By The Mekong Eye
Mekong Region, June 14, 2016
MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)
To June 8, 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 3700 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.
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The ecological of the Mekong River could be destroyed within 10 years if dam projects along the river are allowed to continue, Thai and Cambodian non-government organisations have warned. The NGOs urged relevant governments to better understand the situation and take more interest in trans-border impacts from development projects along the Mekong River in order to prevent adverse consequences, which could harm the lives of millions people who depend on the river.
Why the Mekong River is Asia’s next big investment locale –Global Risk Insights (Analysis)
Japan recently announced a three-year, $7 billion investment deal to improve the infrastructure of the lower Mekong River region. Furthermore, because of geopolitical reasons, it will be beneficial to Japanese investors who may be dissuaded from other regions, such as Russia. The importance of the Mekong River to the regional economy cannot be underestimated. Due to the river’s strength and ubiquity throughout the region, the potential for hydro power to be harnessed is clearly evident. However, potential investors in this sector may face blow-back as dam construction has been blamed for adverse effects upon the local fishing industry, as well as upon the water itself.
Extensive irrigated agriculture in Northeast Thailand has long been a dream of the Royal Irrigation Department (RID). Recently, the RID has reinvigorated its irrigation plans, planning to divert water from the Mekong River’s mainstream into the Loei River in Northeastern Thailand, which would then be connected via tunnels to the Chi and Mun Rivers.
Russian nuclear agency bullish on Asean outlook –The Nation
ROSATOM, Russia’s state nuclear-energy agency, is bullish on the outlook of its business in Southeast Asia after the speedy development of a project in Vietnam and a range of agreements with every country in the region except Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei. In an interview on the sidelines of the eighth “International Forum Atomexpo”, Nikolay Drozdov, Rosatom’s director of international business department, acknowledged that the speed of development in foreign countries, particularly Thailand, depended largely on public acceptance and the respective governments’ decisions.
Minister’s Environment Day Claims In Doubt –The Cambodia Daily
Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Sunday declared an end to large-scale logging in eastern Cambodia and said the vast majority of property disputes sparked by land-grabbing sugarcane plantations had been settled, though NGOs disagreed. In mid-January, the government set up a special task force to root out illicit timber stocks across the east and ordered an immediate halt to all wood exports to Vietnam, a tacit admission that much of it was illegal.
New teams to settle land disputes announced –The Phnom Penh Post
Newly appointed Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara last week established a working group comprising 27 four-man teams tasked with hastening the resolution of land disputes. According to a letter issued by the Ministry of Land Management on Friday, each team will be assigned three disputes to bring to a close, reporting the results back to the ministry. Secretary of State for the Ministry of Land Management Sarun Rithea yesterday insisted that the creation of the teams was not indicative of flaws in existing dispute resolution mechanisms. Civil society members working on land issues, meanwhile, were tentatively hopeful that the new teams might bring meaningful results.
Malaysian businessmen urged to invest in Cambodia –Khmer Times
The President of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC), a leading organization representing the private sector in the Kingdom, has urged Malaysian investors and businessmen to invest in and do business with Cambodia. Kith Meng, the president of the CCC and the owner of conglomerates with three television channels, dam development, banking and telecom businesses, said the CCC and MATRADE had worked together closely on trade and investment promotion and organized several expositions and business matching seminars to ensure the smooth flow of business and investment.
It’s time to move towards environmental sustainability –The Phnom Penh Post (Op-Ed)
June 5th marked the annual World Environment Day, a time to reflect on the importance of protecting the environment. In September, the UN General Assembly adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), seven of which are environmental. These include promoting sustainable use of natural resources, combating climate change and building sustainable cities. Achieving each of these goals is crucial for societies for shared and sustainable prosperity. This is the case for Cambodia too. Development must go hand in hand with environmental protection.
Govt takes action to address illegal logging –Vientiane Times
The government has instructed ministries and provinces to delegate responsibility in implementing measures outlined last month that prohibit the export of timber, unprocessed wood, and non-timber forest products. In the notice issued on June 1, the government instructed the authorities to resolutely punish, without compromise, those who violate these measures.
France has agreed to extend its support for development projects in Laos –Lao National Television (broadcasted news)
France has agreed to extend its support for development projects to be implemented in Laos over the next three years, with the main focus on agriculture. Two financial agreements valued at 1.5 million euros were reached on Thursday between the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the French Embassy in Vientiane, and the French Development Agency (AFD), the agreement aim to support development projects in Lao PDR including coffee sector in the northern provinces, irrigation project in Khammouane Province, concessionary of the Nam Tuen II dam.
