Foreign ministers of Lower Mekong nations and the US convened their fifth meeting on July 13 in Phnom Penh to review the implementation of programmes on 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 other Mekong countries namely Cambodia , Laos , Thailand and Vietnam .

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 cooperation content in infrastructure, and strengthen cooperation with MRC while broadening programmes on water.

The environment and water pillar, formerly known as the environment pillar, will be chaired by Vietnam .

The meeting agreed to strengthen coordination among LMI countries through a coordination 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 in 2011-2015 and a joint statement, 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 50 million USD assistance package for LMI activities in the next three years, as well as committing 2 million USD for the fisheries programme and 1 million USD for an MRC research programme on the impacts of hydroelectric dams on the main flow of the Mekong.

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 from 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 coordinating role of the FLM for Mekong regional cooperation 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 coordinate and increase the transparency in using and managing shared water resources. The friends also affirmed to continue cooperating with the MRC and help it conduct researches on the sustainable management and development of the Mekong River .

Speaking at the meetings, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh stressed that the operations 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 cooperation mechanisms in managing underground and dry-season water, and improve the countries’ capacity to cope with natural disasters, helping ensure water resource security for the region.

The 6 th LMI Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be held in Brunei in 2013./.