Lower Mekong Initiative FAQ's
1) What is Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI)?
The Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) is a multinational partnership between the United States and five partner countries -- Cambodia, Lao (People’s Democratic Republic), Thailand, Burma and Vietnam -- aimed at promoting equitable, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth. The LMI seeks to advance connectivity and address regional trans-boundary development and policy challenges in a collaborative fashion. The work of the LMI is organized into six broad “pillars”: agriculture and food security; “connectivity” of infrastructure, institutions, and communities; education; energy security; environment and water; and health. U.S. engagement in LMI underlines the importance of the Lower Mekong region to the United States and our commitment to advancing peace and prosperity in the ASEAN region.
Beginning at the August 2014 LMI Ministerial meeting, the initiative has focused its programming efforts on two priority cross-cutting issues - the intersection, or “nexus,” of water, energy, and food security challenges, and gender equality and women’s empowerment. Through continued collaboration on LMI programs, the United States and LMI partner countries have advanced the vision of narrowing the development gap in ASEAN and supporting the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.
2) How is LMI different from previous U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia?
The United States has a long history of engagement with the countries of Southeast Asia, but there is an increasing awareness of the growing number of issues that cross national boundaries. The Lower Mekong partner countries share our concerns over trans-boundary water management, infectious diseases, vulnerability to climate change, and regional infrastructure development, among other issues. LMI supports the region’s understanding of and ability to respond to these issues by promoting inclusive, equitable, and sustainable economic growth while also protecting the natural resources and ecosystems of the region.
3) Is LMI primarily geared towards the Mekong River?
The primary aim of LMI is to enhance cooperation with the countries of the Lower Mekong region. The health and sustainability of the Mekong River remains a priority concern for the Initiative, but the programming is wide-ranging and diverse. Program decisions are collaborative and reflect the priorities of partner countries. The Mekong River is both the unifying geographical feature of the region and a source of livelihood for some 60 million people. The unique Sister-River Partnership between the Mississippi and Mekong River Commissions remains central to the LMI. This partnership aims to improve water resources development and configure water systems to ensure they are economical, efficient, and environmentally sound. The Mississippi River Commission and the Mekong River Commission play key roles in managing waterways that are vital to the livelihoods of millions of people in their respective regions. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina dramatically demonstrated the urgency of finding new ways to increase the resiliency of vulnerable river systems. The “Sister-River Partnership” allows the two Commissions to share best practices in areas such as integrated floodplain management, climate change adaptation, and sustainable water basin development.
Both the Mississippi River Commission and the Mekong River Commissions participated in the Extraordinary Friends of the Lower Mekong Conference on Mekong sustainability in February 2015. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two commissions was renewed in December, 2015. Under this MOU, the commissions have conducted expert exchanges, and shared best practices in areas of climate change adaptation, flood and drought management, hydropower impact assessments, water resource management, and food security.
Other projects have involved training regional scientists to build expertise in the Mekong’s rich biodiversity and sustainability and supporting the Mekong River Commission’s implementation of the Council Study on regional impacts of hydropower development.
4) What is the U.S. role in the agriculture and food security sector in the Lower Mekong region?
Under the LMI Agriculture and Food Security Pillar, the United States helps LMI partner countries improve agriculture and food security sector growth throughout the Mekong sub-region in an environmentally sustainable manner. Burma and the United States co-chair the programming for this pillar. The LMI Agriculture and Food Security Pillar is designed to support expanded agricultural trade and investment in the region through policy cooperation, technology transfer, and partnerships with farmers and the private sector. USAID and the Department of Agriculture represent major U.S. government agencies that support the agriculture and food security sector in the Lower Mekong region.
For more information about the Agriculture and Food Security Pillar, please click here.
5) What is the U.S. role in building regional connectivity through establishing linkages between LMI country infrastructure, institutions, and communities?
Through its “Connect Mekong” platform, the U.S. government supports physical infrastructure, institutional, and people-to-people “connectivity” to narrow the development gap in ASEAN and promote the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community. The platform established formal channels of communication between LMI and ASEAN, provides trainings, technical assistance, and best practices exchanges, and leverages expertise across many agencies and the private sector to foster trade, entrepreneurship, and innovation in the region. The workforce development project, Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (COMET), will help at least 100 universities and vocational colleges improve economic opportunities for over 250,000 youth throughout the sub-region. COMET includes strategic partnerships with the business community, including Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco.
For more information about the Connectivity Pillar, please click here.