Logging ban planned by next April, says minister –Frontier Myanmar
The government plans to introduce a total ban on logging throughout Myanmar this fiscal year, said the Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. The minister announced the planned ban in the Amyotha Hluttaw on June 2, the state-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar reported. The apparent decision to introduce the ban by March 31 next year followed unconfirmed reports that it was to take effect from May 31 that had led to a surge in logging in some parts of the country.
Army Kills Civilians near Shan Dam Project Site, Says Rights Group –Burma News International
The Burma Army tortured and killed civilians close to the Upper Yeywa dam project site in Kyaukme Township, Shan State during May according to a Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) statement. The statement said the abuses happened during a Burma Army offensive against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA). SHRF suggested that the army are trying to gain further control of the area to facilitate the construction of the Upper Yeywa dam on the Namtu River
Dams can provide an affordable means for electricity production and water storage, Yangon region Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein said at an event to inform the public about the state of electricity distribution at the Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation headquarters. “I believe good river management is required to make the most of the country’s fresh water. “Dams can store water as well as provide an affordable way to produce electricity. We should consider this an alternative for electricity production in the long term,” he said.
Chinese envoy pushes for Myitsone dam –Eleven Myanmar
Hong Liang, Chinese ambassador to Myanmar, has urged Kachin State ethnic ministers and MPs to continue with the Myitsone dam project. The Chinese delegation said the relationship between the two countries would bloom. They told us to encourage the public to back the Myitsone dam project which would boost development. The state government committee said the public would make the decision. We discussed regional development, implementing the project in accordance with the law and repairing weak points in the bilateral relationship. (See also: Chinese Delegation Visits Myanmar Locals Displaced by Controversial Dam Project –RFA)
The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in June 2015. This was the first step to building a legal foundation for interaction between Russia and Myanmar in the area of nuclear technology including research, radioisotopes production, nuclear medicine, radio immunotherapy, nuclear safety, radiation risk assessment, and training scientists and administrators, according to Russian state-owned Rosatom Corporation.
Legal action will be taken against three companies after they were found to be mining gold excessively and illegally in the Zin forest Reserve in Kantbalu Township, Shwebo District, according to lawmakers and local people. The forest reserve is the site of important natural features as bat caves and natural underground caves.
There have been a long pattern of protest and human rights violations against mining in Thailand. Recently, Akara Resources Public Co Ltd, a Thai gold mining company filed complaints of criminal defamation against two human rights defenders who opposed the company’s operations in Pichit province and allegedly posted negative comments about the firm on Facebook. Thailand has a long way to go to ensure its international obligations are met and human rights defenders are protected. The government should ensure that meaningful legal frameworks are available and effectively implemented to facilitate the free, prior and informed consent of local communities with regard to development projects, and it should ensure companies are held accountable for any environmental damage and human rights abuses.
The people’s Network for Energy Reform (PNER) has voiced its opposition to a government plan to invite new bids for natural gas production in the Erawan and Bongkot fields under the current concession scheme, suggesting that the government should enter into service contracts with private firms to get more benefits from the country’s two largest gas fields. In a statement, PNER also rejected Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s suggestion that the non-governmental organisation should bear responsibility if electricity prices go up in the near future because of its call for regulatory reform of gas production contracts in the Gulf of Thailand.
Vietnam police stop protests over massive fish deaths –Eco-Business
Police in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi broke a weekend protest by dozens of young people who were trying to highlight what they said was a slow, irresponsible government response to a mass kill-off of fish. Sunday’s aborted protests were inspired by the washing ashore in April of tens of thousands of fish along the central coast of Vietnam. Government experts have variously cited “red tide” or other factors, but many Vietnamese blame a huge steel plant run by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan. (See also: Protests Forecast to Resurface In Wary Vietnam After Mass Fish Deaths –Forbes Asia, Vietnam breaks up protests as anger seethes over fish deaths –ABC)
US experts propose measures to address drought in Mekong Delta –VietnamNet Bridge
How climate change and water management are becoming issues of national security in Vietnam and solutions for the country were the topic at a panel discussion held by the Stimson Center in Washington DC in late May. Panelists pointed out the main reasons for the most serious drought and saline intrusion in the past 100 years in the Mekong Delta. According to them, the delta is one of the places worst hit by El Nino – the unavoidable impact of climate change. The ineffective management of water resources also leads to drought and saline intrusion.
The late rain that has doused parts of central Vietnam is unlikely to break the drought that has hammered the country and its neighbors, costing the Vietnamese economy more $670 million in lost rice and fruit output. A dam-building spree on the Mekong by many of Vietnam’s neighboring countries is also contributing by reducing water flows.
