Earlier this month, I traveled to Cambodia to join Secretary Clinton at the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial meetings where we launched “LMI 2020” – a deepening of the United States’ commitment to Southeast Asia through a set of new activities aimed at strengthening regional coordination on development challenges facing the Lower Mekong region.
“LMI 2020” seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of the environmental and health implications of economic and infrastructure development along the Mekong River, one of the most bio-diverse fresh-water ecosystems on the planet, as well as to strengthen the capacity and coordination of government, civil society and academic/research institutions in the region on these issues. These new assistance programs support the LMI pillars of environment, education, health and connectivity which are co-chaired respectively by Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. But one of the most exciting outcomes was the formal welcome of Burma as a full participant in the Lower Mekong Initiative and the adoption of a fifth pillar on Agriculture and Food Security that Burma will co-chair.
The Lower Mekong Initiative was launched in 2009 as a framework for addressing the transnational challenges posed by infrastructure development along the Mekong River and a way to share information and analysis and to improve coordination amongst the countries in the region as well as donors. Hence a parallel effort, bringing together the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” (FLM) around the table with the Mekong countries, has also become a critical way of aligning programs and policies. I was struck by how far our partnerships under the LMI framework have progressed in the three years since it was launched. LMI partners now regularly discuss challenges with each other, at the highest political levels as well as in technical working group meetings, on issues such as the impact of proposed hydropower projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, or the need to coordinate to fight emerging pandemic threats.
After several days of productive meetings in Phnom Penh surrounding the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial meetings, I then traveled to Siem Reap to participate in the Lower Mekong Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue, which USAID co-hosted along with the State Department and the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs to highlight the role of women in the fostering sustainable development in the Mekong region. Secretary Clinton gave an inspiring speech on women’s rights as workers and the need to ensure opportunities for all girls and women. USAID has committed to support women leaders in the region to build a network to address critical transnational issues, such as environmental resources management. Listening to the dynamic and vibrant women participants at the conference, it was clear to me that the potential in the region to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth could not be achieved without the full and active participation of women.
For more information, see the fact sheets on LMI, the Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI) and more at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/