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Mekong Eye News Digest: 03 August 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, August 3, 2016

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

To August 3, 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.

 

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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.

Report: Three Parallel Rivers plagued by unregulated mining –Go Kunming

Greenpeace researchers found that “over the past 13 years, a total of 490,000 hectares of IFL in China have been lost”. More than half of the lost forest is in northwest Yunnan, where the upper reaches of the Salween, Mekong and Yangtze rivers flow side by side for 300 kilometers through spectacular mountain scenery. The area — which covers 1.7 million hectares — was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

Fears over Mekong River’s future –Viet Maz

Vu Trong Hong, chairman of the Vietnam Irrigation Association has warned about the dangers Vietnam could face when Laos build a new hydropower plant on the Mekong River. Laos announced that they were starting the 4,775 GWh per year Pak Beng hydropower project early next year. This will be their third power plant on the Mekong River despite warnings from the Mekong River Commission. (See also: Laos builds third hydropower dam, threatening Mekong River in VN  –VietnamNet Bridge)

 

CAMBODIA

Rough Waters of Lower Sesan II Dam –Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists via the Mekong Eye

According to the Vietnam River Network, Lower Sesan II dam in Cambodia will affected both environmental 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. (Read the story in Vietnamese language on Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists)

Stage one of Sesan dam to be complete next year, PM reveals –The Phnom Penh Post

The first stage of the controversial lower Sesan II hydropower dam in Stung Treng province will be complete in October 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday during a visit to the construction site. The dam, which is expected to provide 400MW of power when it’s finally completed in 2018, has been a flashpoint for compensation battles and environmental concerns, and some 180 families in the area have yet to agree to relocate.

More Roads, Railways and Money –Khmer Times

Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol yesterday asked China to lower the interest rate of its concession loans to the Kingdom for improving infrastructure nationwide and made requests to the visiting Chinese commerce minister for more funds to build roads and railways. This request was made when Mr. Chanthol met with Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng, who is on an official visit to Cambodia to discuss roads, railways, airport construction, agriculture and other projects with senior government officials.

Solar Revolution: French Aid Can Boost or Stifle Growth –The Cambodia Daily (Opinion)

If renewable energy—especially solar—is going to thrive in Cambodia, we need net metering. Without a net metering law or policy, solar will plod along. With it, solar will spread rapidly nationwide. But thus far, Cambodia doesn’t have anything resembling a net metering law. Although the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Mines and Energy have expressed ever greater interest in net metering, Electricite du Cambodge and the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, which manages electric power, are lagging behind.

Communities Act to Save Fisheries in Cambodia –The Fish Site

In Cambodia, freshwater fisheries are an integral part of the country’s culture, economy, and food security, with inland fisheries yielding 300,000 to 400,000 metric tons of fish annually (FAO). To protect these resources, in 1999, a 37 km stretch of the Upper Mekong River in Stung Treng Province was designated as a Ramsar site, which is a ‘wetland of international importance’, under the Convention on Wetlands.

Mother and baby Irrawaddy dolphins found dead in Kratie –The Phnom Penh Post

A female Irrawaddy dolphin and its baby were found dead yesterday morning in Kratie province’s Chet Borei district, though the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said the cause of death is still unknown. This is the fifth Irrawaddy dolphin death this year. The WWF estimates that there are only about 80 left in the Mekong.

 

LAO PDR

Grain drain, Laos’ sand mining damaging the Mekong –AFP via Mizzima

Grain by grain, truckload by truckload, Laos’ section of the Mekong River is being dredged of sand to make cement — a commodity being devoured by a Chinese-led building boom in the capital. But the hollowing out of the riverbed is also damaging a vital waterway that feeds hundreds of thousands of fishermen and farmers in the poverty-stricken nation.

Laos – China’s gateway to Southeast Asia –The Nation

Boten, once a remote village on the China-Laos border, has gone from boom to bust within a few short years and is now preparing for another boom. The village’s development began in 2003 when a casino was built there by Hong Kong developers. This attracted thousands of visitors who poured across the border from Yunnan province. However, in 2011 the casino was shut down by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, most businesses closed and Boten became a virtual ghost town. But now Boten’s star is rising again, as it is being developed into the Mohan-Boten Economic Cooperation Zone and become once more a bustling centre of activity.