6) What is the U.S. role in supporting regional economic integration?
LMI programs complement the ASEAN Economic Community. U.S. assistance through the Third Country Training Program (TCTP) has helped to build technical capacity within ASEAN and supports regional economic integration. As of June 2015, Singapore and the United States have jointly organized twelve training courses to train over 400 ASEAN leaders in the areas of disaster resilience, sustainable development, and connectivity. Specific trainings have been held on the topics of disaster relief, trade facilitation and investment, sustainable urban transportation, energy efficient buildings, public procurement, intellectual property rights enforcement, hydrology, integrated water resources development, healthcare management, counterfeit and sub-standard medications, and bio-risk management.
7) What is the U.S. role in the education sector in the Lower Mekong region?
Under the LMI Education Pillar, the United States has partnered with the Lower Mekong to support more than 500 student and scholarly exchanges each year. Thailand and the United States co-chair this pillar. Through programs like the Fulbright, International Visitor Leadership Program, Mansfield Professional Fellows, and the Professional Communication Skills for Leaders (PCSL) programs, mid- to upper-level government officials are provided with opportunities for professional development and technical English proficiency training so that they can actively contribute to LMI and other regional meetings fora in the official working language. The Professional Communication Skills for Leaders program, in its third year, is highly rated by LMI countries. U.S. assistance also supports increasing basic education enrollment and expanding broadband Internet connectivity in rural communities. During the past year, the United States has expanded the International Visitor Leadership Program and Professional Fellows programs, offering professionals from the region the opportunity to visit the United States to explore topics such as Watershed Management, Food Security, Women’s Role in Sustainable Development, Respiratory Diseases, Environmental Monitoring, and Emergency Preparedness, develop best practices, and build both regional and international working connections. The Department of Education shares its experience in the education sector with its counterparts in the Lower Mekong region.
For more information about the Education Pillar, please click here.
8) What is the U.S. role in energy security in the Lower Mekong region?
Governments in the region and independent analysts expect energy consumption in the Lower Mekong sub region to increase by at least five percent annually. Under the LMI Energy Security Pillar, the United States works with LMI partner countries to coordinate a strategic regional approach to energy security and accessibility. Thailand and the United States co-chair this pillar. The LMI Energy Security Pillar seeks to increase energy security and economic competitiveness through developing unconventional and renewable sources of energy, ensuring access to energy, and enhancing regional interconnectivity. The Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources, the Departments of Energy, Commerce, Transportation, and USAID represent major U.S. government agencies that support the energy security sector in the Lower Mekong region.
For more information about the Energy Security Pillar, please click here.
9) What is the U.S. role in the environment and water sector in the Lower Mekong region?
Under the LMI Environment and Water Pillar, the United States works with LMI partner countries to develop a regional approach to sustainable environmental management and strengthen their ability to manage shared water resources. Vietnam and the United States chair the programming for this pillar. An example of this is the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong Program (SIM), which provides technical assistance to governments within the Lower Mekong River Basin to promote infrastructure development, water resources management and land-use planning.
Billions of dollars of new infrastructure are being planned and constructed in this region. To minimize the negative impacts on the natural resource base and the people who depend on them, this pillar also promotes effective implementation of environmental safeguards. Together with other donors, LMI is providing capacity building, technical assistance, information exchange and support to a Regional Technical Working Group consisting of government and civil society representatives to improve LMI countries’ abilities to implement Environmental Impact Assessments.
This pillar is also providing numerous forms of support for improved decision-making for the management of water and natural resources. This includes geo-spatial data and capacity in remote sensing applications, exchanges between the Mississippi and Mekong River management institutions, numerous training and technical assistance programs. Some of the US Government agencies supporting this effort include the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Energy, US Geological Survey, and the US Agency for International Development.
The pillar also promotes dialogue and information exchange among LMI partner countries to encourage policies and programs that support the sound management of natural resources, with an emphasis on transnational issues, like disaster risk reduction, water security, and natural resources conservation and management. USAID, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamations, and the Corps of Engineers represent major U.S. government agencies that support the environment and water sector in the Lower Mekong region.
For more information about the Environment and Water Pillar, please click here.
10) What is the U.S. role in the health sector in the Lower Mekong region?
The United States is a major contributor to efforts to strengthen health systems in the Lower Mekong and supports the One-Health approach, which recognizes the important linkages between human health, animal health, and ecosystem health. To that end, Members will continue to implement International Health Regulations, develop national antimicrobial resistance action plans, control the use of counterfeit and substandard medications, and use information technology systems to support health goals across the region.
