ASEAN & USA Universities start research collaboration on Greater MeKong Subregion


A few years back, when the USA bagan to make its strategic alignment to Asia, Hillary Clinton visited the region often. And one of her priority, in the ASEAN region, is developing the Greater MeKong Subregion (GMS).

In fact, under Hillary’s leadership, exchange programs started between GMS related units, and the USA Mississippi River development commission.

The problem for GMS in general, is not just development and poverty issues, but it relates to also environmental concern, as for example, Laos, is targeting to develop the MeKong to produce energy to feed a fast developing region.

  • However, against that backdrop, the latest on GMS, is that the University of Utah’s Asia Center, issued a statement saying is starting an initiative to build and sustain working relationships among researchers in the United States and Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong subregion.
  • The statement says, the center received a $450,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to fund a four-year project run by its Mekong Region Development Research Group.

The Greater Mekong subregion includes five nations along the Mekong River Basin — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as China’s Yunnan Province. The researchers are interested in understanding how flows of trade, population, and cultural and social exchange produce new development and interdependence across the region.

  • The statement says, the project aims to strengthen ties to other universities in the U.S. and in Southeast Asia, including the University of Washington; Tulane University; the University of California, San Francisco; Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand; the Royal Phnom Penh University in Cambodia; and the Southern Institute of Sustainable Development in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The first workshop is scheduled for May at the University of Utah. The two-day gathering will address approaches to measuring health outcomes over people’s lifetimes using survey-based and biometric approaches.

  • On the Greater MeKong Subregion, Wikipedia says:

The Greater Mekong Subregion is not a geological region, but rather, a development project formed by the Asian Development Bank in 1992 that brought together the six states of the Mekong River basin, namely CambodiaLaosMyanmarThailandVietnam, and the Yunnan Province of China. The region is considered a significant biodiversity hotspot by Conservation International and the WWF.[1][2]

The GMS is a natural economic area bound together by the Mekong River, covering 2.6 million square kilometers and a combined population of around 326 million.

  • [edit]Geology and biodiversity

The region has a diverse geographic landscape including massifsplateaus and limestone karstslowlands, fertile floodplains and deltasforests (evergreen and semi-evergreen, deciduous,dipterocarpmangroves, and swamp), and grasslands. Water environments include fast-flowing rocky mountain streams and wetlands (such as Tonlé Sap in Cambodia).[1]

The region’s geographic variety and consequent variety of climatic zones supports significant biodiversity, with more than 1068 new species discovered during the last ten years. The geographic region encapsulates 16 of the WWF Global 200 ecoregions, and habitats for an estimated 20000 plant species, 1300 fish species, 1200 bird species, 800 reptile and amphibian species, and 430 mammal species. Notable species include the Javan rhinoIrrawaddy dolphins, and Mekong giant catfish (one of the largest freshwater fish).[1]

The region’s biodiversity is ranked as a top-five most threatened hotspot by Conservation International. The WWF cites accelerating economic development, population growth and increased consumption patterns as primary causes, including agricultural deforestationlogging and illegal timber trade, wildlife trade, overfishing, dam and road construction, and mining. The WWF also states that the region is particularly vulnerable to global climate change.[1]

  • [edit]Regional Cooperation Operations Business Plan: 2012-2014

In December 2011, GMS leaders endorsed a strategic framework for 2012-2022 that calls for a range of new measures to strengthen regional cooperation, including more effective resource utilization and more careful balancing of development with environmental concerns.

GMS leaders also endorsed strategies to enhance agricultural development, including food safety and security; the creation of multi-country tour packages to help develop pro-poor tourism; and promotion of low-carbon development and enhanced management of the sub-region’s richly diverse ecosystems.[3]

Since its inception in 1992, the GMS program has helped bring an area once divided by conflict increasingly together with investments of about $14 billion in projects with broad subregional benefits, including roads, airports and railways; telecommunications; energy; urban development; tourism; environmental protection; and the prevention of communicable diseases.

Since the start of the economic cooperation program, gross domestic product growth in the subregion has averaged about 8% a year, while real per capita incomes more than tripled between 1993 and 2010. As of September 2011, ADB assistance for the program totaled about $5 billion.[4]

  • [edit]Balancing economic growth with environmental protection

The management of food, water and energy resources in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) will be the most critical challenge of the coming decade, requiring careful balance of economic and environmental interests and better management of natural resources.[5]

Food demand from the Mekong River Basin, for instance, is projected to increase by 20 to 50% by 2030. Demands on the use of water for agriculture, energy production, and domestic and industrial use is exponentially increasing, while ground and surface water sources are depleting and degrading.

Sustainability in the 21st century will require investments in smart development, including innovations such as fuel-efficient freight fleets, clean energy sources, less water intensive crops, improved biotechnology for lower use of chemical fertilizers, and greater levels of rain harvesting and recycling in urban centers. These measures not only make environmental sense, they can also reduce costs.

Precision agriculture, efficient water supply and re-use, and clean energy fuels are already part of the green growth agenda in the region, they simply need appropriate policy signals and regulatory incentives in order to be implemented.[6]


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