GMS Urban Development Working Group Discusses ASEAN Smart Cities Initiative and ADB’s Healthy Oceans Action Plan

The Third Meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Working Group on Urban Development was held on 5-6 December 2019 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Representatives from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and GMS countries discussed the salient features of the proposed GMS long-term strategic framework (GMS 2030) and presented the Regional Investment Framework (RIF) 2022 Second Progress Report and Update, highlighting both the urban and border area development-related aspects, the ASEAN Smart Cities Initiative and financing opportunities in the GMS, and the ADB Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economies


ADB’s Healthy Oceans Action Plan

The Healthy Oceans discussion identified entry points for aligning the ADB Action Plan with ongoing and future operations of urban and water sectors in the GMS. This Action Plan, launched at the ADB annual meeting in Fiji in May 2019, commits to expanding ADB investments and technical assistance for healthy oceans and blue economies to $5 billion between 2019–2024, including cofinancing by partners. Its priority areas include creating inclusive livelihoods and business opportunities in sustainable tourism and fisheries; protecting and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems and key rivers; reducing land-based sources of marine pollution, including plastics, wastewater, and agricultural runoff; and improving sustainability in port and coastal infrastructure development.

The Action Plan enables ADB to further support GMS in cooperating on knowledge-sharing, policy interventions, action planning, pilot projects, and investment preparation to improve ocean health and grow sustainable blue economies. 

Ms. Deborah Robertson, Environment Specialist, ADB, shared two initial priority programs of the Action Plan where GMS countries may participate: 

(i) Promoting Action on Plastic Pollution from Source to Sea in Asia and the Pacific (approved December 2019); and 

(ii) Enhancing Coastal Protection and Ecosystem Resilience in Asia and the Pacific (proposed for approval 2020). 

The Oceans Financing Initiative was also launched in recognition of the need to mobilize more resources to restore oceans health and grow sustainable blue economies. Ms. Robertson reiterated opportunities for the GMS Urban Development Group to participate and benefit from the initiatives under the Healthy Oceans Action Plan.

Suggestions for possible projects in GMS countries to be supported by ADB’s urban sector investments or the Healthy Oceans Action Plan include solid waste management for cities along the Mekong River and Irrawaddy basin; improvement of transportation infrastructure links between towns and regions; management of urban growth through measures such as PPP or deployment of new technologies; the need for integrated urban planning  and solid and water waste management; and integrated coastal zone planning and coastal adaptation planning to address rapid erosion issues and increase resilience of coastal cities.


ASEAN Smart Cities

Launched by ADB in May 2019, the ASEAN Smart City Initiative (ASCI) is financed by the Government of Australia through the ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities Trust Fund with a total of AUD$20 million for technical assistance and small grants. The ASCI focuses on developing digital solutions for cities in three main areas: urban planning, service delivery, and financial management. The activities include mainly capacity building and knowledge sharing, designing proofs of concept, and preparation of grant investments. The Urban Development Working Group discussion focused on identifying entry points for the ASCI with ongoing and future urban development projects in the GMS and looking at eventual city twinning arrangements.

The Urban Development Working Group discussion of ASCI showed the countries’ strong commitment towards the goal of developing smart city features as a means towards enhancing city livability. They identified several next steps, namely the undertaking of pilots in selected cities, with a first batch starting in 2020. The ASCI team of ADB also informed the Urban Development Working Group that it will work with the East Asia Regional Department of ADB on coordinating their work plan with similar smart cities activities planned by ADB for the People's Republic of China.


GMS Long Term Strategic Framework and Updated RIF

Ms. Pinsuda Alexander, Economist (Regional Cooperation), ADB, gave a presentation on the GMS Program Developments and Linkages with GMS Urban Development. She also delivered an overview of the draft GMS Long Term Strategic Framework (GMS 2030) and the updated Regional Investment Framework (RIF), the medium-term pipeline of priority regional projects across the region. Her discussion highlighted three points relevant to the Urban Development Working Group: 

  • The draft GMS Strategy 2030 had a focus on spatial approaches to development, such as economic corridors, city clusters, and border areas; 
  • The draft GMS Strategy 2030 puts focus on livable cities and the development of cities and urban areas that border water bodies; and
  • Project proposals under the GMS RIF 2022 should mobilize financing but must be in line with regional and national strategies. Project proposals should be coordinated and vetted between GMS working groups, line ministries, GMS national coordinators, and Ministries of Finance. 

Last Updated: 13 March 2020