Bangkok – Today, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Department of the Interior’s International Technical Assistance Program (DOI-ITAP) celebrated the official closeout of the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong program—an eight-year U.S. government interagency effort that helped Lower Mekong governments reduce the negative impacts of hydropower dams, irrigation systems, roads, and other infrastructure development. At the closeout event at the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), USAID and DOI-ITAP highlighted the many program achievements with particular emphasis on the program’s signature Lower Mekong Fish Passage Initiative.
The Lower Mekong Regional Fish Passage Initiative was a regional effort by the five Lower Mekong countries to improve coordination between irrigation and fisheries departments to address the transboundary challenge of declining fish stocks. In partnership with SEAFDEC, the Mekong River Commission, Australia, Japan, and Lower Mekong governments, the five-year initiative assisted in the inventory and prioritization of small-scale barriers to fish passage across the Lower Mekong and included the construction of six demonstration fishways in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, which has connected millions of fish to native waters vital to their lifecycle.
“Decades of water control and irrigation development—in particular, the construction of thousands of irrigation dams—across the Lower Mekong threatens fish populations and the livelihood of the millions who depend on them,” said Dr. Steven G. Olive, Mission Director, USAID’s Regional Development Mission for Asia. “Together we’ve shown that small-scale fish passages represent a feasible and relatively inexpensive solution to the problem of declining fish stocks.”
Supported by USAID and implemented by DOI-ITAP, the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong program provided partner countries in the Lower Mekong Region with the U.S. government’s expertise in natural resource management—with the overall goal to improve the social and environmental safeguards for infrastructure development. The program advanced the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, which promotes the stability, peace, prosperity, and sustainable development of the Mekong sub-region through cooperation among the Mekong partner countries and the United States.
Since its inception in 2014, the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong program executed 77 missions by scientists, engineers, and technical experts from the U.S. Department of Interior to conduct workshops and field-based training, assess existing programs, regulations and statutes, and provide U.S.-based advanced training. Providing on-demand expertise across the region, the program also responded to 19 requests for river ecology and fisheries assessments, hydropower environmental safeguards and environmental law development, dam safety and sedimentation assessment, and hydrological training.