By The Mekong Eye
Mekong Region, July 6, 2016
MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)
To July 06, 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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China has said the South China Sea issue should not be a problem between it and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also known as ASEAN. All sides vowed to deepen practical maritime cooperation and jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea. This came during a meeting between senior officials last month. Meanwhile, cross-boundary trade along the Lancang-Mekong River, which runs through five ASEAN countries, is booming.
Energy Minister Visits Dam Site to Ask Villagers to Leave –The Cambodia Daily
Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem met with some 200 people from families refusing to make way for the under construction Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam in Stung Treng province, hoping to persuade them to take the compensation on offer. Although the government has proceeded with plans for a reservoir that will flood their homes in Sesan district, families living in the area have refused to accept the proposed payout: 5 hectares of farmland elsewhere in the district and the choice of a new house or $6,000.
Angkor Gold: Cambodia’s Premiere Project Generator –Investing News
Angkor Gold is Cambodia’s premier project generator with more than 20 prospects across seven tenements covering a 1,448 square kilometer land package. Exploration data shows evidence of gold, copper, molybdenum and other minerals across all seven tenements. Angkor recently signed an agreement with Mesco Gold to receive a 2 to 7.5 percent sliding scale net smelter return from the gold mine.
Thai Power Plant for Cambodia –Khmer Times
Two of Thailand’s leading small-sized power producers Sahacogen (Chonburi) Pcl and Saha Patthana Inter Holding Pcl, have entered into a joint venture to build biomass power plants in Cambodia and Myanmar with a total investment of about $20 million. DealStreetAsia quoted Viroj Theeravatvatee, managing director of Sahacogen (Chonburi) Pcl, as saying the new power plants would provide the unmet demand for electricity in both countries. “Electricity supply in Cambodia and Myanmar is insufficient. We plan to invest in Cambodia first… We are also considering a gas-based power plant in Myanmar,” he said.
Cambodia’s devastating economic land concessions –East Asia Forum (Column)
Conflicts over land and natural resources remain the most contentious issue in Cambodia today. Since the early 2000s, large swathes of land have been allocated by the government to domestic and foreign investors in the form of economic land concessions (ELCs). International financial institutions, US and European multinational corporations, and both state-owned and private companies in neighbouring Asian countries have been implicated in bankrolling, acquiring and operating ELCs.
Prey Lang Still Logged: Community –Khmer Times
Continued widespread logging in the Prey Lang forest is evidence that the government’s recent push to have more than 400,000 hectares of land protected is toothless. “In spite of the increased popularity of Prey Lang, the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) still struggles with the same problems it did 15 years ago. Deforestation remains on a large scale and the area is not under any form of legal protection,” said the PLCN report, assembled with data gathered during extensive patrols of the forest between February 2015 and March this year.
Illegal Mining Continues in Ratanakiri –Khmer Times
Despite claims from local authorities that illegal mining in Ratanakiri province’s Borkeo district had been stopped, more than 100 people have been seen continuing to mine the area. Miners, most of them from Kampong Cham, Prey Veng and Kampong Thom provinces, were seen digging in rubber plantation fields in Borkeo district. Police and provincial mining officials told reporters they stopped the mining business and had “educated” illegal miners, local media outlet ThmeyThmey reported.
Cambodia and Laos: Toward A New Era? –The Diplomat
Relations between Laos and its neighbors have strained in recent years, particularly over its rush to dam the Mekong River, threatening the food security of 70 million people who live downstream in the delta regions of Cambodia and Vietnam. But talks between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his counterpart in Laos appear to have improved ties, with plans to lift trade and investment between the two strategically positioned countries. The Hun Sen-Thongloun meeting was also timely given Laos’ turn as this year’s chair of ASEAN and efforts to improve the country’s standing at a broader regional level.
