Mekong Eye

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Mekong Eye News Digest: 25 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 26, 2016

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

To May 25, 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.

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Mekong region could rely on 100% clean energy by 2050: WWF –The Nation

Thailand and countries in the Mekong region should be able to rely 100 per cent on renewable energy by 2050 and escape the severe impacts of climate change, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study revealed. The study showed that these countries can produce and use electricity from solar power, wind power, biogas and small run-of-the-river hydroelectricity.


Mekong River in danger, but MRC is ‘weak’ –The Phnom Penh Post

Dams and water diversion projects along the Mekong River threaten to overwhelm an ecosystem that supports 60 million people and thousands of species, according to a consensus of scientists, NGOs and governments. But amidst this pending crisis, the main mechanism set up to protect the river is becoming all but irrelevant. (See also: The MRC, a platform for cooperation –The Phnom Penh Post)


China and El Niño Are Killing the Mekong River –The National Interest

What this year’s El Niño drought has done is to put an exclamation point to the slow, twisting death of the Mekong River that is being administered by a China that is water and electricity hungry. The underlying problem is China’s massive dam building upriver that, in this year’s drought, has helped pushed part of the Mekong to their lowest levels in almost one hundred years.


Mekong Investment Underscores Japan’s Economic Clout in Southeast Asia –World Political Review (Interview)

Earlier this month, Japan announced a three-year, $7 billion investment deal with the countries of the lower Mekong River to boost development and improve infrastructure. Phuong Nguyen, an associate fellow with the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed Japan’s relations in Southeast Asia.



New EIA rules for mining –The Phnom Penh Post

The Ministry of Mines and Energy signed joint prakas with the Ministry of Environment to simplifying the environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirements for artisanal and small-scale mining practices. The law has set up a transitional regime for EIA compliance, based on the scale and scope of existing mining operations in attempt to formalise the sector without causing undue burden to the extractive industry. (See also: Transitional Framework for EIA Compliance in Small Scale Mining Project –Integrity Cambodia (Blog))


Nuclear Power Plant Planned –Khmer Times

The Cambodian and Russian governments have signed several Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) to help build a nuclear power plant in the Kingdom, despite previous statements saying the opposite and with no timeline as to when such a plant would be built. The MoUs were signed for the creation of a nuclear information center, and the creation of a joint working group regarding the development of nuclear energy in Cambodia.


Sand dredging licences secretly soaring –The Phnom Penh Post

Despite the government’s vow to be more transparent with regulations and the issuing of sand-dredging licenses, the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) has granted nearly 70 new such licenses without holding public auctions or requiring companies to disclose environmental impact assessments (EIA) results to the public, according to data from the ministry.



WWF-Lao reveals sustainable energy report –Vientiane Times

The World Wildlife Fund Lao (WWF-Lao) has revealed a sustainable energy study which makes recommendations on how to reduce impacts on the environment and biodiversity. The energy sector vision was reported by WWF-Lao in Vientiane and presented to technical staff from the relevant government sectors. The report outlines energy use at present and in the future and suggests the types of energy that should be invested in and could provide high benefit.


Electricity Rates Spike in Laos, the ‘Battery’ for Southeast Asia –RFA

Electricity rates are skyrocketing in Laos, just as the hot season tightens its grip on a country that aims to be the “battery” that powers Southeast Asia with hydropower from river dams. Laos and many other Asian countries are on a dam-building spree as they try to harness the power of the Mekong and other rivers. While the Lao government sees power generation as a way to bootstrap the country’s economy, the projects are still controversial for their environmental impact and their financial arrangements.


Govt, UNDP agree project to conserve Savannakhet’s ecosystems –Vientiane Times

The government of Laos has just signed a new UNDP programme funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which is set to conserve and manage forests in five districts of Savannakhet province, over the next six years.


ASEAN: Laos–What’s Next? –Dinmerican (Blog)

At present, ‘development’ manifests itself as a rapid transformation of Vientiane’s urban landscape and its rural outskirts. Construction sites for new roads and massive buildings dominate the municipality. From transforming urban landscapes to high-speed rail and Chinese investment, in Laos development can be a double-edged sword.



Communities demand regulation as jade mining destroys landscape – Mizzima

Myanmar’s multi-billion-dollar jade industry has come under increased scrutiny in the past year after an investigation by resource corruption watchdog Global Witness revealed some of the hidden, often army-linked holders of lucrative mining licenses. A string of deadly accidents in recent months involving labourers scavenging through mining waste has highlighted a lack of safety measures on site. Now, local activists and communities have also begun asking for changes in the industry.

