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Mekong Eye News Digest: 18 May 2016

A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, investment, EIAs and other development issues. We include a balanced and representative range of news and views from local, regional and global sources. The Digest reaches around 3500 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

By The Mekong Eye

Mekong Region, May 19, 2016

MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)

To May 18, 2016

Curated by The Mekong Eye. A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, investment, EIAs and other development issues. We include a balanced and representative range of news and views from local, regional and global sources. The Digest reaches over 3500 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

submit subscription requests, press releases, articles, resources for consideration to: tkunklangdone@pactworld.org

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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT GLOBAL CONTEXT LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS  RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

 

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Southeast Asia’s Rivers Run Dry –Asia Sentinel

The dry months before the monsoon rains arrive are often tough for Cambodian fishermen and farmers. But with rivers drying up and drinking water running out, conditions have rarely been as bad as they are now. The current drought is linked to El Niño, which has been disrupting weather patterns around the world. But the harsh conditions today might only be foreshadowing far worse to come, climate scientists say. Climate change is expected to continue to affect the Mekong Basin region, while future droughts are expected to be exacerbated by a string of major hydropower dam projects.

 

Vietnam warns of dire impact from planned Mekong dams –The Guardian

Vietnam has predicted “very high adverse effects” on the Mekong river environment and economy if 11 proposed dams are built on its lower mainstream. The warning is the result of a 2 1/2 year study submitted by Vietnam to the Mekong River Commission comprising Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. A commission statement released on Monday said the study, which includes 800 pages of impact-assessment reports, indicates “high to very high adverse effects on some of the key sectors and environmental resources in Cambodia and Vietnam.”

 

CAMBODIA

Harnessing Sesan River (Part 5): Cambodia and its goal for electricity self-sufficiency –Thai PBS English

For the past ten years, Cambodia’s economy has been growing by an average of 7 percent and this has spurred the increasing need of electricity. According to the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, Cambodia bought 40-50 percent of its energy need from neighbouring countries. The Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2015 report which was undertaken by the International Energy Agency predicted that energy need of the region would increase to three times of the current need in year 2040 and coal was designated by IEA as the main source of fuel for electricity generating. (See also: Focus section on Sesan Dams in Thai language)

 

Hun Sen Declares Major Forestry Shakeup –The Cambodia Daily

In what he characterized as a shakeup aimed at curtailing the autocratic whims of the forestry and fisheries administrations, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that he was placing both bodies under the authority of provincial governments. The premier delivered a speech canvassing a wide range of environmental issues in which he also said those holding remaining forest concessions must hand them back or have them forcibly reclaimed by the state.

 

Mining sector buried in taxes –The Phnom Penh Post

With the global commodities markets in a deep slump, mining companies operating in one of the Kingdom’s riskiest and most heavily-taxed industries are lobbying for a less onerous tax regime to account for the high upfront capital costs and risk of mineral exploration and extraction.

 

Koh Kong Families Reach Agreement With UDG –The Cambodia Daily

About 100 additional families have accepted compensation packages from Union Deve­lop­ment Group (UDG) to relocate and make way for the massive development project the Chinese firm is building along the coast of Koh Kong province. UDG has already pushed about 1,000 families out of their homes to make way for its 45,000-hectare, $3.8 billion tourism complex.

 

Four sentenced for roles in Preah Vihear ELC protest –The Phnom Penh Post

The Preah Vihear Provincial Court yesterday sentenced four men for burning a contentious fence during a 2014 protest against an economic land concession (ELC) in Kulen district held by the FP Malaysia (Cambodia) Plantation. They were given one-year suspended sentences and 1 million riel fines ($250), according to provincial prosecutor.

 

LAO PDR

Govt to address compensation issues at Saysettha development zone –Vientiane Times

The government is on track with its plan for the 1,149-hectare Saysettha Development Zone in Vientiane, which will contribute to the country’s economic growth, but some issues still need to be ironed out. The main issue is that families living on 404 hectares of land allocated for the zone have not yet been paid compensation for the land or property they will lose because the government does not have the resources to pay them at present.

 

Ministry hopes to reopen forests for logging –Vientiane Times

Forest officials are surveying certa in forests with the aim of asking the government to reopen woodlands after the government ordered the closure of production forests recently. Currently the forest survey is about 50 or 60 percent complete and the ministry will submit the results to the government. It may be possible to reopen these forests in fiscal year 2016-17, to allow timber harvesting to recommence.