Don Sahong dam not interfering with Mekong fish migration –Lao News Agency
Fish in the Mekong River are having no problems moving through the Don Sahong hydropower dam. “The project also removed other obstacles and illegal large-scale fish traps out of the fish passing tunnels to ensure the migration of fish during the current breeding season. Mega First, the developer, has also taken several steps to ensure that the project is environmentally friendly based on international standards and that social impacts would be minimized,” said Head of the Fishery Monitoring Team.
Govt, Sector Working Groups discus s future development strategies –Vientiane Times
The Vientiane Declaration will play a crucial role in representing a shared ambition and recognition between the Lao government and the diverse partners on how development work is managed in the country over the next decade for better and more sustainable development results.
The sustainability challenge –Frontier Myanmar
The depletion of Myanmar’s natural resources in recent decades has been well documented. Under a military government that cared little for transparency and accountability, concessions for projects that had a devastating effect on the environment were handed out to well-connected companies with few, if any, checks and balances. The companies operated in a culture in which responsibility was not encouraged. They had little incentive to abide by international standards for environmental protection.
The Myitsone hydropower project, as well as dam projects along the Thanlwin River, are stalled, said Ko Oakktra Aung of the Thanlwin River Conservation Network. According to the network, of the 29 dam projects scheduled to be built on the Thanlwin, 18 have already been given the green light. Though work could proceed in areas where last October’s “nationwide” ceasefire agreement holds, continuing ethnic unrest and armed clashes in other areas will continue to hold back many projects.
Approving the controversial China-backed Myitsone Dam project in Kachin state would constitute “political suicide” for Myanmar’s new opposition government, an activist warned at a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. One of the earliest big-ticket decisions that the National League for Democracy (NLD) government will have to make is what to do with the $3.6 billion hydropower project, which was temporarily suspended by former President Thein Sein in 2011 amid concerns about environmental degradation and dislocation.
(See also: China losing patience with Myanmar over Myitsone Dam –Go Kunming)
Myanmar: Hydropower and the cost of life –Aljazeera
More than 8,000 people from 23 villages were forcibly displaced (PDF) by the Thein Sein government during the construction of the Upper Paunglaung Dam, which began in 2006. Relocation has led to poverty, hunger and suicides among the thousands who live in the government-built relocation sites. Although the future of Myanmar’s controversial hydropower projects remains undecided, some in the NLD have expressed their opinion that hydropower is not a viable solution for Myanmar.
In Mon State, expanding quarries threaten farms –Myanmar Now
Paung Township, Mon State – Workers had set off an explosion in a local quarry located about 10 km away and a cloud of dust drifted out from the area towards the plantations here in Mon State, southeastern Myanmar. Farmer Nyan Htay said several blasts occurred every day after quarrying had increased in the area in recent years. The resulting increase in pollution, he said, has affected the local environment and the harvest of his 6-acre rubber plantation.
Township tells farmers not to protest over land in Rhakine –Myanmar Times
The 20 farmers say that waste water from the Southeast Asia Gas pipeline, which runs from Rakhine State to China’s Yunnan Province, has seeped into farmland, destroyed crops and left the land unusable. The pipeline is a joint venture between China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). The SEAGP company has already paid out K210 million in compensation to 200 farmers in Kyaukphyu township between October 2015 and April this year.
Myanmar turns to timber exports to save forests –Myanmar Times
Long a timber-producing and exporting country, Myanmar will start importing wood to protect its forests while allowing local timber companies to continue operating, the government has decided. U Kyaw Zaw, director of the office of the minister for natural resources and environmental conservation, said, “A plan to permit the importation of raw timber from overseas has been approved.”
Chaos in Myanmar’s Jadeite Industry –Asian Sentinel
The 90 percent-plus of Myanmar’s jadeite that is exported to China, most of it smuggled to avoid the 33 percent Chinese tariff. Legally or illegally the industry is valued by Global Witness at as much as US$31 billion – half of Myanmar’s GDP. But little of it is injected into Myanmar’s domestic economy and most of the profits benefit Chinese merchants. It is a chaotic industry characterized by ethnic conflict, corruption starting at the top of the junta that ruled the country from 1962 to 2010, and the presence of tens of thousands of desperate scavengers.
