Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong

Speeches Shim

Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong provides partner countries with the U.S. Government’s best expertise in natural resource management to safeguard the region from the negative impacts of hydropower dams, irrigation systems, roads, and other infrastructure development.  The demand-driven program builds strong regional partnerships through its direct collaboration with ministries on water security, biodiversity conservation, and climate risk reduction.

The Mekong Basin faces an increasing reduction in water availability that is linked to climate change and upstream water manipulation, inadequate capacity to address environmental challenges, and decaying infrastructure.  As one of a suite of USAID programs that address environmental concerns across Asia, Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong focuses on Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.


Fish populations are declining throughout the Mekong Basin, due to the construction of large and small hydropower dams and thousands of irrigation weirs. These structures block migratory species from moving to historic spawning areas and dry season refuges, impacting food security for more than 60 million people. To address this, the program supported the Lower Mekong Regional Fish Passage Initiative to improve coordination between irrigation and fisheries departments. In partnership with the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, the Mekong River Commission, Australia, Japan, and Lower Mekong governments, the initiative assisted in the inventory and prioritization of small-scale barriers to fish passage across the Lower Mekong and constructed six demonstration fishways.


The same structures that impound fish also change river characteristics, including the timing and volume of downstream water flows, and the transfer of essential sediments.  The program conducted training on improved water resource planning, including the measurement of river discharge and estimation of flood frequency.  Other training on sedimentation processes and reservoir design, construction, and operation maximized the operational life of reservoirs, helping to ensure adequate downstream sediment transfer. For example, from 2014 to 2015, the program provided technical experts to assist in drafting and reviewing the Government of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Study, the first comprehensive assessment of the impacts of mainstem dams on the Mekong River.


Thousands of irrigation dams in the Lower Mekong Basin are at or beyond their functional, safe lifespan.  Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong teams worked with officials in Laos and Vietnam to assess safety conditions and programs at hydropower and irrigation dams, building Ministry-level capacity to assess dam failure risk and conduct recurrent safety inspections. The program trained more than 100 dam operators in Laos, and more than 500 officials in 20 of Vietnam’s 58 provinces.


Since its inception in 2014, the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong program leveraged the expertise of U.S. Department of Interior scientists, engineers, and technical experts to conduct workshops and field-based training; support Lower Mekong government programs, regulations and statutes; and deliver advanced training on U.S. practices. The program developed demand-driven solutions throughout the region to enhance river ecology and fisheries assessments, hydropower environmental safeguards and environmental law development, and dam safety and sedimentation assessment. A signature outcome of the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong was the Lower Mekong Regional Fish Passage Initiative, which has connected millions of fish to native waters vital to their lifecycle.

Last updated: October 12, 2022

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