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Mekong Eye News Digest: 27 July 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, July 27, 2016

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

To July 27, 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 around 4000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

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

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

 

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

River of Change: Hydropower dams and the Mekong River’s uncertain future –VOA Cambodia

China has built six hydropower dams on the Mekong – known as the Lancang River to the Chinese. Laos is currently building two dams, and has plans for seven more, and it is estimated that scores of dams have been built or are planned in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Many have warned of the negative consequences of hydropower dams as they change the natural flow of rivers, alter sediment deposits, where fish swim, live and spawn, and even the temperature of water.

Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting focuses on infrastructure –Talk Vietnam

The ninth Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting took place in Vientiane, Laos on July 25 on the sidelines of the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM-49), which focused on developing sustainable infrastructure to serve social-economic development in harmony with environmental protection in the Mekong sub-region. (See also: 49th AMM, related meetings close after fruitful discussions –Vientiane Times)

Japan–Mekong foreign ministers gather in Laos –Vietnam News

Foreign ministers from Japan and five Mekong River countries got together at the 9th Mekong-Japan Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Vientiane, Laos, on Monday, alongside the 49th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM 49). The ministers of Mekong countries expressed their appreciation for the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure of the government of Japan with financing of approximately $200 billion.

 

CAMBODIA

First Carbon Credits Sold in Mondulkiri –Khmer Times

The government, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), sold its first carbon credits to billion-dollar media giant Disney for an undisclosed amount from Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in the country’s northeastern province last week. The credits are part of a global carbon emissions trading scheme aimed at offsetting the expulsion of greenhouse gases (GHG) through reciprocal investment in sustainable programs and renewable energy initiatives. 

Rosewood exports to Vietnam achieved with fake signatures: official –The Phnom Penh Post

Thousands of cubic metres of endangered Siamese rosewood were sent to Vietnam in 2014 with export permits bearing the Photoshopped signature of a retired Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) secretary of state, a ministry official said. The trade in Siamese rosewood was internationally outlawed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2013.

Holding Balance Between Two Superpowers: Cambodia’s Strategic Choices For Foreign And Development Policy –Eurasia Review (Analysis)­­

The US and China have different motivations, policy characteristics and interests in relations with Cambodia, in particular in providing aid assistance. The key strategic interest of the US in Cambodia is to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, whereas China places greater focus on the exploitation of natural resources,­ furthering business ties and gaining political advantage.

 

LAO PDR

New miners to come under scrutiny in Laos –Vientiane Times via The Nation

Laos will carefully select companies that are financially sound and have extensive experience in the mining sector before allowing them to set up projects, which will be closely monitored. These requirements will be imposed after several companies have failed to comply with the regulations concerning investment in Laos.

Govt approves legislation to serve development needs –Vientiane Times

The government has in principle approved four laws, two decrees and other policies to streamline its administrative system and boost socio-economic development The four laws include the newly drafted penal code and three draft amended laws concerning lawyers, veterinary practice, and plant protection.

Laos builds third hydropower dam, threatening Mekong River in VN –VietNamNet Bridge

Laos is preparing to build the third hydropower dam on Mekong mainstream early next year, despite warnings.The expert imagines a gloomy future for Mekong once countries continue building hydropower plants on it. “Mekong will die, step by step,” he said. What Vietnam needs to do is to adapt to the new circumstances, by storing water in flood season to be used in dry season.

 

MYANMAR

Flood-wary Sidoktaya locals demand dam fixes –Myanmar Times

Hundreds of flood victims protested in Magwe Region’s Sidoktaya township on July 17, demanding upgrades to local dams and compensation for crops lost to flooding. The Mone and Kyee Ohn Kyee Wa dams, located in the upper portion of the township and 20 miles (32 kilometres) from the southern end, respectively, overflowed last year, wreaking havoc on the people living and farming between them.

Govt compensate victims displaced by Shwegyin hydropower project –Eleven Myanmar

Union Minister for Electric Power and Energy Pe Zin Tun, said that the government will give compensation to people who were displaced to make way for the Shwegyin hydropower project. Responding to a question posed by MP Saw Tha Lay as to whether the government has a plan to take responsibility for locals, the Union minister said the ministry will coordinate with local authorities, the farmland management and statistics department, the forest department, village administrators, villagers and MPs to fix compensation rates and analyse data to ensure accuracy.

Myanmar needs to scale up transport investment: ADB –Eleven Myanmar via The Nation

Myanmar needs to invest US$45 billion to $60 billion in transport projects over the next 15 years, to improve connectivity with neighbours and ensure equitable distribution of economic growth, ADB officials have said. With a higher budget, Myanmar should allocate the money to key national corridors, Yangon infrastructure and maintenance work. Yielding the highest impact on the public would be investment in bus rapid transit lines, parking and traffic management and circular railways in Yangon.

