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Mekong Eye News Digest: 29 June 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, June 30, 2016

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

To June 29, 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 3800 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

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

 

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Mekong countries share land governance experience –Vietnam News

Increasing security of land rights and transparency of land governance would contribute to government accountability, reduce costs for businesses and strengthen the climate for responsible investment in the Mekong region. The Mekong region land forum is a platform for dialogue and information sharing on key land governance challenges affecting vulnerable groups, including small farmers, minority groups and women.

 

Mekong Historian Finds His Worst Fears Confirmed –VOA Khmer (Interview)

“When I wrote the book and published it in 2000, 16 years ago, I did not expect that the Chinese would continue building dams at the rate that they have now done. So, the uncertain future has proved to be exactly that: very uncertain indeed,” said Mekong Historian Milton Osborne. Milton Osbourne, the author of 2000 book, “The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future,” told VOA Khmer and explained why he believes that dam projects are a serious threat to the Mekong and the people who depend on it.

 

A bad dry season on the Mekong  –The Interpreter (Blog)

With the end of the dry season in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) — a period roughly running from November to May — the magnitude of the problems affecting the Mekong River is starkly apparent. With estimates that the river has been at its lowest level in the last 100 years — a circumstance that has had effects throughout the LMB and is particularly marked in the Mekong Delta and the Tonle Sap (Cambodia’s Great Lake) — the gravity of the current situation cannot be overstated. Although it is clear that the El Nino effect has dominated weather patterns, there can be no denying that China’s dams have played their part in altering the previous pattern of water flow down the river.

 

CAMBODIA

Phnom Penh SEZ Goes Solar –Khmer Times

The Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone (PPSEZ) has gone green with solar panels to generate electricity in its clean energy initiative launched this week, in partnership with Singapore-based Cleantech Solar Management Corporation. Cleantech Solar also gives PPSEZ technical support to enable the industrial estate to self-generate solar energy.

 

Gold Mine License Suspended Again –Khmer Times

A Vietnamese-owned gold mine in Battambang province’s Phnom Prek district failed to acquire an operating license from the Ministry of Mines and Energy yesterday after failing to meet their guidelines. This comes after the ministry temporarily suspended the company’s license in February 2015, giving the company time to make the necessary upgrades to reach the ministry’s technical operating standards.

 

Koh Kong fishermen struggle in the shadow of sand dredgers –The Phom Penh Post

Almost eight years of dredging has devastated the stocks of fish, crabs and snails that villages like Koh Sralav rely on for food and trading. Though residents say they have experienced a reprieve over the past two months, Davidson said via email that Mother Nature activists had spotted active dredging a little over a week ago.

 

NGO Releases its Report on Land Concessions –Khmer Times

More than 150 companies operating in 18 provinces have been involved in Economic Land Concession-related conflicts since ELCs were established more than 20 years ago, according to an annual report by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, which was questioned by a government official. Only 42 of the 158 companies have resolved their conflicts, which affected 35,604 families, the 33-page report said. By the end of last year, an additional 50 companies were said to have partly resolved conflicts. (See also: Most ELC Disputes Still Unresolved –The Cambodia Daily)

 

LAO PDR

Laos speeds up hydropower plant on Mekong River despite concerns –Thanh Nien News

Construction work on the Don Sahong Dam in Laos is progressing at a rapid pace, amid urgent questions about its impacts on the food security and livelihoods of those near the site as well as up and downstream the Mekong River. Reports from the ground show that the Hou Sahong Channel, which is crucial to seasonal fish migration, is completely blocked, the environmental advocacy group said in a statement.

 

Contractors begin drilling for Lao-China railway tunnel –Lao News Agency

Contractors began drilling the Friendship Tunnel, an important section of the International Lao-China Railway, signifying that the multibillion-dollar project has entered a concrete stage of being implemented. The 9.68-km-long Friendship Tunnel will be a trans-boundary tunnel, China will be responsible for 70 per cent of the total investment, while Laos will be responsible for the remainder. The construction of the project, which will be developed by a Laos-China joint venture, is expected to take about five years to complete.

 

Laos Bans New Mining Projects in a Polluted Province –RFA

Lao prime minister Thongloun Sisoulith has ordered officials in a heavily-polluted southern province of the country to reject proposals for new mining projects in their area, citing severe damage already caused to the local environment. Although mining is a key source of revenue for landlocked Laos but it’s also come with environmental cost.

