The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) comprises Cambodia, the People's Republic of China, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
In 1992, with ADB's assistance, the six countries entered into a program of subregional economic cooperation, designed to enhance economic relations among the countries.
The program has contributed to the development of infrastructure to enable the development and sharing of the resource base, and promote the freer flow of goods and people in the subregion. It has also led to the international recognition of the subregion as a growth area.
About 300 million people live with the GMS region. The great majority of these people live in rural areas where they lead subsistence or semisubsistence agricultural lifestyles. More than 75 percent of the population of Lao PDR, for example, is rural and even in Thailand, the most urbanized of the Mekong countries, there remain large agricultural communities, particularly in the north and northeastern parts of the country.
While traditional lifestyles and deep-rooted customs and beliefs have been scarcely altered by time, the area is now undergoing greater change than ever before. With the onset of peace in the 1990s, the peoples of the Mekong are experiencing rapid changes and improvements in their living standards and conditions.
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.
Yet, still much of its remains poor. The gross domestic product per capita is about $1 a day in most of the region. Despite significant economic growth, poverty is still widespread. The challenges include
* the disparities between urban and rural communities
* a growing gap between rich and poor
* inadequate attention to the special needs of ethnic minorities
* gender inequities, lack of access to basic health and education
* inadequate protection of the environment on which traditional livelihoods depend
Clearly, the full potential of the Mekong countries can be realized only if the problem of poverty is adequately addressed.