Lower Mekong Initiative Launches "Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership"
On July 25, 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry led the United States’ delegation to the Ninth Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting in Vientiane, Laos. Established at the July 2009 ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) annual meetings, LMI seeks to narrow the development gap between the five Lower Mekong countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, and the rest of ASEAN.
At their annual gathering, the Ministers reaffirmed the importance of developing sustainable infrastructure to help promote economic development, environmental conservation, and climate resilience in the Lower Mekong. Responding to the Mekong’s worst drought in 90 years, Ministers recognized the urgency and gravity of multinational collaboration on sustainable infrastructure development. This year’s meeting marked the formal launch of the “Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership,” a training platform for LMI officials to accomplish two main goals. First, the Partnership will provide a vehicle for LMI countries to identify training deficiencies that can be addressed through future programming. In addition, it will establish a mechanism for coordinating among the Friends of the Lower Mekong (FLM) to streamline the planning process and improve efficiency. Through this program, the United States and FLM partners will collaborate to facilitate complementary capacity-building trainings in LMI countries.
Under LMI, the United States has worked to strengthen our cooperation with the Lower Mekong region. We have in partnership with LMI and FLM members addressed a number of critical development challenges in the Mekong region. Through the U.S-Singapore Third Country Program founded in 2012, the United States has trained over 800 ASEAN officials on topics ranging from cyber-crime to water management. In September of last year, the U.S. launched a women’s business center in Cambodia and will be launching a second in Vietnam this year. The business centers provide women entrepreneurs access to workshops, mentor networks, and academic trainings. Through the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong program (SIM), U.S. government experts have worked hand-in-hand with local ministries to overcome challenges related to infrastructure development, operations, and environmental impact mitigation.
The Master Plan of Action to Implement Lower Mekong Initiative 2016-2020 emphasizes the cross-cutting areas of the water, energy, and food security nexus and gender equality and women’s empowerment, in addition to the six programmatic areas of focus (“pillars”): agriculture and food security; connectivity; education; energy security; environment and water; and health. The new “Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership” initiative will complement LMI and FLM efforts in the region to date.
LMI Signature Programs include:
- Connect Mekong– promotes regional economic integration and the realization of the ASEAN Community in 2016 by fostering trade, entrepreneurship, and innovation;
- Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM)– a technical and scientific assistance program for environmentally sound, socially equitable infrastructure, clean energy, and land and water use;
- Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (COMET) – a workforce development project implemented in partnership with major technology companies that strengthens educational institutions in increasing the number of skilled workers in ASEAN priority sectors.
- Professional Communication Skills for Leaders (PCSL)– develops the proficiency of regional teachers for English language instruction in technical areas related to the LMI Pillars;
- Women’s Entrepreneurial Center of Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE) – a women’s entrepreneurship project that provides safe spaces for women to access education, tools, and resources to start and scale their businesses; and
- One Health Program- promotes early detection and response to diseases in animals before becoming threats to human health, and enhances regional capacity for disease prevention, detection, and response across human and animal health, and the environment.
Now in its seventh year, LMI has assisted member nations in building governmental and civil society capacities. LMI has also facilitated critical multinational collaboration through programs like the U.S-Singapore Third Country Program and Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong. At this year’s meeting, the Ministers formally launched the “Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership” initiative, a new platform to improve infrastructure sustainability in the Mekong sub-region through complementary capacity-building activities supported by regional donors. Through its six Pillars, LMI has responded to regional development challenges, a role which will be especially critical now as the Mekong River faces a severe drought. An overview of LMI is available at the Lower Mekong Initiative website www.lowermekong.org and www.facebook.com/lowermekong.