Washington — The United States will provide $50 million over the next three years to fund health, environmental, women’s empowerment and other developmental projects in Southeast Asian countries linked to the Lower Mekong River.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the funding in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 13 when she unveiled a new, long-term commitment to the region known as the Lower Mekong Initiative 2020 (LMI 2020).
“It is a multiyear vision for how the United States can help each of our partners together as well as individually to build a more prosperous region,” she said.
One part of LMI 2020 involves U.S. support for a new partnership between the government of Vietnam and Harvard University to train the region’s next generation of public policy specialists and leaders in key areas. Other efforts under LMI 2020 will inject new resources into the fight against malaria and climate change. The funding for LMI 2020 is in addition to bilateral support the United States already provides.
LMI 2020 will have a coordinating hub at the office of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Bangkok to facilitate cooperation and connectivity among the members. Clinton made it clear that participation by all is needed to make the initiative a success.
“We think this initiative has great potential, but it can only be successful if we have full participation of all the partners, because we need your ideas and we need your very constructive and candid dialogue with us,” she said.
One of the sensitive topics among the countries in the Lower Mekong region is dam construction, which could help some but harm others.
“Some studies have explored the benefits of generating electricity, but serious questions remain about the effects on fisheries, agriculture, livelihoods, environment and health,” she said.
Clinton said the United States and other donor countries are prepared to commit up to $1 million to support studies on the impact of dams on the Lower Mekong. She urged the governments of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to hold off starting dam construction until the controversies are resolved.
Clinton made a special point during her stay in Cambodia to emphasize the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment. The U.S. government is launching several new activities focused on strengthening women’s leadership skills and incorporating their voices into policy discussions.
Those activities involve building a regional network of women leaders in government and civil society to address common issues such as environmental resources and management, funding scholarships for future women engineers, and providing financial backing for female scientists in the Lower Mekong countries to collaborate with U.S. scientists, according to a State Department fact sheet.
To support Burma’s political transition toward democracy, the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are sending a trade and investment delegation July 14–15 in an effort to connect the once-isolated country with the global economy.
Clinton said LMI 2020 symbolizes a long-term U.S. commitment to the region. “We’re proud to be your partners, enduring partners, as you promote security and prosperity, and we look forward to many years of working together,” she said.