(See also: Kachin communities demand regulation as jade mining destroy landscape –Frontier Myanmar)


Myanmar can show the way in better hydropower –Nikkei Asian Review (Commentary)

Myanmar, with the entrance of the new government led by Aung Sun Suu Kyi  is one country that has an opportunity to put its hydropower development on a better path. Strategic system-scale planning, beginning now, can allow the country to select which hydropower investments will deliver the most benefits, and recent moves by the government signal a potential shift in approach.


Let there be light: the challenge of powering Myanmar –Frontier Myanmar

Myanmar aims to achieve national electricity coverage by 2030, but there are big questions about whether that goal can be achieved and what impact it could have on the environment and communities. The government has set out to provide power to everyone. There’s uncertainty about how the National League for Democracy government will realise such an ambitious objective.


Suu Kyi faces tough test in Myanmar’s privatization push –Nikkei Asian Review

As Myanmar’s fledgling democratic government starts tackling the sticky issue of privatization, Aung San Suu Kyi will have to deal skillfully with expected resistance from the military and other vested interests to achieve this crucial step in revitalizing the country. The government created a committee on privatization of state-run enterprises to examine measures such as using public-private partnerships to develop and operate infrastructure as well as selling inefficient state-owned factories.


Villagers demand an end to coal mining in Hsipaw Township –Burma News International

Residents living near large scale coal mining operations in northern Shan State have called on the firm, Ngwe Yi Pale Mining Co. Ltd, to stop coal mining due to the serious environmental consequences the mining has inflicted on the area. Ngwe Yi Pale Mining started their operation in Hsipaw Township in 2004, with mining sites at Peng Zai, Parng Ngar and Nar Goon villages.


‘Human. Nature.’ captures links between wildlife and livelihoods –DVB

The city-folk of Rangoon are in for a visual treat this week as a new photo exhibition, Human. Nature., opens at Myanmar Deitta gallery. Produced in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the show features works by award-winning photographer Minzayar, who ventured into southeastern Burma’s wilderness to capture the links between nature and livelihoods.


Gas-rich Myanmar still under sanctions pressure –UPI

Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi hosted U.S. Secretary John Kerry during a visit that coincided with a reshaping of U.S. policies in Asia. Washington during the weekend lifted an arms embargo on Vietnam as it seeks to contain a Chinese move to gain more leverage in the Asia-Pacific. Washington recently lifted some of the economic pressure on Myanmar as the country takes further steps away from decades of military rule.


Environment ministry reveals 100-day plan –Eleven Myanmar

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation has announced it will boost wood-based industries and tackle illegal wood logging in 100 days. The ministry will also conserve mangrove swamps and irrigate arid areas. Reforestation, research work, strengthening public-private cooperation and maintaining biodiversity and coastal ecosystem are also in its to-do list.


Thai firm signs 300MW solar deal –Myanmar Times

Yangon-based Won Toll signed an agreement for a 300-megawatt solar power project with Kamrai Panit from Thailand. The US$1 billion agreement will fund the solar power plant in Ayeyarwady Region to generate electricity to transmit to industries, said U Kunn Zaw Tun, chair of Won Toll.



Nakhon Pathom villagers demand transparency in new motorway project –National News Bureau of Thailand

Villagers from Nakhon Pathom province are demanding that the government investigate the construction of the Bang Yai – Kanchanaburi Motorway, claiming they were never informed of the nature of the project and its implications on the community. Residents of Laem Bua subdistrict have claimed that they were not informed of the environmental impact assessment and were left out of stakeholder meetings on the project.


Murdered After Defending Thailand’s Environment –The New York Times

Thailand is among the world’s most dangerous countries in which to oppose powerful interests that profit from coal plants, toxic waste dumping, land grabs or illegal logging. Some 60 people who spoke out on these issues have been killed over the past 20 years, although few perpetrators have been prosecuted in a culture in which powerful people have the last word and professional killers are easy to find.


From zinc to green business –Bangkok Post

Padaeng Industry’s shareholders last month made a crucial decision: they approved the company’s new strategy to create sustainable revenues and profit from green business after decades of cashing in on zinc mining. After the Mae Sot mine closure this year, the Rayong plant will cease operations by the end of 2016. The zinc smelter in Tak will limit its operations by the end of 2016.



