1) What is the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI)?
The LMI was created in response to the July 23, 2009 meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of the Lower Mekong Countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam -- in Phuket, Thailand. At this first ever U.S.-Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting, the Ministers agreed to enhance cooperation in the areas of environment, health, education, and infrastructure development. The 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 as a whole. Burma formally joined the initiative in July 2012.
2) How is the LMI different from previous U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia?
While the United States has a long history of engagement with the countries of Southeast Asia on a bilateral basis, this is an increasing awareness of the growing number of issues that cross national boundaries. The countries of the Lower Mekong region share a variety of common concerns, including transboundary water management, infectious diseases such as dengue and pandemic influenza, and vulnerability to climate change. The LMI seeks to support a common regional understanding of these issues and to facilitate an effective, coordinated response.
3) Is the LMI primarily geared towards the Mekong River?
The primary aim of the LMI is to enhance cooperation with the countries of the Lower Mekong region; it does not specifically focus on the river itself. That said, the term Lower Mekong region highlights the role of the Mekong River, both as the unifying geographical feature of the region and as a source of livelihood for some 60 million people. As a result, the LMI does include several projects which focus directly on the Mekong River, including the sister-river partnership and the Forecast Mekong modeling tool.
4) What is Forecast Mekong? How will it be used?
Forecast Mekong is a data integration, modeling, and scientific visualization tool that can help inform management decisions related to the Mekong river basin. It will provide a powerful visualization of the Mekong Delta ecosystem and show the impacts of climate change and economic development scenarios on the river and the people who depend on it for their livelihoods. The Forecast Mekong project provides a forum to engage regional partners in the Mekong Basin countries to share data and support local research efforts, and is intended to be accessible to nontechnical audiences, including high-level decision makers.
5) How will the sister-river partnership benefit the LM countries?
The Mississippi River Commission and the Mekong River Commission both 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” will allow the two bodies to share best practices in areas such as integrated floodplain management, climate change adaptation, and sustainable basin development.
6) What is the U.S. role in the health sector in the LM?
The United States is a major contributor to efforts to strengthen health systems in the Lower Mekong, spending approximately USD $140 million per year in this area. U.S. assistance has provided HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services to over 2 million people across the region, supports programs to monitor and respond to outbreaks of pandemic influenza, and supports the tracking, identification and treatment of multi- drug resistant malaria and TB in the Mekong region. On June 17-18, 2010, the United States and Government of Vietnam hosted the first ever U.S.-Mekong Conference on transnational infectious disease cooperation, highlighting the need for information-sharing mechanisms, standardizing international health regulations, and combating counterfeit/substandard medications.
7) What is the U.S. role in the education sector in the LM?
U.S. assistance in the area of education supports more than 500 student and scholarly exchanges with Mekong countries each year through the Fulbright Program and other educational programs. 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 of the International Visitors Program offering regional professionals working in the areas of Watershed Management, Food Security, Women’s Role in Sustainable Development, Respiratory Diseases, Environmental Monitoring, Emergency Preparedness, and Regional Economic Cooperation for Development the opportunity to visit the U.S. and participate in workshops to develop best practices and build both regional and international working connections.
8) How do other regional powers fit in to the LMI?
The United States is hopeful that the LMI will complement the efforts of other regional players who seek to engage the Lower Mekong countries. For example, in 2009 Japan pledged significant assistance to the Lower Mekong countries at the first ever Japan-Mekong Summit in Tokyo. We also recognize China’s growing role in the Lower Mekong region, as a source both of assistance and investment in the region, and also as home to the source of the Mekong River. We hope that China will further develop its cooperation with the Lower Mekong countries, developing the river in a way that is sustainable and enables benefits to be equitably shared among the various countries that depend on the river.
9) How much assistance does the U.S. provide to the LM?
Total U.S. assistance to the Lower Mekong countries will total more than USD $220 million in FY10. Approximately two-thirds of this total will be in the areas of environment, health and education.