 

MYANMAR

SEZS under scrutiny –Frontier Myanmar

Lessons learned from Thailand suggest that strict environmental controls on Myanmar’s three big special economic zones will avoid serious pollution and public health problems in the long term. Conceived when Myanmar was still under military rule, the three multi-million-dollar SEZs – at Thilawa in Yangon Region, Dawei in Tanintharyi Region and Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State – have faced accusations of land grabbing and a disregard for transparency.

 

The Myitsone Dam: China’s three options –Frontier Myanmar

As China steps up the pressure for a resumption of work on the controversial Myitsone dam, Myanmar is told it faces three options over the project’s future. The project’s future is emerging as a major test of the National League for Democracy government its ability to manage relations with China.

 

Sagaing authorities start gold mine clampdown –Myanmar Times

Sagaing Region authorities are launching a crackdown on small-scale gold mines that, they say, contribute to environmental degradation. But concern is growing that larger companies, which are licensed at the level of the Union government, may be allowed to continue operating.

 

Stop All Mining Operations, Say Civic Groups –BNI

A coalition of 35 civil society organizations in Burma has issued a statement calling for the National League for Democracy-led government to suspend all mining operations in the country. The statement was released on Thursday after representatives from Kachin, Kuki, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Ta’ang, Mon, Arakan and Shan states and divisions concluded a three-day conference in Kachin State capital Myitkyina.

 

Thailand reaffirms Dawei plans, but does Myanmar? –Mizzima

“The governments of Thailand and Myanmar reaffirmed that the Dawei megaproject will create thousands of jobs and improve the livelihoods of people along the border,” according to Thailand’s Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. While the Thai business sector is anxiously looking for signals from the new Myanmar government that it backs the project, Suu Kyi may be taking her time to assess the deal, as well as several other controversial contracts granted to foreign investors by her predecessors in power.

 

India – Myanmar – Thailand Highway: Strategic Dimensions –Swarajya Magazine

Strategically the IMT Highway not only links India to Thailand in Southeast Asia but also provides for greater integration with Myanmar with whom India has had cultural, historical, ethnic and religious ties. Myanmar is strategically important to India as it is the only ASEAN country that shares a border with India and can act as a link between India and ASEAN. Myanmar is India’s gateway to Southeast Asia.

 

THAILAND

Visit is chance to rethink investments –Bangkok Post

This week’s visit by Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counsellor, to Thailand appears to hold out hope for Thai state and private investors to revitalise their plans for key investments in Myanmar. Among these projects, the most prominent are the Dawei Special Economic Zone and a cascade of hydroelectric dams on the Salween River.

 

Thailand risks facing serious LNG shortage –Bangkok Post

Thailand is at risk of being short of 6,300 megawatts of electricity in 2021 due to the possible disruption of up to 9 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) stemming from the lack of further investment in the Erawan and Bongkot gas fields. Production concessions for the two blocks — Bongkot, operated by PTTEP, and Erawan, operated by Chevron — are due to expire in 2022-23.

 

Thailand’s immediate energy dilemma – nuclear and coal debated –The Nation

In the quest to meet higher energy demands from the growing economy and population, academics have suggested Thailand should invest in new electricity generating technology. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), on the other hand, says energy security still relies on nuclear and coal sources. Egat has said it is open to adopting new technologies, but that the technology had to be proven safe and affordable enough for commercial power generation. Nuclear and coal-fired power plants at present are the most reliable sources of energy for Thailand’s future, the authority said.

 

VIETNAM

Water in Mekong River Delta at risk of arsenic contamination –VietnamNet Bridge

Experts have warned that Mekong River Delta, the country’s rice granary, is now at high risk of lacking fresh water with the water level having fallen to the lowest in 100 years. In the past, one needed to dig a well at the depth of 100 meters to be able to get fresh water. Nowadays, even if digging at the depth of 200 meters, one would not be sure if the water can be used, because a large percentage of water is contaminated with salt and chemicals. (See also: International reports warn about disintegration of Mekong River Delta –VietnamNet Bridge)

 

Mekong Delta climate change plan in motion –Vietnam News

Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc spoke about the critical role that the Mekong Delta plays in national development as well as the enormous challenges it faces, particularly in adapting to climate change and ensuring sustainable livelihoods for its residents.  Speaking at the Mekong Delta Forum 2016, Phúc noted that the Delta remained the main agricultural and fisheries area in the country, with more than 40 per cent of agricultural production, 70 per cent of fishery export value and 90 per cent of rice exports. (See also: Mekong Delta Forum targets increased resilience –Vietnam News)

 

Provinces urged to carefully assess FDI projects before licensing –VietnamNet Bridge

The recent decision by Binh Dinh Province to cancel the license for a long-delayed trucks parts plant has flagged the need to carefully assess FDI projects before licensing them. Authorities in the central province revoked the US$1-billion project after its Russian investor failed to begin construction three years after getting the license.

