The Lower Mekong Initiative is a multinational effort initiated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2009 to foster integrated sub-regional cooperation and capacity building among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, in the areas of education, health, environment, and infrastructure.
In 2011 the Lower Mekong Initiative partner countries agreed to a Concept Paper that codifies the vision and architecture of the initiative and a Plan of Action that identifies transnational challenges and areas of cooperation for the next five years. The Lower Mekong Initiative countries also established a web-based “Virtual Secretariat” to enhance coordination and planning.
EDUCATION: U.S. assistance in the area of education to the lower Mekong sub-region will total over $3.25 million in 2011, including:
- International Visitors Leadership Program: Professionals from the Lower Mekong Initiative partner countries visited the United States in 2010 and 2011 to exchange best practices in environment, public health, and infrastructure.
- Lower Mekong Initiative English for Specific Purposes Program: Beginning this year, English Language Fellows will teach technical English to regional professionals, specialists, and government officials from lower Mekong partner countries working in the environment, public health, and infrastructure.
- U.S. education assistance will continue to support innovative programs to improve the quality of higher education faculty, administration, management, and curricula. Funding also will increase the accessibility, quality, and relevance of basic education.
ENVIRONMENT: The United States will spend over $69 million on environmental programs in the lower Mekong region in 2011, including:
- Forecast Mekong: Three U.S. scientists assigned to the region this year in support of this two-year effort covering a range of research projects and training related to ecological monitoring, data analysis, visualization, and mapping tools.
- Mississippi River Commission – Mekong River Commission Exchange: In June 2011, fourteen delegates from the Mekong River Commission participated in an inaugural exchange program under the “Sister River” partnership with the Mississippi River Commission. The exchange, organized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission, provided delegates a platform to discuss best practices related to basin governance, sediment transport, flood management, and fisheries protection.
- Surface Evaluation Tables and Marker Horizons Network Component: The program builds of a network of sampling stations across the Mekong Delta and along the Mekong River corridor to evaluate the impacts of sea-level rise and dam construction on the sustainability of wetlands.
- Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests (LEAF): Initiated in 2011, this five-year program reduces deforestation and forest degradation by strengthening capacity to manage forest resources; improving policies for sustainable management; demonstrating sustainable land management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and strengthening regional learning network.
- ECO-Asia Water and Governance Program: Focuses on water-quality research and improvement, partnering with water and wastewater operators to effectively transfer best practices and improve service provision.
- Planning Approaches for Water Resource Development in the Lower Mekong Basin: The initiative offered a rapid assessment of trade-offs between short-term economic gains and long-term sustainability vis-a-vis mainstream hydropower dam development in the Mekong River Commission’s Basin Development Plan.
HEALTH: U.S. assistance to the lower Mekong countries in the health field will total over $140 million in 2011, including:
- Pandemic Threats Workshop: This Workshop will be held in Cambodia in October 2011, focusing on identifying resource requirements, communication strategies, and response mechanisms for pandemic preparedness and response.
- Lower Mekong Initiative Cookstoves Design and Testing Workshop: This workshop was held in Vientiane, Laos in March 2011 and provided training for local cookstove engineers and manufacturers aimed at ensuring their products are clean and efficient.
- Emerging Pandemic Threats Program: This program focuses on rapidly detecting and responding to infectious diseases within the lower Mekong countries. Complementary health programs will research and initiate partnerships for cross-border responses to infectious diseases. They also will establish a regional network to detect drug resistant malaria.
- Drug Quality Monitoring in Greater Mekong Subregion: This program provides support to Lower Mekong Initiative countries for the control and regulation of counterfeit and substandard medicines. The project monitors the quality of drugs used to treat malaria, tuberculosis, avian influenza, and other infectious diseases.
INFRASTRUCTURE: The United States will spend more than $9 million in areas related to infrastructure development in 2011, including:
- Lower Mekong Disaster Management Workshop: The first of a series of annual workshops beginning in August 2011 will develop the collective capabilities of Lower Mekong Initiative partner countries to respond to disasters through dialogue, information exchanges, and training activities.
- Humanitarian Assistance Construction Projects: This program focuses on the building and repairing of clinics, schools, emergency shelters, roads, bridges, and operation centers in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Source: U.S. Department of State