 

CK gets B19bn environmental contract for Xayaburi dam –Bangkok Post

Thai construction firm Ch. Karnchang Plc (CK) has secured an additional 19-billion-baht construction contract to optimise the environmental performance of the Xayaburi hydroelectric power plant in Laos. Company president Supamas Trivisvavet said the additional construction aimed to fulfill requests by the Mekong River Commission to create an earthquake-resistant structure, navigation log, fish passageway and sediment flushing system.

 

MYANMAR

What to know about Myanmar’s first EITI report –Devex

Myanmar is experiencing a big influx of foreign investment and is now pursuing reforms that will boost transparency and track more openly where it is going and how it is spent. The country recently released its first public report under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a voluntary global standard that asks countries to publicly report the revenues that extractive industry companies such as oil and mining firms pay to their national governments.

 

Foreign investment in Myanmar’s power sector reaches 19.6 bln USD as of April –Shanghai Daily

Foreign direct investment in Myanmar’s power sector reached 19.6 billion U.S. dollars as of April, accounting for 30.89 percent of the total, according to Myanmar Investment Commission Friday. The power sector stands the second in the country’s foreign investment line-up after oil and gas.

 

Myitthar Dam project to be completed within 100 days –Eleven Myanmar

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, the Myitthar Multipurpose Dam Project is nearly complete and will be finished within 100 days. The multipurpose dam, located in Pyinthar Village, Gangaw Township, Magway Region, will be 31650 feet long, 205 feet tall and will have the capacity to hold 377,600 acre-feet of water.

 

Myanmar third on deforestation list –Eleven Myanmar

Myanmar has the third-highest rate of deforestation in the world, Minister for Resources and conservation, told a forestry workshop at Myanmar Timber Enterprise in Yangon. He said the causes of deforestation included excessive legal and illegal logging, slash and burn farming, the expansion of agricultural land, forest fires, insect attacks, mining, dam construction, urbanisation and natural disasters.

 

Wanbao requests talks with Letpadaung protesters –Myanmar Times

In response to protests outside the site of a controversial, re-launched copper mine, the Wanbao Mining Company behind the project released a statement ridiculing the demonstration as representing a reckless minority. Wanbao said the only way forward must be “peaceful dialogue” but added the locals have rebuffed invitations.

 

Permits for mining limited in deadly Hpakant –Myanmar Times

The government is clamping down on Hpakant jade mines. In its latest bid to curb deadly landslides at the poorly monitored mines, the government has announced no new permits will be issued in the gemstone tract. The government has pledged it will step up supervision of jade mining in Hpakant, following a visit to the area by Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation earlier this month. (See also: Burma: Jade mining companies forced to suspend operations after arson attacks –Asian Correspondent)

 

THAILAND

Junta Orders All Gold Mines Shut Down –Khaosod

The military government ordered every gold mine in the country to shut down by the end of this year. Communities in northern Thailand were celebrating victory Tuesday after they appeared to prevail in a long-running struggle with mine operators after the interim cabinet said it will revoke approval for gold mining and gold prospecting in the kingdom by the end of 2016. (See also: Thailand to shut largest gold mine on environment concerns –Mining.com)

 

Gold mine meeting ends in chaos –The Nation

A fight broke out during the second day of a local administrative body’s meeting to discuss the reopening of a gold mine in Loei – preventing any decision being made. Around 300 local people from the Rak Ban Kerd Group, who protested against the mine being reopened, fought with police guarding the meeting after the pro-mine councilors tried to vote on the gold miner’s land-use permit.

 

Solar PV in Thailand market outlook: size, trend, growth, analysis, power plants, forecast illuminated by new report –WhaTech Channel  

The report “Solar PV in Thailand Market Outlook “provides in depth analysis on Solar PV market in Thailand with forecasts up to year 2025. This report analyzes the Solar PV market scenario in Thailand (also includes renewable energy, nuclear, conventional thermal and large hydro sources) and includes future outlook upto 2025. The report highlights installed capacity as well as power generation trends in Thailand Solar PV market from 2001 till year 2025. Thailand Solar PV Market Research Report also provides company snapshots of some of the major Solar PV market participants.

 

Thai Ratchaburi reviews capacity expansion target, eyes renewables –Reuters

Thailand’s Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Pcl said on Friday it may raise its long-term capacity expansion target as part of plans to invest more in renewable energy to boost growth. With limited growth opportunities at home, Thailand’s largest private power producer has been looking to buy assets elsewhere to boost generating capacity to 9,700 megawatts (MW) by 2023 from 6,416 MW now.