Japan signs ODA deals with Vietnam –VietNamNet Bridge
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Vietnamese Government last week signed agreements on the ODA loans. The three projects are the Ben Thanh-Suoi Tien metro line project (line No. 1), Thai Binh thermal power plant and transmission lines, and phase two of HCMC’s water environment improvement project. The Japanese loans are to support Vietnam to build economic infrastructure to strengthen its competitiveness and improve the environment to overcome its vulnerabilities.
ASEAN–Russia Summit Emphasizes Countries’ Desire To Strengthen Strategic Ties –Eurasia Review (Analysis)
International experts continue to analyze the outcome of the ASEAN – Russia jubilee Summit held in Sochi following which the Declaration titled Moving Towards Strategic Partnership for Mutual Benefit was adopted. Summit participants agreed to develop their ties in economy, trade, energy, global security and culture. They also discussed specific projects in the field of oil refining, transport and education. Speaking at a meeting of heads of delegations at the ASEAN – Russia Summit with Business Forum representatives, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that the parties have already accumulated considerable experience in carrying out bilateral joint projects.
ASEAN: How About Accountability Beyond Borders? –ASEAN News
The arrival of the ASEAN Economic Community in December 2015 marked a major milestone on economic cooperation and anticipates economic growth, and with it a growing role for large transnational and domestic corporations, as well as for smaller businesses. Economic growth through regionalisation is a two-sided coin. It could bring jobs, increase incomes, and grow state revenues for beneficial public services such as health and education. But, when pursued recklessly, it could result in harm – including labour rights violations, dispossession of land and natural resources from communities, corruption and bribery, and environmental degradation.
Wind and solar power are on an exciting ride. Last year, new renewables for the first time made up more than half of the power capacity that was added around the world. New wind and solar plants, in other words, outstripped all new fossil fuel, hydropower and nuclear power plants. “Renewables are now established around the world as mainstream sources of energy,” states the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report. This is great news for the climate and for the world’s rivers.
Bank to approve $1.2 billion in financing this year. The first batch of investments by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will be announced on June 24 during its third board meeting. These will include the bank’s solely financed projects, as well as those co-financed with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. With authorized capital of $100 billion, the AIIB will invest in infrastructure, energy, transportation, urban construction, water supply and logistics as well as education, healthcare and environmental projects. (See also: Q&A with AIIB president –The Nation – Interview)
The Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Monday announced its first ever set of equity indices focused on sustainability, underscoring the growing importance of environment, social and governance (ESG) issues in a region that has been lagging behind its global counterparts. The SGX Sustainability Indices, composed of SGX-listed stocks, identify listed companies that meet sustainability reporting requirements and are considered sustainability leaders with established and leading ESG practices.
Water Clouds on the Tibetan Plateau –ETH Zurich
Ten of Asia’s major rivers flow from the Tibetan Plateau and fill river basins that provide water to more than 1.35 billion people, a fifth of the world’s population. A water crisis looms. Overall, Asia has the world’s lowest per capita water availability and arable land, according to an Asia Development Bank report. Experts warn that the region needs to improve cooperation on water management soon or run the risk of conflict over water resources.
Hydropower dams are important sources of renewable electricity around the world—but they might not be as green as they seem. Scientists say that the structures are killing off plant and animal species living around them. New research by the University of Stirling in Scotland found that reservoir islands, the land masses created after a hydroelectric dam is constructed and the area is flooded, which were previously thought to be conservation sanctuaries, are causing huge drop-offs in flora and fauna. In some cases, almost 90 percent of a certain species were lost.
India is facing one of its most serious droughts in recent memory – official estimates suggest that at least 330m people are likely to be affected by acute shortages of water. As the subcontinent awaits the imminent arrival of the monsoon rains, bringing relief to those who have suffered the long, dry and exceptionally warm summer, the crisis affecting India’s water resources is high on the public agenda.
LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS
Heavy rains in Himalayas could collapse the Taung Byo dam, which is situated in Tun Zan Township, Chin state, Myanmar. The water accumulated in reservoir area full overflows downstream. The dam was naturally formed as the result of flood and landslide in Chin Hill, in last year. The researchers and local communities says the down pouring rains of the monsoon season caused the accumulation of water and afraid it could collapse anytime during this monsoon season. Local have blamed the private-logging companies for over logging at the Chin Hills, which caused serious landslides and flooding last year.
The newly drafted investment laws guarantee full compensation to private investors, if the government revokes the agreement for any reasons. It became a concern when the government was forced to stop MAGA, the Singaporean Housing Developer, which is building a housing complex near the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Yangon Myanmar. Environmental activists, geologists and the locals have opposed the project which could have impacts on Shwe Dagon pagoda in the future, as it shares the same tectonic plates. “the project was approved by the former military government, and it has problems related with Shwe Dagon Pagoda”, said by Mr. Aung Naing Oo, the Sectretary of Myanmar Investment Commission. Later on, government give a land plot near the Inya lake in compensation for the former project site.