China, Laos Say Rail Project to Go Ahead, Pending Environment Study –Voice of America

China and Laos are both committed to a high-speed rail project linking the Chinese southwestern city of Kunming with the Lao capital of Vientiane, officials from both countries said this week, and the project will go ahead despite delays. The line should eventually stretch through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore, and is part of an ambitious plan for China to develop infrastructure links across Asia, known as the “One Belt, One Road” project.

 

MYANMAR

State media editorial calls for Myitsone shutdown –DVB

An editorial in the Burmese-language state-run daily newspaper Kyemon has called for a permanent suspension of the controversial Chinese-backed Myitsone hydropower dam project in Kachin State. Citing an article that appeared in Frontier Myanmar earlier this month, the Kyemon editorial says that none of the three options reportedly put forward by China’s state-owned CPI, was acceptable to Burma.

The NLD’s industrial vision –Frontier Myanmar

The Ministry of Industry has issued a plan for industrial growth that will focus development along four main corridors, while seeking to tackle problems like human resources and land prices. on economic policy, the new government has kept its plans close to its chest. A broad economic plan has been promised and sources familiar with the policy say it is complete but yet to be made public.

Myanmar urged to follow shake-up of jade industry with more action on transparency –Reuters

Myanmar’s decision to shake up its multi-billion-dollar jade business is a ground-breaking opportunity to stop human rights abuses and increase transparency, but more needs to be done to create a more inclusive economy, activists said on Thursday. The government announced that it will not renew mining permits for jade and other gemstones and that no new permits will be granted until a reformed legal framework is in place. (See also: All Remaining Jade Mining Licenses to Expire in 2018 –The Irrawaddy and Activists applaud ministry move to shake-up jade industry as ‘game-changer’ –Frontier Myanmar)

District court rejects activists’ appeal –Myanmar Times

A Sagaing Region district court rejected the appeal of three activists yesterday, upholding a conviction and the sentencing to 52 days in prison and K5000 each in fines. In May of 2015, according to the courts, the three activists were involved in trespassing, obstruction and intimidation when they showed up on the property of a Chinese mining company. Fifteen claims against the company, Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd, filed last year by locals, are still pending. Among other things, they want compensation for the land usage and blocked roads and they want improved labor contracts.

Mine agrees to follow govt instructions –Eleven Myanmar

The Myanmar-Yangtze Copper Mining Company in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region, has agreed to follow the demands of the residents if the regional government instructs it to, sources say. Dr Thein Naing, Salingyi MP said: “The company presented land compensation and allowances to the regional government. The company apparently agreed to adopt an environmentally friendly dumping system and not to spray acid while mining. Long-term adjustments would also be made in line with the wishes of the residents.

 

THAILAND

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. People who are concerned about transboundary impacts of the dams and relevant agencies are invited to submit information to the subcommittee.

Sufficiency economy must be applied to boost fusion –Bangkok Post

Fusion, a more environmentally friendly form of energy that operates at the nuclear level, but by combining atoms — typically forms of hydrogen — is a potential new answer not only for Thailand’s quest for clean energy but for the requirements of the entire planet, and especially economies in transition. With its sustainable and clean nature, the development of fusion is in line with the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) — the national concept of Buddhist economics that the Thai government has lobbied for.

Rail line across Thailand runs into resistance –The Straits Times

Work on a railway line that would link the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea has hit a hurdle after opposition by residents in southern Thailand. The National Environment Board on Monday rejected a proposal on the project after locals complained it had been drawn up without their involvement, as required under the law. Its environmental impact assessment “was conducted without people’s participation”, local and environmental activist Wichoksak Ronnarongpairee told The Straits Times.

Farmers choose solar farm over endangered bird –The Nation

When given a choice between renewable energy and wildlife conservation, people in Samut Sakhon have opted for a solar farm for financial reasons. Conservationists have protested against the scheme because they say the solar farm is being built on an important wetland and threatens the existence of the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper.

 

VIETNAM

Mekong water diversion projects threaten Vietnam –VietNamNet Bridge

Experts have warned that Vietnam is in danger as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are speeding up their Mekong water diversion plans. With the support of Pan Nature (People & Nature Reconciliation), a team of experts have conducted a fact-finding trip to Cambodia and some provinces in the northeast of Thailand to learn more about the Mekong river diversion projects.

Damming menaces water security in Mekong Delta –VietNamNet Bridge

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.