 

ADB Affirms Support For Vietnam, Cautions on SOEs –AEC News Today

The Asian Development Bank assured Vietnamese leaders that the organisation will continue to assist the country. Takehiko Nakao, the ADB’s president, met with a number of top ministers to discuss future cooperation and needs. Nakao affirmed that the ADB will provide about US$1 billion in sovereign lending to Vietnam annually. This lending will focus on promoting inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

 

Chinese giant paper plant claims not a threat to Mekong river –Vietnam Express

In response to concerns about the possible environmental damage a $1.2 billion paper plant could do to the Mekong River, Chinese investors say they will use a high-tech treatment system to purify waste water from the plant. In March 2015, the Lee&Man Paper Manufacturing Company’s Vietnam branch started construction of a paper plant on the banks of the Hau River, a tributary of the Mekong River in Vietnam. After it is completed in August this year, the plant could discharge up to 28,500 tons of sodium hydroxide per year.

(See also: Hong Kong paper mill gives rise to pollution fears in southern Vietnam –Tuoi Tre News)

 

Vietnam says Nghi Son refinery construction facing delays –Reuters

The construction of Vietnam’s second oil refinery, the $7.5-billion Nghi Son plant, is falling behind schedule, the government said, extending the country’s reliance on imported products in 2017. Test runs of the 200,000-barrel-per-day refinery, scheduled for November 2016, would be delayed by around four months, according to state oil group PetroVietna.

 

Mekong Delta drought losses total $215m –VietnamNet Bridge

More than 221,000ha of rice, 6,500ha of vegetables, and 26,500ha of fruits and industrial trees were affected. Paddy grown on 128,205ha was completely destroyed. The drought and saltwater intrusion also caused a freshwater shortage for 225,000 households in coastal provinces like Ben Tre, Soc Trang, and Kien Giang. (See also EU: Vietnam drought leaves 1 million in urgent need of food aid –Post Guam)

 

 

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT

The World Bank Should Champion Human Rights –The New York Times

Much of the evidence supporting the emerging consensus that strong human rights safeguards promote and enhance development has come out of research from the World Bank. Yet the institution has been far too reluctant to make adherence to human rights a core principle by which it evaluates projects intended to reduce poverty and improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. The bank is now in the final stages of updating its policies on how to reduce the environmental and social risks of projects and loans. This offers an opportunity to chart a new course.

 

China says AIIB will have better understanding of developing world’s needs than other international development banks –South China Morning Post

The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will be different from institutions like the World Bank because it has a greater understanding of the developing world’s needs. The AIIB, which intends to invest US$1.2 billion this year, has said it is aiming to meet international standards of governance, although some members say there is still work to be done. (See also: For ‘startup’ AIIB, success is all about managing expectations –Devex)

 

Cambodia: Russia’s Gateway to ASEAN? –The Diplomat

In May, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen held bilateral talks with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to strengthen economic linkages between Moscow and Phnom Penh. These talks resulted in the two countries signing a landmark agreement to cooperate on peaceful nuclear energy development. At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Sochi that followed, Russia and Cambodia announced cooperation in numerous economic sectors and took major steps toward the establishment of a durable economic partnership.

 

Surviving climate change in Southeast Asia will require new and ancient technologies –Newsweek

The 2015-2016 drought has hit nearly 100,000 households in rural Cambodia, along with many millions more people in nearby countries, including Vietnam. A particularly strong El Niño pattern that wreaked havoc across the globe caused this past year’s extreme weather, but climate scientists say the Mekong region in particular faces an uncertain future: more intense dry seasons, wetter monsoons, floods, storms and rising sea levels. A surge in the number of dams along the Mekong is expected to alter the river’s flow in the years ahead, potentially making some areas less habitable.

