The Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) 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 connectivity. Burma formally joined the initiative in July 2012.
The United States intends to commit substantial resources to LMI over the next three years through the Asia Pacific Security Engagement Initiative (APSEI). APSEI is a new integrated framework that engages on current pressing bilateral and transnational issues, and positions the United States and its partners to sustain regional stability and support an inclusive regional economy in our shared future.
Specifically, new programs—under the banner “LMI 2020” to signal the lasting nature of U.S. engagement in the Lower Mekong region—will complement and dramatically expand existing efforts to bolster regional capacity to combat cross-border challenges and promote sub-regional institutional and people-to-people connectivity.
As a demonstration of U.S. commitment to APSEI and the broader Asia-Pacific region, the United States will provide $50 million over three years to support a substantial expansion of LMI in new programming and activities aimed at strengthening regional capacity to address transnational issues of significant interest to the Lower Mekong region.
- Mekong Partnership for the Environment – USAID is launching a new regional environmental program, the Mekong Partnership for the Environment, to advance sustainable and equitable prosperity of the Mekong watershed in a manner that protects environmental goods and services, while providing a solid foundation for the economic development of the region. This cooperation with LMI partner countries will advance innovations and international standards in infrastructure development to mitigate environmental and social impacts of major investments. Targeted sectors may include hydropower, mining, oil and gas exploration and production, and transportation systems. Specific activities include sharing knowledge and building experiences on alternative technologies, environmental and social safeguards, risk assessments, and promoting increased public participation in environmental decision making. In this way, the partnership will support the region’s economic growth while maintaining the natural resource base for present and future generations.
- Control and Prevention of Malaria (CAP-M) – The USAID-supported CAP-Malaria project strives for systematic control of malaria in affected border regions of Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand by containing the spread of multi-drug resistant malaria in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. This focus on cross-border malaria control includes the standardization of treatment regimens, increased information sharing, and enhanced behavior-change communication. The CAP-Malaria project aims to serve nearly four million beneficiaries in the LMI region over the next three years. To ensure a coordinated and collaborative approach to addressing these issues, we are working closely with local government and community leaders, health officials, community-based organizations, and private companies.
- Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative – USAID and Harvard Kennedy School have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen educational cooperation in the Lower Mekong region. The parties have agreed to cooperate towards the development of a platform for conducting research, training, and policy on regional topics such as water resource management, regional infrastructure systems, and agricultural systems.
- Support for the Mekong River Commission – USAID is developing a direct program with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) that will provide a grant to strengthen the capacity of the MRC Secretariat, the riparian government fisheries agencies, and research institutes to improve sustainable fisheries management, climate change adaptation, and rural livelihoods. USAID assistance will promote an improved, science-based understanding of the status and trends in fisheries and aquaculture management; address fisheries and other trans-boundary impacts of major development projects, such as mainstream hydroelectric dams; and support regional and national dialogue on sustainable fisheries within a basin-wide Integrated Water Resource Management framework.
- Empowering Women in the Lower Mekong Region – The U.S. government and the Royal Government of Cambodia convened the first-ever Lower Mekong Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue in Siem Reap, Cambodia on July 12 and 13. To build on this dialogue and emerging regional networks of women leaders, USAID is launching several new activities focused on strengthening women’s leadership skills and incorporating their voices into policy discussions. These initiatives include building a regional network of women leaders in government and civil society to address critical transnational issues such as environmental resources management; strengthening ties between elected women leaders in Cambodia; funding scholarships for aspiring women engineers; and funding opportunities for female scientists in Lower Mekong countries to collaborate with U.S. scientists on biodiversity and ecosystems management under the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program.
In addition to the new APSEI-related programs, during 2011-2012, the United States, in close cooperation with LMI partner countries, has launched the following activities under the environment, health, education, and connectivity pillars:
- Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST): This five-year USAID program seeks to combat illegal wildlife trafficking in Asia by reducing consumer demand, strengthening law enforcement capacities, and strengthening regional cooperation and anti-trafficking networks, including the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network.
- Forecast Mekong: This U.S. Geological Survey-led multi-year project covers a range of projects and training related to ecological monitoring, data analysis, visualization and mapping tools. New programming will focus on basin water quality in response to requests from Mekong River Commission members, as well as additional programs which address food security in the Mekong Delta.
- Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests (LEAF): This USAID-supported program is a five-year, $20 million effort that started in January 2011 to promote regional collaboration in the forestry land-use sector. LEAF’s approach allows the LMI countries to learn directly from each other and from U.S. experts about how to balance competing demands for timber and agricultural land, while strengthening capacity to manage and monitor forest resources.
- Disaster Relief Workshops: These U.S. Pacific Command-supported workshops aim to improve regional coordination and information-sharing in the event of natural disasters. One example of such a workshop occurred in September 2011 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and brought over 60 subject matter experts (SMEs) from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States, and the ASEAN Secretariat.
- Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program: The global 5-year EPT program emphasizes early identification of and response to dangerous pathogens in animals before they can become significant threats to human health. In the Lower Mekong Basin, the EPT program identifies and addresses the spread of viruses and key drivers of disease emergence—from deforestation and land use change to wildlife trade and livestock product demands. By identifying and addressing these high risk entry points, and collaborating with government partners to bolster routine disease detection and response capabilities, the EPT program is developing a suite of evidence-based solutions to address public health challenges, while working to safeguard human and animal health and livelihoods in Southeast Asia and beyond.
- Drug Quality Monitoring in Greater Mekong Sub-region: This activity provides support to LMI countries for control and regulation of counterfeit and substandard medicines. The project monitors the quality of drugs used for malaria, tuberculosis, avian influenza, and other infectious diseases treatment in the Greater Mekong sub-region. Two Centers of Excellence are based in Thailand providing technical assistance in drug quality assurance and related activities such as an inventory of legitimate producers of quality anti-infection drugs in the region and training on product manufacturing standards.
- Comprehensive Health and Security Workshop: This Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies-led workshop in June 2012 in Lao, PDR, considered how best to mitigate security impacts of diseases with pandemic potential that can be transmitted from animals to humans such as SARS and avian flu.
- Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: Baseline market assessments for clean cookstoves will be carried out by USAID/RDMA this August for Laos and Cambodia, complementing the market assessment the Alliance has completed for Vietnam. The Alliance hosted a stakeholder consultation workshop with partners in Vietnam on July 12. Thailand has also indicated it intends to move forward with accession to the Global Alliance.
- Counterfeit and Substandard Medicines Training: In February 2012, the United States hosted drug regulators from LMI Partner Countries in Washington D.C. to discuss best practices and lessons learned from U.S. officials’ experience in regulating counterfeit substandard medicines. This August, the United States will invite regulators to a conference co-hosted by Singapore to discuss methods of regional and international collaboration and share best practices.
- Pandemic Preparedness Conference: Held in November 2011, this PACOM and USAID-sponsored health conference focused on helping relevant LMI partner country officials identify resource requirements, communication strategies, and response mechanisms for pandemic preparedness and response.
- LMI Infrastructure Best Practices Exchange: The LMI Best Practices Exchange will bring together government officials from the LMI partner countries responsible for infrastructure development with experts from the public and private sectors from the United States, the Lower Mekong Sub-region, and beyond to share infrastructure development best practices. This exchange will build on the ASEAN Rural Connectivity Conference held in September 2011 in Hanoi, which convened government and private sector to highlight technologies and financing mechanisms that are available to expand ICT services to rural areas in ASEAN, particularly in the Mekong region.
- LMI Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue: Secretary Clinton will lead this conference in Siem Reap immediately following the LMI and FLM Ministerial Meetings. The conference will draw participants from across the Lower Mekong region, the United States, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and Australia, to share best practices to empower women in the region.
- Medical Preparedness: Medical First Responder courses were funded and provided through PACOM to create foundational elements for an emergency medical response system in Cambodia. PACOM also supported equipment and training to establish the blood collection and banking infrastructure in Vientiane, Laos, and plans to expand to a second donor banking facility in Laos.
- Specialized English Language Training: The “Professional Communication Skills for Leaders” was launched this past year. The program will provide government officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam specialized English-language training in the fields of Environment, Health, and Connectivity.
Source: U.S. Depratment of State