The Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), established in July 2009, expanded its original focus to include a Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership in response to this year’s historic drought that devastated the Mekong region. With support from the U.S., the new partnership aims to promote economic development, environmental conservation, and climate resilience.
Through LMI, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S. collaborated to create sub-regional cooperation that fosters economic growth and aims to narrow the development gap between the Lower Mekong countries.
At this year’s annual meeting, LMI designed the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, a training platform with two main goals: to help LMI countries identify training deficiencies in infrastructure planning and to develop a strategy to enhance the planning process and improve efficiency. This new partnership comes as a result of a crippling drought in the Lower Mekong. The region produces 13 percent of the world’s rice, centering its economic stability on agriculture. However, the current Mekong River levels are at their lowest point of the past century, putting millions of farmers that depend on this water source at risk.
The Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership aims to lessen the region’s vulnerability to climate change and strengthen its infrastructure. This new element adds to the existing six pillars of LMI: agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, as well as health. The success of LMI can be attributed to the targeted approaches of each pillar’s program.
The Lower Mekong Initiative fosters agriculture and food security by expanding trade and investment in the region. Encouraging community engagement in the industry is also key. Similarly, the connectivity pillar draws upon U.S. strengths to promote physical, institutional, and people-to-people connectivity across the region.
The education pillar encourages the sharing of best practices between countries; supporting programs that encourage English language proficiency and teacher training. LMI health pillar combats transnational challenges, such as infectious diseases, as well as supporting the enforcement of International Health Regulations.
The U.S. has played a central role in the success of LMI, having founded a U.S.-Singapore Third Country Program that has trained regional officials on cybercrime and water management. The U.S. has also helped Cambodia launch a women’s business center, with plans to launch another in Vietnam this year.
Through the Lower Mekong Initiative, the region has seen growth in several sectors. The adoption of the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership will further benefit Lower Mekong countries, continuing to narrow the development gap across the region.
– Anna O’Toole