 

VIETNAM

The four challenges threatening the Mekong Delta –VietnamNet Bridge

Economic globalization, the double impact of climate change, development of irresponsible projects on the Mekong River and irrational exploitation of natural resources are all threatening the survival of the southwestern region of Vietnam. “It’s time for the six countries in the Mekong River basin to develop a mechanism for utilization of water resources. In particular, the rights and interests of each country must be coupled with responsibility and obligations for the entire basin,” an expert said.

 

Livelihoods in jeopardy as Vietnam’s Mekong Delta struggles with sediment loss –Thanh Nien News

The 72-year-old Duong Cong To has spent all his life by the river, one of two tributaries of the Mekong and the main source of alluvium for fish farms and plantations in southern Vietnam. Over the past years he has noticed a significant change in the river: it keeps changing its color from a reddish brown to an ocean-like blue. The World Wide Fund for Nature reported that suspended sediment load in the Mekong Delta declined due to the construction of hydropower dams and reservoirs on the mainstream and branches of Mekong River.

 

This chart shows how ambitious Vietnam’s hydroelectric development plan is –Asia Power

Vietnam has the most ambitious hydroelectric development plan in Southeast Asia, with plans to increase total hydroelectric capacity to 21.6 GW in 2020 and to 27.8 GW by 2030. One of the largest planned projects is Trung Son, to be located on the Ma River in northern Vietnam (which is not a Mekong tributary), with an expected capacity of 360 megawatts (MW).

 

Vietnam’s New Leadership Tested by Environment Protests –The Diplomat

Many of the protesters were angry – convinced the dead fish were the result of wastewater discharged from the nearby $10.6 billion coastal steel plant owned by a subsidiary of the Taiwanese Formosa Plastics Corporation. The trick for the new leadership will be to monitor and manage public opinion and outrage, through greater transparency and effective outcomes. (See also: Vietnam TV says ‘reactionary forces’ at work in environmental protest –Reuters)

 

Vietnam Proposes Plan to Tackle Mass Fish Deaths –The Fish Site

The Ministry of Planning and Investment has recommended five key actions to address the mass fish death incidents along central coastal provinces from early last month. The first potential cause was the impact of poisonous chemical substances discharged by humans from the mainland or in the sea. The other was an abnormal natural phenomenon combined with human impacts, resulting in red tide. (See also: Five Things to Know About the Millions of Dead Fish Washing Up on Vietnam’s Central Coast –Global Voices, and As fishing protests turn violent, Vietnam’s new government faces its first test –The Interpreter)

 

Vietnam should reject ‘blacklisted’ investors: economists –VietnamNet Bridge

Economists have called on the government to be cautious when licensing foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, emphasizing that Vietnam should not attract FDI at any cost. To date, state management agencies have not made any official conclusion about the reasons behind the mass fish deaths in the central region.

 

PM launches marine environment protection strategy –Saigon GP

According to the plan, authorized agencies will carry out programs and plans to manage waste, control discharge sources on land and at sea. Inspection on environmental protection will be intensified to activities that have polluted and threatened marine environment. Those on the focus of the inspection include urban areas, industrial parks, export processing zones, seafood farming and processing establishments along the coastline and in islands.

 

Vietnam to augment power generation –VietnamNet Bridge

Unveiled in late March, Vietnam’s revised Power Development Plan 7 sets out a blueprint for expanding power generation by using a mix of energy sources. The plan foresees VND3207trn ($148bn) worth of investments in generation and distribution capacity through to 2030, with installed capacity to rise to more than 135 GW.

 

VN Rivers Network proposes dropping Red River hydropower project –VietnamNet Bridge

The Vietnam Rivers Network (VRN) has suggested the Government scrap a trans-Asia waterway and hydropower project planned to be executed in the Red River due to its low efficiency and negative impacts on local communities and biodiversity.

 

 

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT

US Eases Sanctions on Burma in Bid to Promote Reforms –The Irrawaddy

The United States eased some sanctions on Burma on Tuesday to support ongoing political reforms, but maintained most of its economic restrictions. The moves included removing Burmese state-owned banks from a US blacklist and the lifting of sanctions against seven key state-owned timber and mining companies. (See also: To renew or not to renew: What’s at stake? –Myanmar Times)

 

Freedom key to press thriving, groups say –Bangkok Post

The press must enjoy greater freedom to produce accurate, fair and balanced reporting, journalists told a seminar yesterday. For over a decade, the Thai media has been the subject of heated debate, between those who point to restrictions on freedoms of the press and urge for those limitations be lifted, and others, who call for reporters and editors to show more responsibility, said Supinya Klangnarong, a National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) member.