Thai firms eye increased investment in Laos –Bangkok Post
More Thai businesspeople are interested in expanding their investments and seeking further trading opportunities in Laos, a meeting in Vientiane heard this week. Some 30 Thai business-people met with Lao counterparts from June 29-July 3, the meeting aimed to create business opportunities between the two neighbouring countries by building networks, exchanging trade and seeking potential business partners.
SEZ policy proves a boon for IEAT sales –Bangkok Post
The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) says it sold 1,750 rai of developed land in the first half and expects better sales in the second half, crediting the government’s policy to support special economic zones (SEZs). First-half sales were well above the target of 1,500 rai. The rise in land sales was due to the government’s policy to support SEZs and the plan to promote targeted industries. Several privileges offered by the Board of Investment (BoI) helped attract buyers seeking land for expansion and investment.
Thailand ponders nuclear power with China –Nikkei Asian Review
Thailand has nuclear power ambitions for the 2030s and is building technical ties with China, Anantaporn Kanjanarat, the country’s minister of energy, told the Nikkei Asian Review. Although Thailand has not committed to a nuclear power programme, it issued a power development plan in 2015 that envisages a 1-gigawatt nuclear power plant running by 2035, and a second one the following year. The minister said the overall objective is to “diversify fuel sources and mitigate risk”, but feasibility and public acceptance remain hurdles.
No more coal power plants needed –Bangkok Post (Opinion)
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) confirmed that it will construct six new coal-fired power plants by 2025. Where such plants have been constructed in southern Thailand, they have polluted waters, reduced fish stocks, damaged crops, and contributed to a high concentration of respiratory disease. Nonetheless, Egat has yet to conduct comprehensive environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in areas which would be affected by these new plants.
International reports warn about disintegration of Mekong River Delta –VietNamNet Bridge
A research work by the National University of Singapore on the impact of the Manwan hydropower dam in China in the Mekong Delta showed that 160 million tons of sediment flowed to the delta each year in the past, before the dam was built. Since the dam was put into operation, the figure has dropped to 75 million tons. As such, a Chinese hydropower dam alone can lead to the sharp decrease of sediment volume. Scientists believe that the figure would be halved once the other dams on the main stream of the Mekong in Laos and Cambodia become operational.
Mekong Delta faces worsening land subsidence –VietNamNet Bridge
At the Mekong Delta Forum 2016 recently held in HCM City, economic experts said the region has been experiencing major impacts from climate change and human activity, including land subsidence from three to five centemetres each year. According to the Mekong River Commission, hydroelectricity dams in the upper stream of the Mekong River keeping most of alluvium is also a reason leading land loss.
Along the factory-dense rivers of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta –Tuoi Tre News
Much as the banks of a river play a crucial role in its ecosystem and purity, what runs along two of the Mekong Delta’s major waterways is a series of non-environmentally friendly industrial plants and factories. Dubbed the country’s rice basket, the Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea via a vast network of distributaries.
Foreign investors acquire 36 percent stake in Vietnam’s power firm –Thanh Nien News
As Vietnam works to promote renewable energy, its power sector is becoming increasingly attractive to foreign investors. In the latest deal, the International Finance Corporation has bought a 16 percent stake in Gia Lai Electricity JSC (GEC), a major hydropower developer. Singapore’s Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy Fund has bought a 20 percent stake in the company, which has invested in 15 hydropower plants with a total output of 84 MW in the central region. (See also: WB, Singapore-based fund invest in Vietnam’s hydropower –VietNamNet Bridge)
Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Ltd. has accepted its responsibility for causing an environmental disaster in the central Vietnam, which caused mass fish deaths in four provinces. Formosa also made five commitments, including $500 million of compensation. It was the official information released at a government press conference in Hanoi.