Golden promises turn sour in Indawgyi –Myanmar Times

Indawgyi Lake, the largest in Myanmar and a key protected wetland site for hundreds of species, is threatened by pollution from gold mining. The precious metal in the ground around Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State is proving to be more of a curse than a blessing: Now scientists are estimating that damage caused by pollution from gold mining in the area could cause what is currently Myanmar’s largest lake to shrink by one-third within 10 years.

Two controversial tin mines suspended in southern Myanmar –Myanmar Times

Two tin mines in Tanintharyi Region have been suspended by the local government for failing to follow the Mining Law and causing environmental damage. The Heinda and Bawapin mines have long been opposed by local communities, who have accused the companies of polluting water supplies and ruining farmland. At the end of June, state-run No 2 Mining Enterprise ordered Thailand’s Myanmar Pongpipat Company, which operates Heinda tin ore mining project, and Eastern Mining Company, which runs Bawapin mine, to stop work.

Work on Thilawa ‘Zone B’ to begin after rainy season –Myanmar Times

The investors behind Myanmar’s first special economic zone will start accepting proposals for factories in second zone known as “Zone B” at the end of the rainy season, as both phases of “Zone A” near completion, with US$760 million in foreign investment committed to the project so far. Seventy-three foreign investors from 16 countries have agreed to invest in the project, which is located in Thanlyin township, around 25 kilometres (16 miles) south of Yangon.

 

THAILAND

Wrong idea to buy power from Laos –Bangkok Post (Op-Ed)

Recent news reports about the government’s plan to increase electricity purchases from Laos by 30% has me wondering whether we really need it that much, especially as Thailand’s economic growth is low and our power reserves margin has always been high. The World Bank last month predicted Thailand’s economic growth this year will be the worst among Asean members, excluding Brunei and Singapore. But the Ministry of Energy still plans to make a huge increase in electricity purchases from its neighbour to meet “rising demand”.

Bangkok admits inability to regulate new Lao dam –The Nation

THE WATER Resources Department has admitted it is beyond the Thai government’s power to challenge the Pak Beng Dam project in Laos and the only way to review the project is through the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)’s sub-committee on community rights has arranged a meeting on Friday focusing on human rights violations regarding the upcoming hydropower dam projects on the Mekong and Salween rivers.

Songkhla, Satun locals urge rail halt –Bangkok Post

About 20 residents from southern communities affected by the planned Songkhla-Satun Land Bridge Project handed a petition to the National Environment Board (NEB) asking it suspend its consideration of a rail freight transport project, a part of the proposed Land Bridge scheme. Somboon Khamheng, a coordinator of the People’s Network for Natural Resources and Environment Protection in Songkhla and Satun, who led the residents, said they oppose the cargo railway transport project linking the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea because it was initiated without any local consultation or participation.

Money concerns over check on mine –The Nation

The probe into the origin of toxic contamination in areas near the Akara Resources gold mine may be delayed due to financial problems and difficulty in getting all partners to accept a restoration process. There could also be problems persuading stakeholders to accept the results of an inspection, which might delay the process and undermine the mine restoration plan.

 

VIETNAM

Damming menaces water security in Mekong Delta –The Saigon Times

Experts have described increasing damming in the Mekong River in China, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia as a major threat to water security in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, calling on the Government to take prompt measures to deal with the situation. Drought and salinity were attributable to the El Nino phenomenon and the adverse impact of dams built in the upper reaches of the Mekong River, Nguyen Nhan Quang, an independent expert in river basin management said. Besides China’s large-scale hydropower system in the upper reaches of the river, about 12 dams will be built in the river.

Irrigation in Mekong basin threatens VN’s delta –VietNamNet Bridge

The lower basin of the trans-boundary Mekong River starts from Laos and runs through Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam before emptying into the South China Sea. Any attempts to interrupt the natural status of the river would pose risks to Vietnam’s Cuu Long (Mekong) delta.  Apart from the biggest threat coming from a string of major hydroelectric projects and dams along the Mekong river, such interruptions now even include new irrigation systems in the other three lower Mekong nations. They would drain more water from the river to support their growing agricultural sector and leave less water for Viet Nam. (See also: Irrigation in Mekong basin to expand farmland threatens Vietnam’s delta –Vietnam News via The Nation)

Cement producers killing wildlife in southern Vietnam: conservationists –Thanh Nien News 

International conservationists are warning that the cement industry in the southern province of Kien Giang is destroying limestone hills and threatening many unique species there. The karst limestone hills in the area are described by IUCN a global conservation hotspot. Isolated from each other like islands in the ocean, these hills show very high levels of plant and invertebrate endemism with several species confined to a single hill, according to the union.

