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August 1, 09

NEWS / Nations Aim to Mitigate Effects of Climate Change in Mekong Basin

United States, Southeast Asian countries partner on climate change, health
By Lauren Caldwell
Staff Writer

Washington — A growing partnership between the United States and countries bordering the lower Mekong River will focus on combating climate change, which is considered especially harmful to the Mekong basin, as well as improving health and education.

The countries of the lower Mekong — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam — are connected by the Mekong River, the longest river in Southeast Asia. Because of its geographic position, the lower Mekong is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and glacial melt, which could lead to a host of economic and social problems. Flooding could affect rice farming and fishing, and hurt millions who depend on the river for their livelihood. As industrial development booms, the region is also susceptible to pollution.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam July 23 to discuss solutions to these issues and more. The first-ever group meeting with the secretary and the ministers was held during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Phuket, Thailand. (See fact sheet on U.S. scientific collaboration with lower Mekong countries.)

Earlier at the ASEAN forum, Clinton stressed her commitment to advancing peace and prosperity throughout Southeast Asia.

“President Obama and I believe that this region is vital to global progress, peace, and prosperity, and we are fully engaged with our ASEAN partners on the wide range of challenges confronting us, from regional and global security to the economic crisis to human rights and climate change,” Clinton said. (See Remarks by Secretary Clinton in Laguna Phuket, Thailand.)

Addressing climate change in the lower Mekong will be a priority of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, Clinton said at the ASEAN meeting. The United States will spend more than $7 million on environmental programs in the lower Mekong in 2009. Some of the projects will promote sustainable use of forest and water resources, improve access to safe drinking water, and preserve the biodiversity of the Mekong basin. Another project, Forecast Mekong, will seek to predict the impact of climate change on the Mekong River with a tool previously used for the Mississippi River.

The Mekong River Commission and the Mississippi River Commission have agreed to establish a “sister-river” partnership to share their experiences with flood and drought management, water demand and food security, and hydropower. All lower Mekong countries are members of the Mekong River Commission, founded in 1995, which works to facilitate regional cooperation and sustainable management of water. The Mississippi River Commission, founded in 1879, works to promote commerce, prevent floods and improve the condition of the United States’ largest river.

The United States also will contribute more than $138 million to health programs and $16 million to education programs in the four lower Mekong countries this year. Ongoing U.S. assistance has contributed to a 50 percent reduction in HIV/AIDS infection rates in Cambodia, according to State Department figures. U.S. assistance also supports ongoing treatment for pandemic influenza, malaria and tuberculosis. U.S. funding will also provide for more than 500 student exchanges, increased school enrollment and expanded Internet use in rural communities in the four countries.

The ministers agreed to hold a U.S.-Mekong Conference on Integrated Approaches to Infectious Disease and a U.S.-Mekong Forum on the Internet, Education and Development over the next several months.

Read more: http://www.america.gov/st/energy-english/2009/July/20090730164959kjleinad2.148074e-02.html?CP.rss=true#ixzz0MxEFLqGz

Tags: secretary of state,


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