Vietnam to inspect waste treatment at Chinese paper mill –Thanh Nien News
Vietnamese authorities will inspect a Chinese-invested paper factory in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang on Friday after environmental experts voiced concerns about its waste treatment system. The inspection will last three days, the Vietnam Environment Administration announced Thursday.
HCM City, Mekong Delta invite investors for 69 key projects –VietNamNet Bridge
Provinces in the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City introduced 69 key projects to invite investors at a conference on investment, trade and tourism promotion in HCMC this morning. Most of the projects concentrate in traffic and seaport infrastructures and hi-tech agriculture. Bac Lieu, Ca Mau and Kien Giang provinces invite investors for marine economic development. An Giang and Long An want to build commerce and trade centers and border economic zones.
HCM City plans 8.4 trillion VND monorail line –Vietnam Plus
Ho Chi Minh City wants to build a monorail line which will cost an estimated 8.4 trillion VND (376.6 million USD). A detailed proposal on the project will be made within 2017 and a feasibility study, ground clearance and invitation of investor will be conducted in the next two years, so that construction work can start in 2019 and be completed in five years. The selection of investors will be made through international bidding.
US draft bill ties aid to crisis, demands end to ‘violence and harassment’ –The Phnom Penh Post
A US Senate committee has inserted language into upcoming legislation that would block $77.8 million in aid to Cambodia unless the government ceases its “violence and harassment” against human rights workers and the political opposition. The appropriations committee bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the fiscal year 2017 funding – which includes more than $33.6 million for health programs – would not be made available if they fail to receive certain assurances from the State Department.
Mother Nature Activists Found Guilty, Freed –The Cambodia Daily
Three environmental activists received 18-month prison terms in Koh Kong province for threatening to destroy a sand-dredging barge last year, but walked free after the provincial court suspended their sentences to time served, a court official said. Sim Samnang, 29, Try Sovikea, 26, and San Mala, 24, were all found guilty of initiating “threats to destroy” property for crimes committed after climbing aboard a dredging barge owned by the Direct Access company in August.
Myanmar in perfect storm of ‘conflict-climate nexus’ –Myanmar Times
Myanmar has been identified as one of 20 countries in a “conflict-climate nexus”, the threatening combination of severe environmental vulnerability along with pre-existing social fragility and weak institutions. The 2016 Global Climate Risk report had previously found Myanmar was one of the countries most affected by extreme weather events between 1995 and 2014, while the 2016 Global Peace Index ranked Myanmar 115 out of the 163 countries analysed.
Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have developed a software program to help people around the world assess the potential of a stream for small-scale “run of river” hydropower. The program, a computer modeling package, does not require data that is often unavailable in some developing countries or remote locations, and is expected to be useful for now and in the future, as projected changes in climate and stream runoff occur.
Changes to China’s environmental review law leave activists worried –South China Morning Post
Under revisions quietly made by the legislature this weekend, projects can seek approval from various departments even if the assessment process isn’t finished. For green activists, environmental impact reviews – despite their often poor implementation – are a critical weapon in the fight against polluting industrial projects. But under a revision to the assessment law, quietly passed by the National People’s Congress over the weekend, the review is no longer a “precondition” for a project to begin the approval process with other departments.
Renewed warnings over World Bank safeguards “dilution” –Bretton Woods Project
The World Bank’s safeguards review and the proposed new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) continue to cause concern, after the public consultation period closed in March (see Observer Spring 2016, Winter 2016). In mid-April the Bank’s accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel (IPN), reiterated calls for “no dilution of the safeguards”, stressing that “Panel cases have shown over and again that the protections afforded by the safeguard policies are not only real but also necessary to avoid or mitigate harm to people and the environment.
Our bulldozers, our rules –The Economist
China’s foreign policy could reshape a good part of the world economy. Chinese officials call that policy “One Belt, One Road”, though they often eviscerate its exotic appeal to foreigners by using the unlovely acronym OBOR. The road refers to ancient maritime routes between China and Europe, while the belt describes the Silk Road’s better-known trails overland. OBOR puzzles many Western policymakers because it is amorphous—it has no official list of member countries, though the rough count is 60—and because most of the projects that sport the label would probably have been built anyway.
