The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is set to launch a mobile application called ‘One Mekong App’ between July and August this year, to provide communities along the river with push alerts and notifications about weather conditions, disasters, floods and droughts.

The app was developed to support the information sharing of MRC core river monitoring network functions and covers a broad range of areas including water quality, hydrology, sediment, environmental health, fisheries, climate, hydropower operations and flood and drought monitoring and forecasting.

"The mobile app development has reached a major milestone, with a preview version now available. A full release is aimed for July-August 2024 after incorporating the latest updates. 

“Users will be able to find it on both Android and iOS platforms, available for download from the Google Play Store and the App Store. To achieve this, we ensure that the MRC mobile app meets the needs of users from various locations and language backgrounds," stated a post on the MRC website.

According to the post, the app allows users to receive alerts for high or low water levels, floods, droughts, storms, air quality, rainfall, landslides and other disasters, as well as listen to voice broadcasts and view water level and rainfall forecasts.

With a user-friendly interface and an interactive map featuring customisable layers, the app aims to enhance the reporting and sharing of the commission's river monitoring functions and efficiently correlate remote sensing and ground data.

Viewers can post photographs, locations and comments about floods, droughts and livelihood-affecting incidents. An AI chatbot is used to respond to user queries with real-time data.

“We are not just putting data on the website; we truly want to bring data to engage with communities, especially the affected communities,” said MRC Secretariat CEO Anoulak Kittikhoun during the June 12 Regional Stakeholder Forum in Vientiane, Laos, where the app was introduced to participants.

The post noted that it allows users to watch live Chinese CCTV from numerous monitoring stations, incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for automatically generated weather reports and impact simulations and introduces iReport features for a community-based early warning system.

The app will provide communities along the Mekong with push alerts and notifications about weather conditions, disasters, floods and droughts. MRC

It added that users can utilise image processing, AI and machine learning to monitor water levels using CCTV or watch live footage of water levels to keep an eye on real-time conditions at selected monitoring stations.

Cambodia National Mekong Committee (CNMC) deputy secretary-general Kol Vathana told The Post that the launching of the app would reach ordinary people at the local level. However, he said the internet via smartphone at the grassroots level is a problem and questioned how to ensure people without smartphones receive the information.

“As we see, information can be transferred instantly to people's hands via smartphones, but the coverage of internet service … is also a problem in some areas. Experts are aware of these issues and are looking into solutions," he said.

A June 14 MRC Secretariat press release stated that participants previewed the upcoming features during the forum and discussions were held on its functions, with requests for broader awareness-raising and targeted capacity building for its use, ensuring consistent messaging between the app and national early warning tools. 

It noted that further engagements with MRC countries and communities through organisations supporting civil society are also planned, 

Kittikhoun said the app is not like traditional MRC tools but focuses on the community and the people, displaying all agreed data from member countries and existing forecasting systems, emphasising the need to incorporate the latest weather forecasting tools to make the app as useful as possible.

“If we rely only on existing MRC river monitoring and flood forecasting data, it’s important, but during some low seasons, it may not capture ongoing interest, and the app could lose relevance and users.

“We are integrating advanced weather forecast information, which has already been factored into our river and flood forecasts but from different sources,” he explained.

Kittikhoun said that before the app launch, further consultations with stakeholders from MRC member countries will take place, relying on their help in promoting it at the national level. The MRC Secretariat plans to assist civil society organisations (CSOs), NGOs and other community groups in outreach efforts.

“Maybe in each vulnerable community, there are networks that can be utilised even if ordinary people don't have access to mobile phones or don't know how to use them. 

“These network members can be trained and build the capacity to use the app. We are counting on organisations like the World Wildlife Fund [WWF] or the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief [Oxfam] and others to help us reach out,” he added.

Laotian Natural Resources and Environment Vice Minister Chanthanet Boualapha said at the forum that the introduction of the app marks a significant leap forward in enhancing access to real-time information and empowering communities along the Mekong River.

He said the innovative tool has immense potential to facilitate informed decision-making and collaboration among stakeholders, amplifying collective initiatives.

"Efforts to make a difference are especially important because we use citizen science as an approach to encourage communities to enhance data collection and foster a deeper understanding of the Mekong River’s dynamics,” he added. 

The State of the Basin Report 2023, released at the forum, highlighted the loss of wetlands and increasing pressure on fisheries. It noted improvements in household water, food and energy security but pointed out insufficient information on equitable access and concerning slow progress in some countries.

The report indicated that livelihoods and economic conditions in the basin have generally improved but called for more information on gender equality and the economic security of vulnerable groups.

"The gross economic value of each sector is increasing, but there is insufficient information to identify net value additions or the sustainability of growth in each sector," the report noted, expressing concerns in environmental and social dimensions.

It recommended that regional planning must identify supplementary measures and alternative pathways to minimise further changes to the Tonle Sap reverse flows.

"Additional flow thresholds are needed to help countries manage the environmental impacts of an increase in dry season flows and reduction in flood season flows," it recommended.