$232 million Mekong-Australia Partnership launched

On 8 November 2021, the Cambodian component of the Mekong-Australia Partnership (MAP) was launched following a bilateral meeting between Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, His Excellency Prak Sokhonn, and Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Marise Payne.

“This week, I had a productive meeting with my Cambodian counterpart, Prak Sokhonn, on the Australia-Cambodia relationship, our shared COVID-19 recovery and Cambodia’s upcoming year as ASEAN Chair.”

— Marise Payne (Twitter) 9 November 2021

In November 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the AU$232 million MAP as an initiative to build on Australia’s long-standing bilateral programs with Mekong states and enhance engagement with the subregion. MAP forms part of Australia’s approximately $500 million landmark package of new economic, development and security measures to support Southeast Asia’s COVID-19 recovery.

As a flexible program designed to respond to shared regional challenges, MAP will help build relationships, as well as share knowledge and skills—both between Mekong countries and with Australia—for a sustainable recovery from COVID-19. MAP will also work with Australia’s other programs in the Mekong subregion and across Southeast Asia—in areas such as economic development, the environment, and infrastructure—as well as incorporate and build on the former Greater Mekong Water Resources Program.

Marise Payne and Prak Sokhonn convene for a bilateral meeting in Cambodia on 8 November 2021 (credit: DFAT)

Communities across Mekong countries have suffered from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic at varying degrees. The pandemic has worsened pre-existing socio-economic inequalities, slowed progress on poverty alleviation, reduced income, and diverted government spending on COVID-19 response. It is in Australia’s national interest that water resources in the region are effectively managed and equitably shared, high social and environmental standards are applied for water-related investments, water governance is more informed and more inclusive, and rules-based transboundary cooperation takes place.

The Australian Water Partnership (AWP) has significantly contributed towards strengthening Australia’s long support for water issues in the Mekong region. The AWP is managing an Australia-Mekong Water Facility (AMWF) supported by a $9.86 million grant (until June 2023) which offers a direct government-to-government line of engagement between Australia and countries in the Mekong region. The AMWF augments Australia’s international water diplomacy by providing a responsive, nimble, and flexible mechanism for Australia to further enhance existing water-related partnerships with the governments of the Mekong region.

As part of the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery COVID-19 development response, AWP targeted the water utility sector and worked with its partners that were on the front line for maintaining key water services during the crisis. In the Mekong region, AWP is supporting a Water Utility Improvement Program in Vietnam and Cambodia (DFAT direct support), and an early warning  SARS-CoV-2 surveillance program. AWP is also supporting the Mekong River Commission in flood and drought management, sustainable hydropower, and fisheries monitoring in the Mekong River Basin.

Australian Lab Services workers demonstrating safe collecting procedures to Hai Phong Wastewater Utility in Vietnam (credit: Australian Water Association)

More recently, AWP announced the launch of its Climate Change and Water Short Courses that will strengthen the suite of Australia Awards opportunities already available through the Australian Government’s international development cooperation program. This will contribute to MAP’s new Australia Awards Scholarships for emerging leaders in the Mekong subregion.

MAP focuses on areas that matters to the Mekong, and where Australia can add value. Building environmental resilience to strengthen water security; addressing riverine and marine pollution; promoting clean energy; and responding to climate change are some of the key MAP offerings that AWP will continue to strengthen.

Feature image: Marise Payne and Prak Sokhonn convene for a bilateral meeting in Cambodia on 8 November 2021 (credit: DFAT)
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