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NEWS | July 6, 2022

U.S. to enhance water partnerships during Mekong River engagements

By Ana Allen U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pacific Ocean Division

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii – Members of the Mississippi River Commission commenced the 2022 Mekong-Mississippi Sister Rivers Exchange starting with a prep session in Hawaii on July 6.

The delegation, which includes senior leaders from across the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), travels to Laos and Cambodia July 10-16 to share best practices in water and river management. Through annual reciprocal exchanges, collaborative engagements, and technical exchanges, the Sister Rivers Exchange enhances transboundary river governance, disaster risk mitigation, and sustainable development to promote stability and prosperity.

Maj. Gen. Diana M. Holland, USACE Mississippi Valley Division commanding general, located in Vicksburg, Mississippi and the Mississippi River Commission president, expressed that she is looking forward to the engagements hosted by the Mekong River Commission. “We will build upon previous reciprocal meetings and discuss a wide range of water resource challenges common to both river basins, such as climate change, drought, flooding, sedimentation, water supply, navigation, and environmental sustainment. Both Commissions represent significant expertise and will benefit from the continued exchange of lessons learned and best practices.”

During the prep sessions, participants engaged with military leaders in Hawaii to discuss how the Sister Rivers Exchange supports the U.S. government’s Global Water Strategy (GWS). As a key player in the Mississippi River Commission, USACE helps implement strategic objectives such as promoting sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, adoption of key hygiene behaviors, encouraging the sound management and protection of freshwater resources, and reducing conflict by promoting cooperation on shared waters.

This year’s River Partnership is the first in-person engagement since 2019 when Mekong River Commissioners visited various U.S. Army Corps of Engineers locations throughout the mainland United States. Last year’s exchange took place virtually.

Brig. Gen. Kirk Gibbs, USACE Pacific Ocean Division commanding general, highlighted the value of multi-lateral collaboration in addressing shared challenges. “We are all connected by water and there is much to learn as we adapt to climate change and exchange best practices. Our collaboration fosters sustainable management and development of water-related resources for our respective nations’ benefit and the people’s well-being. In turn, we enhance stability in the region and support the Mekong River Commission’s vision for an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River Basin,” Gibbs said.

The Sister Rivers Exchange is just one of the tools that support GWS strategic objectives and falls under the Department of State-led Mekong-U.S. Partnership Program umbrella. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pacific Ocean Division is actively working with partners across the Indo-Pacific region. We engage along the Mekong Basin, working bilaterally and multilaterally with countries in Water Resources Management, which includes flood and drought control,” Gibbs said.

In addition to the Sister Rivers Exchange, USACE is providing Laos with in-person Dam Safety expertise for 90 days and a week-long training in Vietnam for watershed modelling practitioners from across the Mekong. This training is in partnership with NASA and the Republic of Korea to help build Mekong River Commission capacity in conducting real-time flood management operations. USACE has also partnered with the Mississippi River Commission and Mekong countries to further develop a web tool that supports the implementation of the Mekong Basin Development Strategy and Plan.

In 2009, the U.S. Secretary of State along with foreign ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam launched the Lower Mekong Initiative Program, which is now called the Mekong-U.S. Partnership (MUSP). MUSP promotes the stability, peace, prosperity, and sustainable development of the Mekong sub-region through cooperation between Mekong-region countries and the United States in addressing transboundary challenges. The MUSP is a multinational partnership among the United States, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. As part of the MUSP, the Department of State funds a partnership between the Mekong and Mississippi River Commissions.

The next Mekong-Mississippi Sister Rivers Exchange is expected to take place in 2023 in the mainland United States.