Greater Mekong Development Plan Agreed

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ADB funded development projects By Taro Ichikawa

TOKYO - Leaders of the six nations that share the Mekong River have agreed on a 10-year plan to boost growth, promote development and reduce poverty in the region comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Viet Nam, and China's Yunnan and Guangxi regions.

The decision was taken at the fourth Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit in Manila, the Philippines. In a joint declaration, GMS leaders endorsed a strategic framework for 2012 to 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 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.

"The new Strategic Framework for 2012-2022 will move the GMS to the next level through multisector investment projects, policy development, and inter-sector coordination," said Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda.

GMS leaders also endorsed strategies to enhance agricultural development, including food safety and security; accelerate the development and implementation of the pro-poor sustainable tourism industry, with the creation of multi-country tour packages to help spread revenues more widely; and promote low-carbon development and enhance management of the sub-region's richly diverse ecosystems, the ADB informed on December 20, 2012.

The significance of the GMS Summit lies in that in countries of the region increasingly, modernization and industrialization are emerging from a process of transition and transformation. The Mekong countries are gradually shifting from subsistence farming to more diversified economies, and to more open, market-based systems.

In parallel with this are the growing commercial relations among the six Mekong countries, notably in terms of cross-border trade, investment, and labor mobility. Moreover, natural resources, particularly hydropower, are beginning to be developed and utilized on a subregional basis.

The rich human and natural resource endowments of the Mekong region have made it a new frontier of Asian economic growth. Indeed, the Mekong region has the potential to be one of the world's fastest growing areas.

Two days after the conclusion of the Summit, ADB said it will provide a $3 million grant to support emergency relief efforts in the aftermath of tropical storm Sendong, also known internationally as Washi, which recently struck the southern Philippines.

ADB assistance will be channeled through the Government of the Philippines to provide clean water, health services, medical supplies and other essential emergency items to the affected households.

"As a development partner of the Philippines, we are extending immediate help to poor families that have borne disproportionate impact of the disaster during this festive season," said Neeraj Jain, ADB's Country Director for the Philippines.

ADB has also assured the Government of the Philippines of its continued support during the subsequent reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, including effective early warning systems and measures that would reduce the risk of future disasters.

The $3 million grant is being provided under ADB's emergency facility, the Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund, which provides quick-disbursing grants to help restore essential life-saving services following major natural disasters.

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.

In 1992, with assistance from ADB, the six GMS countries entered into a program of subregional economic cooperation, designed to enhance economic relations among the countries.

With support from ADB and other donors, the GMS Program helps the implementation of high priority subregional projects in transport, energy, telecommunications, environment, human resource development, tourism, trade, private sector investment, and agriculture.

ADB says that substantial progress has been achieved in terms of implementing GMS projects since 1992. Priority infrastructure projects worth around US$10 billion have either been completed or are being implemented.

Among these are the upgrading of the Phnom Penh (Cambodia)-Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam) highway and the East-West Economic Corridor that will eventually extend from the Andaman Sea to Da Nang.

The subregion embraces flora and fauna that have expanded northward along the Malay Peninsula into Thailand, encroached upon the high mountains from the Himalayas, or advanced along the broad river valleys as dry deciduous forests similar to those of India.

Ten million years of changing sea levels have left a rich legacy of unique life forms that have evolved in isolation on the Cardamom and Annamite mountains of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

These resources provide both income and sustenance to the great majority of people in the subregion who are leading subsistence or near subsistence agricultural lifestyles. The land yields timber, minerals, coal, and petroleum, while water from the many rivers supports agriculture and fisheries and provides energy in the form of hydropower.

The coal reserves of the subregion are abundant, and the oil and gas reserves considerable. Most of these are in Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. These abundant energy resources are still relatively underused.♦

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