Quietly but surely, several countries in South-east Asia are tiptoeing closer to nuclear energy as they look to bolster power production to meet rising demand from fast-growing economies. Singapore, meanwhile, is working to sharpen its expertise in nuclear safety-related matters. In the past few months, countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia have signed a raft of agreements with Russia relating to nuclear energy.
LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS
The 100-million-dollar five-year project (2015-2020) of the World Bank in Myanmar, the Ayeyarwaddy Integrated River Basin Management (AIRBM) project research report will launch in coming year. “The water resources, soil erosion, environmental degradation, and management plan will be included in this research report” said Mr. Tun Lwin Oo, the director general of the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems, Ministry of Transport. The world bank, the directorate of water resources and improvement of river system and The Department of Meteorology and Hydrology will jointly implement the project.
the Shan Regional government has decided to halt all the proposed development projects within their region. Mr. Soe Lwin, the spoken person of the Shan regional government, said “we are still handling the issues and problems with the former projects. So, we don’t want to give permission for new project proposals.” Last week, the Sino-hydro and IGE, a local investor of Myanmar, met with the regional government for the hydropower development project in Salween river. “we need to consult with the local communities, so we couldn’t comment on this right now.” Mr. Soe Lwin continued.
EGAT International Thailand Co .Ltd. revealed 5 -year investment plan of 5 billion THB in four neighboring countries, focus on coal -fired power plants with the hope of 1,000 million THB per year. The 5-year Investment Plan of EGAT International cover 2016-2021, Mr.Watchara Hemratchatanun, President of EGAT International said. He said that the budget provides more than 5 Billion Baht to invest in coal-fired power plants and coal mining in neighboring countries. This plan aims to drive the company continuing growth and target profit of 1,000 million Baht a year. There are total of 5 projects which included Nam Ngiep 1 Hydropower Dam in Laos, Thermal power plant in Vietnam, 2 Hydropower dams in Myanmar, and coal mining in Indonesia. Mr.Watchara added that these projects are prime target for EGAT International, however we need more concrete action to strengthening company’s foreign investment. The company plans to discuss with the Department of Energy to ease the preparation of investment framework, this will help company to compete in international market.
Thailand’s Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) lifted 8 sluice gates of Pak Mun Dam in Ubonratchathani province which allowed the flow of water over 500 Cubic meters per second according to the request of the Assembly of the Poor to restore the river environment. The Governor of Ubonratchathani province stated that has ordered EGAT to lift the sluice gates for the first day on July 4th at 10 cm. high and all the gates will be fully opened on July 13th. The governor also warned villagers not to use fishing devices during the period, which can cause the damages to fishing devices.
RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES
ANALYSIS: Into the Zone: SEZs in the Mekong Region, Income…or Instability? (Part 2) –The Mekong Eye
While neighboring Thailand’s Special Economic Zones are now progressing without much public consultation or review, Myanmar may be moving in the opposite direction. Its three SEZs which were launched in the waning years of the junta, are now under the direction of the civilian government fully aware of concerns raised by communities and independent researchers, and inclined to take stock of what their predecessors set in motion. At issue are a whole range of social and environmental grievances, as well as the viability of the projects themselves and to what extent they reflect the new leadership’s priorities.
UPDATE: Civil society, government, journalists explore transboundary impacts in dialog and webinar events –Mekong Partnership for the Environment/Pact on the Mekong Eye
Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) partner Thai Society of Environmental Journalists (TSEJ) held its latest public seminar examining transboundary investment on 13 June 2016. A panel of civil society and academic experts discussed issues around these investment flows in and out of Thailand before an audience of sixteen journalists. The event was also broadcast on Facebook Live, with 360 views. On 15 June 2016, MPE in collaboration with the Asian Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network (AECEN) also organised the MPE Webinar Series on Public Participation in Transboundary EIA hosted by Dr. Peter King. Over 50 Government officials (from EIA departments and others), CSOs and other development experts from across Asia took part. The session provided an opportunity to understand the processes of decision-making on projects with transboundary effects.