 

 

GLOBAL CONTEXT

World Bank Forgoes Transparency, Hides Behind Policy Loophole –The Huffington Post

Sixty-nine civil society organizations (CSOs) from twenty-six countries urged the World Bank to maintain transparency throughout the ongoing review of its environmental and social protection policies, or safeguards. In a joint letter to World Bank management, the signatories requested that the final draft of the World Bank safeguards package be publicly disclosed at the same time that it is shared with the Board for review. This would allow them to discuss the content with their elected representatives before the World Bank Board seeks out the final opinions of member governments.

 

The World’s Disappearing Sand –The New York Times (Opinion)

Sand is the essential ingredient that makes modern life possible. And we are starting to run out. That’s mainly because the number and size of cities is exploding, especially in the developing world. Every year there are more people on the planet, and every year more of them move to cities. We use more sand than any natural resource other than air and water. Cambodia’s Koh Kong might be the canary in the coalmine of a sand crisis.

 

China-backed development bank set to pick first projects –Nikkie Asian Review

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will consider its first batch of projects Friday, with the Bangladeshi power grid seen as a main beneficiary of the largesse. The board of governors is expected to approve four loans totaling roughly $500 million, or nearly half of the $1.2 billion target set for its inaugural year. Three of these loans will be co-financed with international development banks to show that the China-backed AIIB does not seek to operate in opposition with them.

 

 

LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS

BURMESE LANGUAGE

The Problems with Palm Oil Plantation in Tanintharyi, Myanmar –7 Day Daily

“The Tanintharyi must be the oil pot of Myanmar”, was the slogan of palm oil plantation, when the government initiated the project. Most of the rainforests were cut down for landscaping and plantation. As a result, the water resources of the local communities were spoiled and damaged. The Vietnamese and Malaysian investors did not take responsibilities and no compensation for the resources losses. WWF said, the investors also cut down the rain forests out of the project areas. ‘we suggest the plantation only inside the permitted land areas, but the investors cut down out of the areas also. We could not monitor all the plantation area, so it causes social and environmental impact to the local communities’, said Mr. Saw Min Aung, deputy director from MOAI (Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation). Currently, the government allowed 0.7 million acres of land for palm oil production in Tanintharyi region.There are 44 companies invested and the majorities are Vietnamese and Malaysian.

 

70 Percent of the populations and SMEs still relying on Charcoal and Firewood –Eleven News

“70 percent of the total populations of Myanmar, including the SMEs are still relying on charcoal and firewood” said Mr. Own Win, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. “we need to do estimation and calculations for annual firewood usage and need to promote the plantation. And it could protect the deforestation,” he continued. According to FRA 2015, 42.92% of Myanmar still covered with rain forests, but those are under threat of illegal logging. The government of Myanmar recently announced that it will stop logging for one year, 2016-17.

 

KHMER LANGUAGE

Workers continue mining gems illegally in rubber plantation in Ratanakiri Province –Thmey Thmey

Illegal mining gems dealers and workers continue mining gems illegally in rubber plantation in Borkeo District of Ratanakiri Province. Although, Borkeo authority banned illegal mining gems, about 100 illegal mining gems workers is still mining.  Mr. Mom Sothy, an illegal mining gems workers in Ratanakiri Province, said that rubber plantation owner and gems dealers permit about 100 workers mining the gems for them. He has experiences in mining gems about two years. There is no technology applying for gems mining, there are 10 to 50 holes with 10-15 meters depth depending on the size of the mining area. To dig a hole for gems mining, it takes about two days and values of gems from each hole is from one to five thousand US dollar or even more than that. Although he does not know types of gems well, he could earn from ten to twenty thousand US dollar per month. But some month he could not get, even one gem. He sells gems to dealers from twenty thousand riel to ten thousand US dollar depending on the color and size of gems.

 

THAI LANGUAGE

‘Mooban Hug Ban Hun Naew’ , The coming together of villagers for the situation of coal mining at Pak Chom district, Loei Province.’ Thai PBS

Hug Ban Hun Naew group is a combination of villagers from two newly established villages which are Sathorn Village Moo10 and Khonsa Village Moo4 at Pakchom district, Loei province with an aim to raise concern for exploration and mining concessions of many capitalist areas. This area like many parts of Loei province is the target for capitalist. Geographically, the area has been known as ‘the city of coast mountain, the coldest place in Siam’. However, in geological term, it is the formation and accumulation of various types of economic minerals both metals and non-metals such as gold, copper, coal, iron, lead, manganese, gypsu, etc. According to the current data, areas in these two villagers were sought concession by two private companies, which are C.S.N Mining Company Limited and Thai Charoen Mining Limited Partnership. These two companies have been exclusive of mineral exploration licenses no. 72/2557 and 10/2558 respectively, and may also be subjected to exclusive of other mineral exploration licenses. The details are yet not known.

