to save water tend to focus on improved irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. These irrigation techniques are promoted as legitimate means of increasing water efficiency and “saving water” for other uses (such as domestic use and the environment). However, a growing body of evidence, including a key report by FAO (Perry and Steduto, 2017) shows that in most cases, water “savings” at field scale translate into an increase in water consumption at system and basin scale. Yet despite the growing and irrefutable body of evidence, false “water savings” technologies continue to be promoted, subsidized and implemented as a solution to water scarcity in agriculture.

The goal is to stop false “water savings” technologies to be promoted, subsidized and implemented. To achieve this, it is important to quantify the hydrologic impacts of any new investment or policy in the water sector. Normally, irrigation engineers and planners are trained to look at field scale efficiencies or irrigation system efficiencies at the most. Also, many of the tools used by irrigation engineers are field scale oriented (e.g. FAO AquaCrop model). The serious consequences of these actions are to worsen water scarcity, increase vulnerability to drought, and threaten food security.

There is an urgent need to develop simple and pragmatic tools that can evaluate the impact of field scale crop-water interventions at larger scales (e.g. irrigation systems and basins). Although basin scale hydrological models exist, many of these are either overly complex and unable to be used by practitioners, or not specifically designed for the upscaling from field interventions to basin scale impacts. Moreover, achieving results from the widely-used FAO models such as AquaCrop into a basin-wide impact model is time-consuming, complex and expensive. Therefore, FutureWater developed a simple but robust tool to enhance usability and reach, transparency, transferability in data input and output. The tool is based on proven concepts of water productivity, water accounting and the appropriate water terminology, as promoted by FAO globally (FAO, 2013). Hence, the water use is separated in consumptive use, non-consumptive use, and change in storage.

A complete training package was developed which includes a training manual and an inventory of possible field level interventions. The training manual includes the following aspects:

  1. Introduce and present the real water savings tool
  2. Describe the theory underlying the tool and demonstrating some typical applications
  3. Learn how-to prepare the data required for the tool for your own area of interest
  4. Learn when real water savings occur at system and basin scale with field interventions

The MRCS regularly undertakes periodic regional and basin-wide studies on behalf of Member Countries to assess potential effects of increasing development, growing population and uncertainty in climate variability in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). Recent basin-wide assessment and reporting were found to be hampered by data limitations across a range of areas. With the basin undergoing rapid and extensive change, tracking changes in conditions, analyzing the potential implications, and working cooperatively to leverage the benefits and avoid the problems are seen as critical to achieving the objectives of the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

To provide a greater strategic direction to the monitoring and assessment effort, the Mekong River Basin Indicator Framework (MRB-IF) was developed and approved aiming at providing a consistent and streamlined approach to data collection, analysis, and reporting. Through the MRB-IF, the MRC Member Countries and stakeholders can be alerted to the key issues and trends across five core dimensions (environment, social, economic, climate change and cooperation). Included in the MRB-IF are (i) the extent of salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta (MD) – Assessment Indicator 14 and (ii) the condition of riverine, estuarine, and coastal habitats – Assessment Indicator 16. A systematic process of collection and analysis of the data for status and trends evaluation regarding these indicators is currently missing.

The aim of this project is therefore to develop a basin-specific systematic approach to periodically assess the extent of salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta and the conditions of the riverine, estuarine, and coastal habitats across the LMB. Methodologies to evaluate both indicators are developed relying on integration of satellite remote sensing data, GIS databases, and station data. The project involves an elaborate review of existing methodologies tested in the LMB and other river basins, an assessment of these methods regarding technical, economic and institutional aspects, and the development of a recommended methodology for adoption by MRCS, including guidance documentation for its stepwise implementation.

Cambodia is currently improving in economic standing, however the benefits of this are largely contained to urban areas. As a major contributor to GDP, ensuring the sustainability of Cambodia’s agricultural sector is highly important, especially when coupled with the increasing awareness of the dangers of climate change. Access to water for agriculture, fisheries and domestic supply is an issue, with many rural communities competing for resources. Coupled with the effects of flood and drought activity in recent years, the need for adequate and reliable water resource management in rural, agricultural areas is prominent. This project focuses on the North- Western Cambodian provinces of Oddar Meanchey (OMC) and Banteay Meanchey (BMC) and the neighbouring North-Eastern Thai provinces of Surin and Sisaket.

In order to protect rural livelihoods and maintain agricultural production, communities must be supplied with permanent and regulated water year-round. Analysis of recent flood and drought histories and their effects in the provinces are first necessary to determine the most vulnerable areas both in terms of agriculture and households. In addition, water resource assessments of supplies and demand will identify the most crucial areas to ensure supplies are increased and sustained both for crops and domestic use. Socio-economic studies will also ensure ‘cross- cutting’ issues are considered in WR planning, such as: gender, economic vulnerability and cultural factors related to WRM. Furthermore, meetings with stakeholders at multiple levels can address issues in water infrastructure, alongside assessment of the capacities of those managing monitoring systems for example. From this, future recommendations for improvements in infrastructure can be made with an awareness of the necessary knowledge capacities to ensure proper maintenance and sustainability.