 

The Return of Repression –Project Syndicate (Opinion)

Governments around the world are taking draconian steps to suppress civil-society organizations, with measures ranging from restrictive laws and bureaucratic burdens to smear campaigns, censorship, and outright repression by intelligence agencies or police. Whatever the means, governments are striving to interfere with the work of political, social, and environmental activists to an extent not seen since before communism collapsed in Europe a quarter-century ago.

 

 

GLOBAL CONTEXT

Tantalisingly close’: is solar thermal energy ready to replace coal-fired power? –The Guardian

Companies working on large-scale solar thermal projects in Australia say they are tantalisingly close to achieving the dream of building plants big enough to replace coal-fired energy in Australia. Experts speaking at the Australian Solar Energy Exhibition and Conference in Melbourne last week said the technology had been proven in other countries, and projects in Australia were viable, but the challenge was getting major investors to gamble on something new.

 

China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River –National Geographic

The Nu River, spilling through a scenic gorge sometimes compared to the Grand Canyon, could become a national park, as officials appear to back away from a proposal for multiple dams. If the dams were built, some of this agriculture would be lost to rising waters. Tourism would remain, but it would likely be of the “Hoover Dam” variety, not the current small-scale businesses that cater to visiting nature lovers.

 

Landslide at Chinese dam site signals looming risks –The Third Pole

Another deadly landslide at a hydropower construction site in Fujian, south-east China, highlights the growing risks of dam building in mountainous regions of Asia. Thirty four construction workers were killed after a torrent of mud and rocks tore through a hydropower dam site in Taining county in China’s south-east Fujian province. The landslide was believed to have been triggered by heavy rain.

 

 

LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS

BURMESE LANGUAGE

MONREC will propose to halt one year of timber production in Myanmar –7 Day Daily

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) of Myanmar will propose the parliament to approve the request to halt one year of timber production. MONREC hold a two days consultation workshop on 14th and 15th May, with the CSOs, Private Sector, Academics and other concern parties. The suggestions and proposal came out of from the workshop, and MONREC will send the official request to the parliament. Myanmar name as the 3rd worst countries of deforestation, and to recover of this situation, this is one of the remedial measures of MONREC, came out from the consultation workshop.

 

THAI LANGUAGE

Voice from Akara Gold Mine Thailand, 15 years of Gold Mine Experiences Never Caused Any Problems –Krungthep Durakij

Akara Resources Public Company Limited Thailand, which operates as the largest gold mine in Thailand emphasized that the company never had any problem with its 15 years of experience in gold mining. They are confident that the company didn’t cause the contamination which is why pleaded for complete inspection so the issue is clarified among all concerned parties. While the CSOs group indicated the ‘blind spot’ of draft mine act which doesn’t give emphasis to impact of community and environment. Ms. Sor Rattanamanee Polka said, “the allocation of resources needs to consider the impacts of the community, environment at the early stage.”

 

Interview with Dr.Arpa Wangkiat, Head of Environmental Engineering Department of Rangsit University on the ‘Mining’ case–Nation TV (Interview clip)

The cabinet order to close mine by the end of this year has created joy to many people because we must accept that mining has impacts on environment, quality of life and health of people. When asked about her perspective regarding this issue, Dr. Arpa Wangkiat from Rangsit University said, “first of all, we must understand that the cabinet’s resolution is a policy statement and not a law which can be changed. Regarding the cabinet’s resolution issued on mining, looks like everyone is getting excited about it. The first of two main issues is not to enlarge or to allow the additional gold mine concession. However, at present Akara company has gold mine concession and the usual period of each lasts for 25 years. According to what the company said they still have 7 years of mining operations. For the mineral processing plant or gold mine mill, the usual permitting license lasts for 5 years and will be expired on 13 May. For this one, the cabinet’s resolution announced that it can last until the end of the year if the Department of Mining Industry complies with the cabinet’s resolution by issuing the permitting license. We should therefore, follow closely whether the permitting license for gold mine mill will be issued only until December of this year or not. With this order, it shows that government has concerns about mining impacts on environment, quality of people’s lives.

