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The U.S. Government inter-agency Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) program, coordinated by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), provides Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) partner countries with support to develop environmentally sound and socially equitable infrastructure, clean energy development, land and/or water resources use.

According to World Health Organization calculations, some 1.5 million children die each year across the world from diarrheal disease and 94 percent of the cases are due to unclean water, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene. But the detrimental effects of these problems are by no means limited to children: they have severe and long-lasting effects on individual health and development, which taken as a whole put great stress on many developing nations. For example, illness from poor sanitation has been estimated to cost Cambodia and Vietnam over $1 billion in lost Gross Domestic Product every year due to missed workdays.

The Mekong River plays a central role in the lives of millions of people in South East Asia who depend on it for their food, water, income, and transportation. Yet it is precisely because of its importance that the river faces many challenges as the countries of the Lower Mekong – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam -- look to the future.

The Mekong River Basin is home to 60 million people, of whom 70 percent are engaged in subsistence agriculture. These culturally diverse people are among the poorest in Asia, and they depend heavily on the river and its tributaries for food, income, transportation, and drinking water. As such, they are highly vulnerable to changes in climate. One of the expected consequences of this change is rising temperatures. As temperatures rise, many species of crops, fish and animals lose their vigor and are less able to compete, while other animal, plant and insect species move in to take their place. This can be very disruptive to agriculture and fisheries and the people that depend on them. Another change that scientific models predict is a substantial increase in weather variability. This too can have a dramatic effect on the kinds of crops that can be grown or harvested from nearby land.

Forests cover nearly 50 percent of the Lower Mekong region, providing a wide array of benefits to millions of people. Trees are one of nature’s most efficient ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing carbon. The region’s forests, with their unique flora and fauna, are also important sources of income and employment and contribute significantly to people’s health and the economic growth of the surrounding countryside. Yet despite the benefits, forests in the Mekong region continue to be destroyed at an alarming rate (nearly 1% per year, or more than 500,000 hectares per year), as land is converted for crops, grazing or other uses. Unsustainable and illegal logging, urbanization, and climate change also add significantly to their rapid decline. The loss and degradation of forests are important factors in global climate change, representing about 15 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. Roughly half of this amount comes from deforestation and forest degradation in Asia.

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Last updated: May 07, 2019

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