Initially, an analysis of the current water resource situation in the study area will be conducted through collection of available data on water resources, flood and drought histories and socioeconomic issues in the area. Following this, areas for more detailed analysis will be established and strategies to improve WRM supporting agricultural livelihoods can be developed. FutureWater is involved in the implementation of the WEAP model, for evaluation of various water resources management strategies in the catchments under baseline and projected future conditions.

Focus is on the following sections:

  • Flow condition at Phnom Penh, Tan Chau and Chau Doc
  • Salinity intrusion in Delta
  • River bank erosion, river channel condition and sediment transport, sand mining
  • Flood and drought data
  • Climate change covering greenhouse gas, extreme events, temperature, rainfall
  • Navigation

A snapshot of the results of this project are presented on this website:

Climate change is likely to pose major challenges for the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). Therefore, information on climate change, its impact and climate change adaptation are required to enable decision-making to develop and implement appropriate response measures. A monitoring and reporting system on climate change and adaptation can help to track changes and to store relevant data for assessing status and impacts of climate change in the LMB for supporting adaptation planning.

With this study, the Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (CCAI) of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) offers a review of existing monitoring systems and indicators to improve the understanding of riparian governments, relevant line agencies and others on the status and impacts of climate change. The report should inform the establishment of a database and monitoring system by the CCAI, to build knowledge on climate change and adaptation in the LMB and support information to other activities of the CCAI and MRC programmes.

The review suggests indicators to measure climate exposure, climate impact and climate adaptation activities within the LMB focusing on the thematic areas hydrology, land, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity, hydropower, food security, and poverty as well as employment. Based on this comprehensive review, recommendations are developed on how to improve baseline data and the sharing of data, what tools are needed for the establishment of the basin wide CCAI monitoring system and what capacity building activities can be useful to this end.

Four types of climate monitoring systems and their time horizon, availability and overall accuracy
Four types of climate monitoring systems and their time horizon, availability and overall accuracy

The Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative (CCAI) is a collaborative regional effort of MRC Member Countries (Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam) to support processes of adapting to the new challenges posed by climate change in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). The main focus is a basin wide integrated approach to adaptation planning consistent with Integrated Water Resources Management principles and within the Framework of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The specific aim is to make adaptation a permanent part of development plans and planning process, and to have tools as well as institutional and specialist capacity in place to implement them.

Rice harvesting

The CCAI focuses on the following Outcomes: (1) climate change impact and vulnerability assessment, adaptation planning and implementation in priority locations within the LMB; (2) building knowledge and capacity at different levels (institutional, technical and managerial capacity); (3) regional adaptation strategy supporting national frameworks; (4) regional partnership and collaboration. Currently, the CCAI is developing its first “Status of Climate Change in the Lower Mekong Basin” report. An important component of the Status Report will be the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector and the projected food situation in the LMB.

Analyses on changes in crop production and food demand and supply have clear transboundary dimensions. Changes might be important in the context of imports and exports of agricultural products. Irrigation is an important consumer of water and changes in irrigated areas can have basin-wide consequences. A clear overview of expected changes in crop production and food demand and supply in the LMB is missing. Earlier initiatives are restrictive in terms of: local specific, encompassing only climate change, often based on old climate scenarios, and, most importantly based on different and not comparable approaches and assumptions.

Mekong Delta

FutureWater will contribute to the before mentioned report, by providing an explorative outlook on crop production under climate change, and on food requirements and production under climate change. The analsyis will be carried out for the 15 principal sub-basins of the Lower Mekong Basin, and for three future situations (foreseeable, long-term and horizon).


The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has its Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative (CCAI), which is a collaborative regional effort of MRC Member Countries (Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam) to support processes of adapting to the new challenges posed by climate change in the Lower Mekong Basin. The CCAI is developing its first “Status of Climate Change in the Lower Mekong Basin” report. An important component of this report will be to provide information on trends in the past climate. For this a detailed and homogenous climate data set is required. Such a data set can also be used for other purposes like hydrological modeling and related assessments.


The need of a climate trend analysis over the past is clear. There is still a lot of uncertainty on the direction of climate change in terms of magnitude as well as spatial distribution. Not only the annual trends, but even more importantly are shifts in seasonality and changes of extremes. So far, no harmonized climate database covering the entire Mekong river basin exists.

The number of reanalysis data products is increasing rapidly. Some of these products are strong in one region, while other performs better in other regions. Although reanalysis products are based on observations, differences might occur. The main reason is that not all observational data is included in the reanalysis datasets. Using an extensive database of meteorological observations, correction factors will be applied to the reanalysis data.

In general, reanalysis products with a high spatial resolution have a low temporal resolution and vice versa. Based on proven interpolation techniques it is possible to effectively combine these sets of reanalysis data, which will result in high spatial as well as high temporal resolution.

The overall objectives of this work are:

  • To develop a baseline climate database over the period 1900-2010.
  • To undertake a trend analysis on this database.