 

VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE

Mekong Drought and Water WarBBC Vietnam

Klang Village is located next to Loei river of Loei province, Thailand. In this area, there will be a project named Mekong –Chi –Mun Rivers Diversion project. This project aims to store water for Thailand by dredging the Loei River further 5m deeply and spreading 250m wide of Loei estuaries. In addition, the project construction will include 24 tunnels at the bottom of the Loei river to increase water flow from Mekong River to Loei River and Chi and Mun that help keeping water for dry season in Thailand. Head of Klang Village; Ms.Sarorat Kaeswsa worried that there will be no fish in the river if the river bottom has been dredge as their lives has been relying on Loei river for many years. The project director; Ms Chawee Wongprasittiporn from the Royal Irrigation Department said that the project will initially construct 1 or 2 tunnels to see how the water flows from Mekong River to Loei River. Then they will decide whether or not they will continue the project construction or revise the plan. She also mentioned that they will not open the tunnel to divert water from Mekong River during dry season. Many neighboring countries questioned Thailand on the impact of this project to other downstream countries. At the moment, there is no feedback from Laos government yet, therefore Thailand can’t proceed with the project. According to Mr.Ky Quang Vinh, Head of Climate Change Office in Cantho City, Vietnam, if Thailand take water from Mekong River for storage during dry season, the Mekong Delta will face a high risk of salt water intrusion. China and Laos are constructing many hydropower dams, if Thailand take water from Mekong River for storage, what the future holds for Vietnam?

 

Improving solar energy-solutions in Vietnam and Cambodia –Voice of Vietnam (Audio)

Solar energy is a clean and available energy source. If this renewable energy source is used effectively, then the deforestation from hydropower construction will not happen anymore. Vietnam and Cambodia are two countries in South East Asia that have advantages in solar energy sources. The two countries plan to improve the development of using this solar energy but they are facing many challenges. In Cambodia, the using of solar energy is more popular than in Vietnam. As one expert in energy said: in Vietnam there is not any factory for solar energy. In order to improve the development of solar energy, he thinks the country needs a national plan for development of solar energy, and more policy and financial supporting from the government. This will encourage more use of solar energy sources in Vietnam.

 

 

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

EVENT: Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in the Mekong region Pact/ICEM via The Mekong Eye

Pact and the International Center for Environmental Management (ICEM) invite you to a panel discussion on strategic environmental assessment as it relates to energy investments in the lower Mekong region. The discussion will be followed by a networking reception recognizing 25 government officials from the lower Mekong region who are participating in a workshop on the same topic. The panel discussion will be on 26 May, 2016 at the Landmark Bangkok Hotel. Kindly confirm your attendance with suthiya@pactworld.org  before May 19th. Please feel free to send this invitation to colleagues.

 

COMMUNICATIONS PROGRAM: Local Story helps people tell better stories – Local Story

Local Story is an initiative dedicated to helping people and organizations better tell stories that matter. Local Story works side-by-side with organizations, communities, and other stakeholders to “co-create” stories from the ground. Local Story will help create original, authentic content, while training organizations and community members in the fundamentals of effective storytelling. Visit localstory.world to see how Local Story can partner with you.

 

REPORT: Strengthening EIA In Asia –IGES

The report aims to summarise and analyse challenges, opportunities and good practices on EIA in several Asian countries to propose possible ways forward as well as potential mutual learning points for strengthening EIA implementation and thus advancing towards a sustainable society. Download the report, click here

 

BLOG: Comments On: Final Report – Study on the Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower on the Mekong River and the Ripple Effect on Oxfam’s InputThe Scientist for the Mekong

Scientists for the Mekong offers SE Asian Decision Makers, Scientists, Fisheries Experts, International Aid Organisations, NGOs and the public, the opportunity to peruse the FINAL REPORT of the latest study on the Impacts of the cascade of 11 planned Hydropower Dams in the Mekong River – on the Cambodian Tonle Sap Lake & Wetlands, and on the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam. The Mekong Delta Study-Impact Assessment Report was commissioned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Vietnam – and prepared by two consultant companies DHI & HDR. This study received some financial support from Australia’s DFAT.

 

BLOG: Drought: Hydropower’s Achilles Heel –International Rivers

Across Asia, Africa and Latin America, the rains are not falling – they’re failing.  Drought has always happened; the climate is naturally variable to some degree. But researchers have long predicted that climate change would increase the extremes and frequency of drought, and the evidence suggests this is happening now. But drought is no longer just a concern for farmers; it’s increasingly becoming a major humanitarian and political issue, particularly in hydropower-dependent countries.

 

Editor’s notes:

  • The above is curated by The Mekong Eye, a GeoJournalism website which you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook
  • Please reply to this email to submit press releases or articles, subscribe, unsubscribe or provide feedback or send to tkunklangdone@pactworld.org
  • Journalists may want to apply for Story Funds to produce independent stories on development project issues, and join the Mekong Matters Journalism Network and Facebook group
  • Any information or opinions above are the responsibility of the authors and/or originating outlets and may not reflect the work or opinions of MPE, its donors, or partners. Contents above may be edited slightly for presentation.
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