Regional government minister of Sagaing division said the government will take legal actions to three mining companies, for abusing the terms, and mining in reserved forest areas. During the inspections of Zinn reserved forest in Kanbalu Township, in Sagaing Division, the officials found out gold mines in forest areas. The minister says the area was reserved to promote eco-tourism in those areas.
NHRC visited the risk areas of affected communities from Thepha Power Plant –Now 26 (Broadcasted news)
In southern province of Songkhla at Thepha district, there were disputes found as villagers gathered to protest against the construction of Thepha Power Plant. It was reported that on June 3, The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) led by Mrs. Angkana Neelapaijit, the board of the NHRC has taken a field visit to the area to listen to people’s problems. They also visited other community areas such as schools, mosques, and cemeteries that will have to move out once the power plant is constructed. The local people have an open forum to meet with Mrs. Angkana at Thepha Beach with more than 100 citizens were opposing the project. They were waiting to meet and listen to the issues and to clarify their reasons for objection against the power plant.
Cabinet has given the greenlight to promote measures for Thai businesses, both domestic and transborder, to respect human rights. According to the source from Cabinet office, it is revealed that cabinet resolution on 16 May approved the effective mechanisms and guidelines to promote private sectors to be responsible and respect fundamental principles of Human Rights for both domestic businesses and foreign investment by Thai businesses due to recommendation of National Human Rights Commission and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in accordance with The first Strategy on Promotion of Corporate Social Responsibility (2015 – 2017). The cabinet has approved proposal of Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Minster of Foreign Affairs on 4 issues i.e. 1) assign to Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, The Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Board of Investment (BOI) to advocate private sectors for the measures promoting Human Rights explicitly. At the moment, there are already voluntary practices on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) among businesses; therefore, the government should regulate more with private businesses investing in foreign countries such as having mechanisms for consultation and complaints for local affected communities, conducting Human Right Impact Assessment (HRIA) in different projects and reporting annually or revealing information on impacts of human rights relevant to business operation.
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
ARTICLE: A Thirsty Mekong Delta –The Mekong Eye
Located at the end of the Mekong River basin, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam is currently experiencing the most severe drought and salinity intrusion in 100 years. According to experts, the principal reason is development activities in Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries related to the use of the Mekong River’s water resources, including the operation and construction of mega-dams along the river as well as water diversion for agricultural purposes.
WEBINAR JUNE 15: Public Participation in Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) –Mekong Partnership for the Environment/AECEN
Save the date for the third MPE Webinar Series Session on Public Participation in Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment EIA on Wednesday 15 June, 1015-1145 (UTC+7) Bangkok time, hosted by Mekong Partnership for the Environment and Asian Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network. The third webinar session aims to provide the Regional Technical Working Group on EIA and other attendees with opportunity to understand the processes of decision-making of projects with transboundary effects. It will also provide opportunity to consider if the adoption of more transparent, legitimate and active public participation approaches can reduce the transboundary impact of the project. Please confirm your participation replying to firstname.lastname@example.org by 9 June 2016.
BLOG: Telling the Story of the Environment in Asia –Internews
From water shortages in Nepal and China to floods in South Asia, climate change and other environmental issues are having a dramatic effect on Asia’s most vulnerable populations. Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) works with journalists and journalism networks throughout Asia to find innovative solutions to these pressing concerns. EJN conducts training workshops and develops training materials, supports story production and distribution, provides small grants for environmental and climate change reporting, and creates and supports unique data mapping platforms.
ANNOUCEMENT: Emerging River Professional Award –The International Water Centre Alumni Network
The Emerging River Professional Award (ERPA) is an initiative of the International River Foundation, established to recognize and foster early career river professionals who have demonstrated innovation, excellence and leadership in river, basin, or river-dependent community management. The finalists will present their case studies at the 19th International River Symposium to be held in New Delhi, India from 12-14 September 2016. The winner will be announced during the Riverprize Gala Dinner. NEW APPLICATION DEADLINE: 15 June 2016.
ARTICLE: Environmental and Social Impacts of Chinese Investment Overseas –The Asia Foundation
Along with the increased focus on environmental issues at home, more and more attention is being paid to the social and environmental impacts of China’s investments abroad. Outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) from China has exploded in the past 15 years, going from less than $3 billion in 2002 to $101 billion by 2013. According to a recent UNDP report, Chinese enterprises’ OFDI in 2014 totaled $123.1 billion across all industries, an increase of 14.2 percent compared with the previous year. Sector-wise, China’s FDI flowed mainly toward leasing and commercial services, wholesale and retail, financial sectors, construction, agricultural, and mining sectors. The latter three, by their very nature, can cause social and environmental concerns.
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