Sustainable Mekong

The Lower Mekong Subregion, an area comprised of five Southeast Asian countries (Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos), covers 1.9 million square kilometers and has a combined population of approximately 235 million. Rapid economic growth in the Lower Mekong Subregion over the past two decades has reduced poverty rates, but has also accelerated an infrastructure development trajectory that, if unchecked, will cause irrevocable harm to the region’s natural resources and environment.

New investments—especially in large-scale infrastructure and agriculture—can have significant social, environmental, and economic impacts over the short and long term. Without sound social and environmental safeguards, projects such as hydropower dams in the Lower Mekong River Basin (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos) will disrupt the river’s major fisheries and degrade the food security, livelihoods, income opportunity, water availability, and transportation options for approximately 60 million people. Similarly, the conversion of natural forests into palm oil, rubber, timber and other commercial agricultural commodities, as well as for the development of roads, dams, mines and pipelines, threaten biodiversity in the Lower Mekong countries.

USAID/RDMA’s Regional Environment Office is working with the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) countries (Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos) to develop a regional approach to sustainable environmental management and strengthen capacity to manage shared water resources. Over the next five years, USAID/RDMA will help the Mekong shift its development trajectory toward sustainable, green growth by supporting two new complementary programs, Sustainable Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) and Mekong Partnership for the Environment Project (MPE).

Sustainable Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM):

Sustainable Infrastructure for the Mekong will provide Lower Mekong partner governments with rapidly deployable technical assistance from the U.S. Government’s premier scientists and engineers to mitigate potential negative social and environmental consequences from large infrastructure projects. As part of the Lower Mekong Initiative, SIM will look to 21st Century innovations as alternatives to traditional infrastructure development in order to address sustainability challenges. SIM technical assistance offerings could include:

  • Peer review consultations on infrastructure assessments such as environmental and social impact assessments, hydrological modeling, climate change vulnerability, siting proposals, etc.
  • Technical training for decision makers on environmental and social impact assessments and public participation processes
  • Analyses of innovative alternatives to traditional infrastructure development designs

Mekong Partnership for the Environment Project (MPE):

The Mekong Partnership for the Environment, a new four-year program, will work to advance informed multi-stakeholder dialogues in Lower Mekong countries of the anticipated social and environmental costs and benefits of regional development projects. By strengthening technical capacity and regional networking of stakeholders in infrastructure planning and investment, MPE aims to increase the social and environmental soundness of development projects in the region. MPE objectives include:

  • Increase the capacity of civil society to influence development decisions that have significant anticipated social and environmental impacts
  • Strengthen regional platforms for multi-stakeholder participation in development decision-making
  • Increase public access to quality, timely information on environmental and social costs and benefits of development projects

As key components of the Lower Mekong Initiative, SIM and MPE contribute toward a multinational effort initiated by former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton in 2009 to foster integrated sub-regional cooperation and capacity building among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and now Burma, in the areas of education, health, environment and water, agriculture and food security, energy security and connectivity.

Last updated: June 17, 2014

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