 

 

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

EXPLAINER/INFOGRAPHIC: Into the Zone: SEZs in the Mekong Region, Income…or Instability? (Part 1) –The Mekong Eye

Special Economic Zones are multiplying across the Mekong region. Will they unleash the economic potential? Or are the economic, social and environmental risks too great? And what is an SEZ, anyway? The Mekong Eye examines. Part one in our two-part series examines the SEZ model and the promises and challenges of SEZs in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

 

UPDATE: Data, Development and the Environment: Regional Journalists and NGOs Take on Data Journalism –Mekong Partnership for the Environment/Pact

With help from Mekong Partnership from the Environment (MPE), the Mekong region now has a new team of skilled regional journalists and NGOs who can bring evidence-based environment stories to their audiences. USAID-funded MPE and Myanmar’s Phandeeyar are training journalists and local NGOs to tell compelling stories with environmental data.

 

ARTICLE: Regional Journalists Examine Impacts of Don Sahong Dam on Dolphins, Fisheries, Villagers –Mekong Partnership for the Environment on The Mekong Eye

Journalists from across the Mekong region met villagers, government officials and NGOs to understand and write stories about the costs and benefits of the Don Sahong dam. Mekong Partnership for the Environment partner Cambodia Institute for Media Studies convened 20 local and four regional journalists in Stung Treng from May 26-28 to learn about the dam and its effect on communities, the environment and the dolphin and fish populations.

 

BLOG: Don Sahong Dam Construction Creates Uncertainty Over Future of Regional Fisheries and Food Security –International Rivers

Construction work on the Don Sahong Dam is progressing at a rapid pace. Reports from the ground show that the Hou Sahong Channel – crucial to seasonal fish migration – is completely blocked. The dam’s progress highlights urgent questions about its impacts on the food security and livelihoods of those near the dam site as well as up and downstream.

 

PRESS RELEASE: ASEAN, China to formulate environmental cooperation plan –ASEAN

The Seminar on Formulating ASEAN-China Environmental Cooperation Action Plan 2016-2020 was held on 14-15 June in Kunming, China. The seminar aims to operationalise the ASEAN-China Strategy on Environmental Cooperation (2016-2020) which was recently endorsed by senior officials on environment from both sides.

 

PRESS RELEASE: VLS U.S. -Asia Partnerships for Environmental Law Establishes Training Program in China –Vermont Law School

The U.S.-Asia Partnerships for Environmental Law (PEL) at Vermont Law School will establish an Environmental Law Training Program (ELTP) to guide environmental stewards and legal advocates in China. The goal of the program, which will be developed over the next three years, is to increase the capacity of legal advocates to effectively engage in environmental advocacy, mainly through utilizing China’s recently enacted provisions on environmental public interest litigation.

 

PRESS RELEASE: Mekong Regional Land Forum 2016 –Land Portal

More than 280 participants from the region gather together in Hanoi to discuss about the governance of land and the respective role the ASEAN economic community. The Mekong Region Land Governance project in collaboration with partners and donors jointly organized this Regional Land Forum. The event allows for an open dialogue between participants and the objective is to share experience and lessons learned on the key land governance issues and challenges that are affecting vulnerable groups, including smallholder farmers, minority groups and women in the Mekong Region.

 

STATEMENT: Myanmar: Statement from seminar on “Community Action for Mining and Customary Land Rights” –Indigenous Voice of Asia

A seminar on Community Action for Mining and Customary Land Rights was held during June 20th to 22nd, 2016 with participants from different States and Divisions. 69 participants from 35 organizations from campaign groups against large-scale mining, farmer networks and community based organizations attending this seminar discussing the negative impacts of mining and analyzing strategies from other countries. One of the results from this seminar was the formation of the Myanmar Mining Watch Network (MMWN) who are issuing the following statement about mining.

 

VIDEO: Mekong Partnership for the Environment: shared solutions for responsible development –Mekong Partnership for the Environment/Pact

Deputy Chief of Party; Barry Flaming discusses Pact’s Mekong Partnership for the Environment project, which is using an integrated, regional approach to promote responsible development across Asia’s Mekong region. Click to learn more about Mekong Partnership for the Environment on Pact’s website and Mekong Citizen.

 

Editor’s notes:

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