Vietnam risks becoming “pollution haven”–VietNamNet Bridge

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is expected to continue the shift of investment flows into industries of high pollution risk in Vietnam like textile-dying, paper, iron and steel. Economic and environment specialists say that Vietnam’s regulation and monitoring of wastewater treatment are still loose, with many gaps, so investors can dodge the law. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has asserted that once pollution occurs, the local government must be responsible.

Vietnam mulls scrapping part of $1.2 bln paper mill over environmental concerns –Thanh Nien News 

The Ministry of Industry and Trade has proposed that the government scrap a Hong Kong-invested pulp plant in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang, citing potential threats to the environment. Part of a US$1.2-billion paper mill complex developed by Lee & Man Paper Manufacturing Limited, the troubled plant has recently come under suspicion of harming the environment, even though it will not enter a test run until 2018.

Environmental inspections intensified –Vietnam News

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) has been intensifying inspections of “hot spot” areas in northern provinces of Thái Nguyên and Bắc Giang, and the central city of Đà Nẵng, where environmental pollution is said to be reaching record highs. The Núi Pháo Mining Company Ltd was requested to provide a specific report detailing the scale, capacity, processing and technologies of its mining activities, as well as changes made in adherence to the approved environmental impact report.

Mining firm allegedly pollutes Tuyên Quang –Talk Vietnam

A mud waste product of manganese mining and exploitation has allegedly polluted the environment and threatened the lives of local residents in Chiêm Hóa District in northern Tuyên Quang Province. Mineral and Mechanics Joint-stock Company has exploited manganese mines for 13 years in Phúc Sơn Commune, Chiêm Hóa District, home of the largest manganese reserve in the province.

Industry Ministry may propose ending Hau Giang pulp paper project –VietNamNet Bridge

The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) is considering proposing the government cease the development of a pulp paper plant in the Mekong Delta’s Hau Giang province. The Hong Kong-based Lee & Man Paper Group has approval from authorities to develop the $348 million plant but public concern has been raised over the environmental pollution it may produce.

 

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT

China-Asean Economic Ties –Khmer Times

East Asia’s economy is entering a new phase of uncertainties and challenges stemming from complex geopolitics, a weakened European Union (EU) after Brexit, domestic political unpredictability in the US and an economic slowdown in China. To maintain economic dynamics, regional countries need to deepen and speed up social, economic and financial reforms. The region needs to continue promoting an open and inclusive regionalism.

Reporters Without Borders ‘Concerned’ by Threats –The Cambodia Daily

International media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement released on Tuesday that it was concerned by what it characterized as a “surge” in threats against journalists and news organizations in Cambodia in recent weeks. The statement noted that such threats appeared to be on the rise in the wake of a July 7 report by Global Witness detailing the manifold business interests of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family.

 

GLOBAL CONTEXT

The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China by Philip Ball – review –The Guardian

The story of China’s waterways reveals the crucial role they play in shaping the country’s fate. As Philip Ball describes in The Water Kingdom, managing China’s huge and troublesome rivers has been the job of the ruler since earliest times. The mythical Emperor Yu auditioned for the top post by taming the floods 4,000 years ago. Successive empires and countless officials have risen and fallen on the quality and effectiveness of their hydrology and ambitious engineering has drained the coffers of many dynasties in a culture in which competence in water management is seen as a proxy for fitness to rule.

New China-backed banks still back in the pack and yet to make mark –South China Morning Post

Two new multinational development banks spearheaded by China have yet to find ways to differentiate themselves from existing institutions, according to observers and bank officials. Launched a year ago, the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Shanghai-headquartered New Development Bank are looking to established players to finance green and infrastructure projects.

China’s Huge ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative Is Sweeping Central Asia –The National Interest

Having overbuilt in many domestic industries—such as coal, cement and even solar panels—the Chinese government is redirecting its capital abroad. One Belt One Road (OBOR), launched in February 2014 with $40 billion—mostly drawn from Beijing’s bountiful foreign exchange reserves. Since then, OBOR has begun attracting other foreign investors.

 

LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS

BURMESE LANGUAGE

MONREC says it will reduce 50% of timber production in 2017-18 –7 Day Daily

Myanmar has halted one year of its timber production in 2016-17. And the timber production from Pegu Mountain ranges has banned for 10 years, to recover the loss of forests. “we will monitor the timber production in every states and divisions, take legal actions to bribery and corruption and illegal loggings during this year, when we stop the production” said Mr. Own Win, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC). Myanmar produced 650,000 tonnes of timber in 2015-16, but it will reduce the production to 350,000 tonnes in 2017-18.

THAI LANGUAGE

Mekong river diversion will not benefit Loei province, instead governor pushes 5 billion THB sluice gate project  – Green News TV

Loei provincial governor admitted that Mekong-Chi-Mun River Diversion project will not benefit the locals but will only improve environmental conditions of Northeastern Thailand. The governor added that the majority of Loei residents preferred the Sri-Song-Rak water sluice gate, however there are about 300 households are still concerns about social and environmental impacts. The governor insisted this is a sound project with minimal expected impacts, the feasibility assessment will be conducted and the project will be commenced in 2018.

VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE

Secret of Sesan II – Vietanm Forum of Environmental Journalists

According to the Vietnam River Network, Lower Sesan II dam in Cambodia will affected both environment and social aspects, not only around the project site but also from the upstream Sesan River to downstream at the Sekong River, Tonle Sap, Vietnam Mekong Delta region and also some parts of Laos and Thailand. However the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for this project only refers some affects around the dam and the transboundary impacts were not mentioned in EIA report. As Dr Dao Trong Tu, Director of CEWAREC, Vietnam, the biggest impacts of Lower Sesan II dam is changing the natural water flows as the dam holds large amounts of water. The dam will also cause declines of 6% – 8% the sediments flowing to the downstream of Mekong River and that will also impact the agriculture and fishing sectors of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

 

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

BLOG: River Guardian: one woman’s fight to protect the Mekong river (Video) –Oxfam via Mekong Citizen

Growing up in a low-income farming family along the Mekong river in Kratie, Chin Sokunthor, a 60-year-old female farmer, said what disappoints her the most is seeing people destroy the river, which is the heart of her family and of their fellow Mekong citizens. In every meeting or forum, she has attended and speaks about the love she has for the river. Her mission is to protect it. Sokunthor sees the Mekong River as the lifeblood of millions of citizens. It provides essential water for drinking and irrigation. The fish from the river are also an important food source for the Mekong dwellers.

BOOK: Licensed Larceny: Infrastructure, Financial Extraction and the global South –The Corner House via The Mekong Eye

This new 144-page book, just published by Manchester University Press, argues that the current push worldwide for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) is not about building infrastructure — roads, bridges, hospitals, ports and railways – for the benefit of society but about constructing new subsidies to benefit the already wealthy. It is less about financing development than developing finance.

FACTSHEET: Lower Mekong Initiative Launches “Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership” –U.S. Department of State

The Ninth Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting in Vientiane, Laos launched the “Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership,” which will provide a vehicle for LMI countries to identify training deficiencies that can be addressed through future programming. In addition, it will establish a mechanism for coordinating among the Friends of the Lower Mekong (FLM) to streamline the planning process and improve efficiency. Through this program, the United States and FLM partners will collaborate to facilitate complementary capacity-building trainings in LMI countries.

OPINION: USAID, the wolf in sheep’s clothing in the Mekong –TERRA

In 2012, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton opened the 2nd US-Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting by admitting the US’s mistakes in infrastructure projects on the Mississippi River. To “avoid the same mistakes”, Ms Clinton offered contributions for impact assessments on proposed hydropower dams through the so-called Mississippi-Mekong Partnership which was to serve as a mechanism to promote cooperation and development.

TRAINING: FPIC: Protecting rights and investments in the context of forest management and governance –RECOFTC

Learn how to integrate the rights and needs of those, including Indigenous Peoples, living in and around the forests that are the focus of your investment. The course targets company, government and civil society staff working with communities so they can have a stronger grasp of how to incorporate Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in their projects, as well as supporting communities in safeguarding their rights under FPIC. The training will be held in Bangkok, Thailand from 26 to 30 October 2016, with field visit to Bang Kachao.

DATA: Open Development Cambodia publishes new hydropower dataset –Open Development Mekong

Open Development Cambodia (ODC) has published a new online resource detailing Cambodia’s hydropower in both Khmer and English. The hydropower profile page aims to illuminate the present status of hydropower, with a temporal range from 1993 to 2014. ODC’s dataset highlights the hydropower profile page into four separate spreadsheets: 73 dams, 12 reservoirs, 45 substations and 49 transmission lines. In total, the dam reservoirs extend over land areas of 305,405 hectares.

NEWS: Lao PDR Learns about Small Hydropower from Vietnam –IFC

In Lao PDR, small hydropower has the potential to be big business. With support from IFC and the Australian government, Lao PDR approved the Regulation on Small Hydropower Development this month to streamline approvals for projects less than 15 megawatts, in accordance with the Electricity Law.

EVENT: Private Sector Invited to Launch Hydropower Group in Myanmar –IFC

Representatives from hydropower companies and industry-related professionals will meet in Yangon, Myanmar on August 18, 2016 to establish the sector’s first Hydropower Developers’ Working Group (HDWG) and register as a private sector-led association. The Hydropower Developers’ Working Group will be an innovative platform for companies to influence policy, network, and identify solutions to improve sustainability and business operations of the hydropower sector in Myanmar. Click here for more information and registration by August 5, 2016.

 

Editor’s notes:

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