Vietnam’s New Environmental Politics: A Fish out of Water? –The Diplomat

The cross-country demonstrations currently taking place in Vietnam to protest massive fish die-offs along the central Vietnamese coast are truly remarkable. Not only were demonstrations at this scale unheard of even five years ago, but they beg the question of why thousands of demonstrators as far off as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are subjecting themselves to the threat of beating and arrest over dead fish in Central Vietnam. (See also: ‘Really Pissed Off:’ Vietnam’s Environmental Disaster –Asia Sentinel)


Vietnam Urged to Increase Renewable Energy Share in Power Sector –Planet Save

Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance has called upon the government to increase the share of renewable energy in power generation sector and move away from coal-based power technology. Such a move will be detrimental to the vision of energy security and environmental sustainability. Price of coal-based power, which remains less than the price of power from renewable energy sources is one of the major challenges for widespread renewable energy development in Vietnam.


U.S., Vietnam to Further Clean Energy Goals with Nuclear Energy –Morning Consult

The U.S. and Vietnam plan to establish a joint committee to promote the use of nuclear power to achieve clean energy goals, according to a joint statement released by the White House.


Organisations take action on drought –VietNamNet Bridge

A number of organisations have signed a joint action programme to support farmers affected by drought, saltwater intrusion, and massive seafood death. The action programme aims to supply fresh water to around 45,000 families affected by saltwater encroachment in the Mekong Delta, and drought in the Central Highlands and south central region, while purchasing health insurance cards for around 6,000 underprivileged households affected by massive fish deaths.


Vietnam’s government accused of suppressing information –UCA News

Environmental activists in Vietnam accused the government of leading a smear campaign against them rather than dealing with the poisoning of coastal waters that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of fish. They also warned that the government’s recent crackdown on protesters “would give the go ahead to persecute and terrorize outspoken activists in order to stifle the freedom of speech and other human and civil rights.”


Ministry of Industry and Trade, GE sign MoU on wind energy cooperation –VietNamNet Bridge

GE, a US based global corporation announced that it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Industry and Trade on developing 1,000MW of Wind energy in Vietnam. This represents enough energy to power the equivalent of approximately 1.8 million Vietnamese homes.




Glaring gap: Countries are overlooking how the private sector can help meet national climate goals –Eco-Business

In Asia, preventing emissions from land use change is the clearest path to delivering on national commitments to limit global warming. Major private sector actors, in response to pressure from consumers and civil society, are taking the lead in the region. Dozens of companies are making efforts to meet zero deforestation and sustainable palm oil targets. And many banks are reassessing the risks associated with investments that don’t meet certain social and environmental standards.


Indigenous Peoples Insist on Equality of All Rights –In Depth News

Nearly a thousand indigenous participants from Asia, Africa, North America, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean gathered together to air their grievances before the United Nations at a two-week long conference. The conference ended with a resounding call for greater participation in the United Nations and in UN bodies by some of the world’s most neglected minorities who are increasingly victims of armed conflicts, corporate greed and rising economic inequalities. (See also: Indigenous Peoples Insist on Equality of All Rights at UN Conference –The Wire)


The problem with ‘capacity building’ –Myanmar Times

There are many UN agencies and numerous foreign organisations, including INGOs, that are actively engaging with the new Myanmar government. Just how effective can the training be? For example, so many personnel have been called in for the many environmental-related capacity trainings – for projects related to oil, power, mining, fisheries, forestry and land surveying – that one wonders how can they even digest or apply the training.




Growth of Nuclear Energy: Issues in Safety, Safeguards and Security – Analysis –Eurasia Review

Nuclear energy is seeing a revival post-Fukushima, with interest shifting away from Europe to Asia. As nuclear power use grows, so must the international community bear in mind the 3S – safety, safeguards and security. While renewable energy sources are projected to be the world’s fastest growing energy source for electricity production between 2012 and 2040, nuclear energy is projected to become the third fastest growing sector after natural gas.


Going for a more country safeguards system in Asia-Pacific –Devex

The Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and the World Bank are partnering to boost safeguard systems in the Asia-Pacific, ensuring that development projects meet international standards for environmental and social protection. The three organizations will “help improve member countries’ safeguards systems and better manage the environmental and social risks associating with major developments,” Mark Kunzer, said principal environment specialist of the ADB.





