PHNOM PENH — Foreign ministers from Lower Mekong nations and the US convened for their fifth meeting yesterday in Phnom Penh to review the implementation of programmes on the environment, education, health and infrastructure.
This year's meeting saw the first presence of Myanmar as an official Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) partner nation, together with Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam.
At the meeting, the ministers agreed to add a new pillar of agriculture and food security chaired by Myanmar, to establish the pillar "connectivity" on the basis of broadening the co-operation content in infrastructure, and strengthen co-operation with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) while broadening programmes on water.
The environment and water pillar, formerly known as the environment pillar, will be chaired by Viet Nam.
The meeting agreed to strengthen co-ordination among LMI countries through a co-ordination network. They also decided to establish an LMI working group of experts and outstanding figures.
The ministers also ratified a LMI concept paper and a plan of action to implement the LMI during 2011-15, while releasing a statement on gender equality and female empowerment. A LMI working group for gender was also formed.
At the meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced an LMI programme to 2020, pledging a US$50 million assistance package for LMI activities over the next three years, as well as committing $2 million for the fisheries programme and $1 million for a MRC research programme on the impacts of hydroelectric dams on the main flow of the Mekong River.
On the same day, the Friends of Lower Mekong (FLM) Ministerial Meeting also took place in Phnom Penh, bringing together foreign ministers and high-ranking officials from the LMI countries as well as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the European Union, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, among others.
The meeting discussed working methods and mechanisms to promote the co-ordinating role of the FLM for regional co-operation programmes.
The meeting agreed on two working channels of the FLM, including information sharing between aid agencies and policy dialogues between foreign ministries on non-traditional and trans-national security issues, such as the environment, climate change, health, and infrastructure development.
The sustainable management and use of Mekong River water resources, especially the environmental and social impacts of hydropower dams on the main stream, were highlighted at both meetings.
The ministers called on the riverside countries to closely co-ordinate and increase the transparency in using and managing shared water resources. They also affirmed to continue co-operating with the MRC and help it to conduct research on the sustainable management and development of the Mekong River.
Speaking at the meetings, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh stressed that the operation of the LMI should focus on assisting Mekong countries in addressing difficulties and challenges on infrastructure, natural disaster management, climate change, food and water security.
He suggested the countries help the MRC make comprehensive, objective and scientific assessments on the impacts of hydropower dams on the main stream of the Mekong River.
The Vietnamese FM proposed two initiatives on the management of underground and dry-season water in the Mekong basin, which were applauded by the meetings.
The objectives of these initiatives are to ensure the effective and sustainable use of underground water resources, create regional co-operation mechanisms in managing underground and dry-season water, and improve the countries' capacity to cope with natural disasters, helping ensure water security for the region.
The 6th LMI Foreign Ministers' Meeting will be held in Brunei in 2013. — VNS