REPORT: Assessing Women’s Engagement in Environmental Impact Assessments on Infrastructure Projects in Vietnam –Center for Environment and Community Research (CECR)
Research from two study sites shows that the potential benefits of women’s participation in EIA deliberations lie in their knowledge of environment and livelihood resources, and how these are being affected by infrastructure development. If women’s voices had been adequately heard and sufficiently allowed to influence decision making, resettlement plans might have been re-configured to prevent and reduce livelihood losses and threats to natural resources such as air and water quality. The report also includes recommendations for improving women’s participation in EIA policy and practice.
MAP: Dams Map –Water, Land, and Ecosystems Greater Mekong
The new set of dam development maps in the Greater Mekong focus on the Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong and Red River Basins, in which we track all types of dams with 15 MW installed capacity and above; and/or all dams with a reservoir of 0.5 km2 and above. Besides existing dams, the map also focus on planned and under-construction dams. The maps are currently available only in A0 size (so, best downloaded where/when you have good internet connectivity. The database on which the maps are based contains a total of 755 dams in the four river basins.
PUBLICATION: Greater Mekong Subregion Health Impact Assessment Project: Project Brief –ADB
The GMS Health Impact Assessment project aims to support the elimination of malaria and reduce the risk of communicable disease threats through health impact assessment of large infrastructure projects. ADB’s use and advocacy of HIA in its work, at the policy and institutional levels, can support regional institutions and national governments and institutions to deliver long-term sustained economic development and health security more quickly by making it more likely that infrastructure projects are community-supported, sustainable, healthy, and resilient.
CALL FOR PAPERS: Governance in Mekong: Space for Dialogue –International Journal of Water Resources Development
We invite you to submit an article to this issue, and are particularly interested in any work on integrated and collaborative management, and theorizing about governance models of the Greater Mekong. We hope to feature your research in this issue, which we hope to be a showcase of exciting and high-quality research on an important river basin as well as emerging socio-ecological trends. Deadline: 1 August 2016
EVENT: Introduction to AWS Water Stewardship and the WWF Water Risk Filter tool –The AWS Water Stewardship System
This event introduces participants to the AWS Water Stewardship system and the WWF Water Risk Filter tool. It is a system that promotes collaboration between major water users and between major water users and other stakeholders to identify shared catchment challenges and address those challenges. The Event is on Thursday, July 14, 2016 from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (ICT) in Bangkok. For more information and registration, click here .
WWF conservation experts were jubilant when they spotted a mother dolphin with her newly born baby in Kampi pool on the banks of the Mekong River in June 2016. The pool, located around 15 km north of Kratie town, is home to around 20 of the last remaining 80 Irrawaddy river dolphins in Cambodia. The river dolphins are beloved icons in Cambodia and females give birth only every 2 to 3 years, so any birth creates a sensation.
BLOG: A shared Mekong: towards better cooperation –IUCN
The boom in hydropower development in the Mekong basin could affect food security – something IUCN is working to counter by facilitating dialogue in the region, writes Raphaël Glémet, Senior Water and Wetlands Programme Officer at IUCN Asia in his recent blog article.
UPDATE: MPE & Partners Help Dam-Affected Cambodians Build Skills to Engage in EIA Processes –Mekong Partnership for the Environment/Pact on the Mekong Eye
MPE supports work in communities affected by development projects because the success or failure of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) depends on meaningful participation of all key stakeholders. USAID-funded Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) in partnership with NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF) trained 21 CSO and community representatives at a workshop “Monitoring EIA processes and effective communication,” 7-9 June 2016 in Stung Treng province, Cambodia. The area is seeing the construction of several development projects, including the Lower Sesan 2 dam, which is predicted to affect thousands of villagers and impact fisheries and agriculture.
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