Myanmar Investment Commission will approve new permits only after it has reformed -7 Day Daily

Since the new NLD (National League for Democracy Party) led government took the power in April 2016, more than 80 private companies have applied for permission, mostly in garments, electricity production, and beverage companies from Singapore, Chinese, Asians and a few Europeans. As the MIC has the same life span as the government, which is five years, it needs to dismantle and reform again. The current MIC has 13 members and led by a Union Minister. Myanmar received $9.6bn FDI in 2015-16 fiscal year.



In the next 34 years, Thailand will have 100% renewable energy –Green News TV

WWF suggested solution to reduce the impact gas and increase employment. A recent study by WWF Thailand proposed alternatives for renewable energy Thailand. It revealed that by year 2030,  the proportion can increase to 85-100%,  reduction in the fossil energy from 60% to 0-15%,  reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by more than a hundred million tons and the employ rate  which will be increased to two fold. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released its latest issue on 24 May stating that by year 2030 , Thailand can use renewable energy in response to full energy supply (100%) to reduce the devastating effects of climate change. It shows that despite the high initial modification cost, this will yield the overwhelming benefits at affordable prices in the long run. Such report analyzed the alternative scenarios in two forms. In the first case that can certainly be made is the use of renewable energy at 85% by continued operation of power plants, fossil energy that have not yet expired with no increase from the current building. Another case which is more ambitious is when there is appropriate renewable energy power plant, then turn off all the fossil power plant in order to get a ratio of 100% renewable energy.



Plan continues for waterway transport system and hydropower on Red River –VNE Express via The Mekong Eye

Vietnam’s Ministry of Investment and Planning (MPI) received a request to approve the investment project of Xuan Thanh group (Xuan Thien Co Ltd) which aims to construct a waterway transport system and hydropower dam on Red River, in North Vietnam. MPI has informed the Prime Minister and consulted with MONRE about this project as MPI thinks this project will have potential impacts to the environment due to dredging the riverbed or in the process of constructing the dam. But in order to understanding the specific impacts, it needs to conduct and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The Prime Minister has not yet approved this project as its still lack information and legal documents. Prime Minster assigned MONRE to establish a master plan for Red River to ensure the sustainable development. It is important to consider carefully the upstream water sources flowing from China to the Red River and what will happen to the Red River if China also constructs dams similar to the Mekong river. Therefore, there needs to be advice from environmental experts and international experts to help us make the correct decision. It should not get approval or objection quickly without sufficient information. (Read full translated story on The Mekong Eye)




VIDEO: The River Guardian –Mekong Citizen/Oxfam

Chin Sokunthor was a part of the National Women Farmer Forum, sponsored by Oxfam’s Mekong Inclusion Project. In this second part of her story, watch as Chin Sokunthor of Kratie, Cambodia shares her views on such issues as pollution and hydropower on the Mekong River, and the community mobilization and solidarity which will conquer them. Video in Khmer with English subtitles.


COURSE: Food and our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia –SEI/Future Learn

Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia Centre is providing a free five-week online course beginning on 8 August 2016, Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia, is designed for learners to engage with Southeast Asia’s food systems and natural resource trends in a highly interactive way.


VIDEO: Dams in Mekong River –Chinese Bridge

Mekong river, flow from China though Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world. China has built many high dams in Yunnan section, the video shows graphics of several Chinese hydropower dams on Mekong River.


REPORT: Greater Mekong region can reach 100% renewable and sustainable energy by 2050 –WWF

Lao PDR (Laos) has an opportunity to become a leader in clean, renewable electricity. Renewable energy sources such as sun, wind, water and biomass energy abound on its territory. This report shows that another future is possible, where a more diverse mix of renewable sources can meet Lao’s electricity demand and export strategy by 2050, with 44.5% of the installed capacity met by sustainable renewable energies by 2025.


FACT SHEET: Trade and Investment with Vietnam –The White House

The United States is continuing to strengthen its commercial relationship with Vietnam. We are now taking the next step.  In addition to witnessing over $16 billion in deal signings to advance aviation and energy sector development in Vietnam.


BLOG: Agroforestry offers sustainable alternative to worrying trend in Mekong region –Global Landscape Forum

A shift towards monoculture plantations and higher chemical use is of great concern to many in the Mekong region, particularly due to the impact this is having on food security and health.


Editor’s notes:

  • The above is curated by The Mekong Eye, a GeoJournalism website which you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook
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  • 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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