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NEWS | Dec. 7, 2016

Lower Mekong Initiative Opening Ceremony

By ussell Goemaere

NYI PYI TAW, Republic of the Union of Myanmar -- Humanitarian and disaster relief experts from across the Indo-Asia-Pacific gathered in Nyi Pyi Taw, Republic of the Union of Myanmar, December 06, for a four-day workshop and conference to discuss ways to improve relief efforts and save human lives during catastrophic floods.

The Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) and Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange (DREE), a U.S. Army Pacific sponsored workshop and conference, is intended to create integrated regional cooperation between Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and the U.S. to address and improve systems dealing with connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, food security and agriculture and health.

In his opening remarks, Scot Marciel, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Union of Burma stressed the importance of building local capacity, developing systems for civil and military authorities to cooperate more effectively, and to create strong networks across the region to improve responses to disasters.

"I am encouraged by the high level of interest that I see with the countries that are represented today at this workshop. The importance of military and government cooperation and collaboration cannot be overstated and it is needed in order to successfully organize relief efforts to address human needs during complex natural disasters," he said.

The Union Minister for Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Dr. Min Myat Aye, said that disasters tend to hit developing countries with more disastrous and costly effects then in fully developed countries but that he is pleased and encouraged by the sense of teamwork and cooperation that comes from workshops such as the LMI DREE that should lead to more effective responses in the future.

"We hope the DREE will promote integration and cooperation between all participants to enhance the use of regional and international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanisms among the Lower Mekong countries," he said.

The LMI DREE will feature presentations by military and government subject matter experts to highlight best practices, engage in collaborative dialogue, review plans and procedures and develop systems that will enhance readiness and improve governmental response during a natural disaster.

"The primary objective of this LMI is to build local capacity and encourage effective regional collaboration across borders in an effort to overcome local obstacles that can sometimes disrupt relief efforts," said U.S Air Force, Lt. Col. Michael Simpson, LMI DREE workshop director.

The schedule of events for the DREE includes presentations on disaster management processes and how floods impact the health, agricultural and infrastructrue sectors. A site visit to a local dam is planned and representatives from each nation will take part in table top discussions to develop solutions to complex flood related scenarios that will be briefed back to the entire community in an effort to improve capabilities and readiness.

Representatives from Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as U.S. representatives from the Department of State; USAID; Department of Agriculture; U.S. Pacific Command; U.S. Army Pacific; U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were in attendance for the opening day.

The LMI DREE is an annual event and was launched in 2009. The location of the conference rotates each year between each of the member nations. The 2017 DREE is scheduled to take place in Viet Nam.
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