On May 20, 2015, the United States and Government of Cambodia hosted an exercise on emergency health threat response protocols to promote transnational cooperation, highlighting the need for information-sharing mechanisms, standardizing international health regulations, and combating counterfeit and sub-standard medications. USAID, the Centers for Disease Control, Health and Human Services Department, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and National Institutes of Health represent major U.S. government agencies that support the health sector in the Lower Mekong region.
For more information about the Health Pillar, please click here.
11) What is LMI doing to empower women?
In support of the first Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue in 2012, the United States worked with the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and its regional counterparts to develop a set of recommendations for how to integrate women’s empowerment into LMI. All Pillars now work to factor gender equality into projects and trainings and starting in FY2016, we will be keeping metrics on women’s participation in every aspect of LMI.
In addition, the United States supports programming including the establishment of two Women’s Entrepreneurial Centers of Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE), which are community centers focused on providing a safe and centralized location for women to access important resources for economic empowerment. LMI Foreign Ministers and the U.S. Secretary of State, recognizing the importance of integrating gender issues across development and policy planning, affirmed their support for these Centers and welcomed the launch of the first Center in Cambodia in September, 2015. A second WECREATE Center is planned for Vietnam, and both are designed to advance gender equality in entrepreneurship through a portfolio of programs, tools, and events created to address the barriers women face when starting and growing their businesses.
COMET addresses gender equality and female empowerment by providing mechanisms to boost female participation in e-Learning and face-to-face training in the Lower Mekong countries.
12) What is the Water, Energy, and Food Security Nexus?
The “nexus” is a shorthand reference to planning that accounts for the linkages among water, energy, and food security to advance economic growth while promoting sustainable practices and policies that improve the lives of people and protect the environment. Similar to “integrated water resources management” and “sustainable development,” the nexus is a way of approaching development problems in a dynamic, adaptive process rather than a fixed set of solutions. Nexus planning promotes long-term planning and management and the development of resources for economic, social, and environmental benefits, while anticipating resource constraints and the growing interdependencies among water, energy, food, and the environment.
13) What is Forecast Mekong?
Forecast Mekong was the first program under LMI and remains an important part of Environment and Water Pillar programming. It is an information- and data-sharing, capacity building, modeling, and visualization project for the Mekong Delta sub-region (Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam). This project aims to help policy makers, academics, resource managers, and the public in these countries understand and predict outcomes from climate change and development projects in the Mekong River Basin, in addition to building capacities at relevant government agencies and local universities for data collection, quantification, and use in helping support informed climate change, and riparian, hydrological, and broader ecological and environmental policy development.
14) How do other regional powers fit in to LMI?
LMI is designed to complement the efforts of other regional institutions that seek to engage Lower Mekong partner countries. Under LMI, the Friends of the Lower Mekong (FLM) is an important convening platform and a mechanism to improve donor coordination in programming development assistance in the Mekong sub-region. FLM implements donor dialogues among partner country development agencies and multilateral development institutions to expand information sharing, strengthen partner country ownership of programs, and support emerging donors in the Lower Mekong region. FLM’s annual policy dialogue is initiated between foreign affairs ministries on non-traditional security issues, such as the nexus of Water, Energy, and Food Security challenges. On February 2-3, 2015, the Friends of the Lower Mekong (FLM) met in Pakse, Lao PDR, for an “Extraordinary Meeting” of Friends of the Lower Mekong to renew, among other issues, their commitments to strengthening river basin cooperation, focusing on the “nexus” of water, energy, food, and development, and building multi-sector partnerships at the local, national, and regional levels that are critical to addressing water-related challenges.
15) How much assistance does the United States provide to the Lower Mekong region?
Since LMI was launched in 2009, the United States has provided over $100 million for LMI programs. Bilateral U.S. assistance to the LMI members across all sectors totals over $285 million in FY 2015.
16) How can civil society and the private sector engage in LMI?
LMI encourages partnership approaches to meeting regional development priorities and addressing regional challenges, including with civil society, the private sector, academia, and other institutions which can help contribute to solutions for the region’s most pressing needs. Opportunities exist for the private sector, civil society, and other partners to engage on a pillar or project basis. For more information about civil society involvement, please contact Jessica Zaman at the Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA) in Bangkok. For more information about private sector involvement, please contact Jonathan Thompson in the Economic and Business Affairs Bureau in Washington.