The five lower Mekong countries — Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar — should band together to negotiate with China over the river’s future, which is in peril from damming and other unsustainable development projects, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia said last week.
Speaking at a press conference marking 10 years of the Lower Mekong Initiative, in Phnom Penh on Thursday, Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy said the project — a collaboration between the five lower Mekong countries and the U.S. — had seen successes in clean water and education initiatives, but “many, many problems” remained to tackle in the region.
“We need to double down and work together as a collective,” Murphy said.
Unsustainable development practices, including hydropower dam projects damaging the river’s ecosystem, could affect the livelihoods of 60 to 100 million people, he said.
All countries have contributed to the damage, but it was vital that they worked together as a unit rather than in isolation, particularly in talks about sustainability with China, where the river originates, Murphy said.
“We want to work together to make sure that it’s sustainable,” Murphy said. “We know that energy is important, and that includes hydropower, but we have to do it in a smart way that preserves the Mekong, including the ecosystem to provide sustainable fisheries and farming.”
“No one country is deciding priorities, no country is dictating … it is a partnership among six countries.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn said at the anniversary event that the successes of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) also included women’s empowerment and infrastructure.
“As we move forward into the next decade of the LMI, I am sure we will have to tackle many other emerging challenges,” Sokhonn said.
Sokhonn also welcomed new U.S. funding into the project, and said the partnership was vital for tackling transnational challenges and promoting inclusive economic growth.