Vietnam turning a blind eye to industrial pollution –World Fishing

Industrial pollution of the waters of the Mekong Delta, in the southern tip of Vietnam, is taking place on an ever increasing scale.  Steel processing and other manufacturing businesses are becoming established in the delta because of the availability of water, cheap labour and next to no strong public control. However, the delta is home to the country’s expanding freshwater fish industry and these businesses are discharging mostly untreated waste into the very rivers on which the farms and processing plants depend.

Vietnam to check factories’ wastewater treatment plants –Thanh Nien News

Amid rising concern over industrial water pollution, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has said it will begin a nationwide check of factories’ wastewater treatment systems in August. The main target of the inspection would be firms that discharge 200 cubic meters or more of wastewater a day into seas and rivers across the country. (See also Environmental pollution heats up NA’s July 29 session –VietNamNet Bridge, Vietnam Says Taiwan Firm’s Pollution Affected 200,000 People –ABC News)

Everbright to Build Vietnam’s First Waste to Energy Project –Waste Management World

China Everbright International Limited has been awarded a contract to develop Vietnam’s first waste to energy project, a 7.5 MW plant in Can Tho. The Hong Kong based environmental services firm explained that the Can Tho Project will be constructed under BOO (Build-Operate-Own) model. The project is designed to have a daily household waste processing capacity of 400 tonnes and will be equipped with a 7.5MW generator able to produce around 60,000 GWh of electricity annually.

Inspectors to probe Nui Phao Mining over alleged pollution –Vietnam News

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said relevant agencies will launch an inspection into mining activity at Nui Phao Mining Co Ltd in August in the wake of allegations that the company has caused environmental pollution in the northern province of Thai Nguyen. The decision was made after a working session between the ministry and the authority of Thai Nguyen on the firm’s mining activity and its compliance with environment regulations. 

 

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT

Upcoming Asean forum must listen to Lao civil society –Bangkok Post

The Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) which is to take place in Dili, Timor-Leste appears to be clouded by uncertainty and fears. Concerns have emerged as there have been no indications that the meeting can provide a safe space for Laos’ progressive and independent civil society organisations (CSOs) — a space where they can offer critiques, raise concerns and voice dissenting opinions on various issues, including human rights violations, forced disappearances and the negative impact of infrastructure development projects on ordinary peoples’ lives.

Sanctions help Asian banks gain foothold in Myanmar –Frontier Myanmar

At the CB Bank branch in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone near Yangon, there’s a dedicated “Japan desk”, where an employee of the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU) sits to handle any Japanese corporate business that comes their way. The Japanese bank’s presence at Thilawa is no accident. The SEZ has already attracted about 70 companies, more than half of them Japanese.

US approves $21m assistance to Myanmar –The Nation

The United States will provide an additional US$21 million (Bt730 million) in assistance to Myanmar, to promote economic growth and capacity building for long-term development in the country. The initiative will support the government’s goal of tripling exports in five years; strengthen the ability of the government and the legal system to provide accountable and transparent oversight; and help modernize the agriculture sector which will be the driver of employment over the next 10 years, said Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security adviser.

Environmental Impact Assessments: A continuing – and global – imperative –Pambazuka (Research summary)

The continuing support across the world for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process demonstrates that it is still relevant and useful. More work is needed, however, to enhance the support which the process deserves, and especially to deepen its understanding by all key stakeholders. Several studies indicate that there are some elements of the EIA process which are either taken for granted or ignored. Across the world, there has been a great deal of work on the environmental impact assessment; it still suffers, however, from a lack of integrity and poor governance, especially in the developing world.

Mekong mainland coalesces after Asean rift –Bangkok Post (Special report)

Asean’s non-interference and non-supranational formula is now under an existential challenge because of shifting great-power dynamics. Mainland Southeast Asia now provides several concentric circles of development and destinations for trade, investment and tourism. Its future will be like before Western imperialism when its peoples traversed the land in search of opportunities.

Economy slows, forcing re-think on ‘inclusive growth’ –Customs News

Crop output from farming in the agriculture, forestry and fishing segments of the economy were a drag, as they often are, experiencing two-tenths of one percent negative growth in the first six months of the year. One of the worst droughts to strike Vietnam in nearly a century combined with rising sea waters has taken a heavy toll and could cast a shadow on the economy for years to come, says the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).

Group Warns of Rising ASEAN Land Grab Conflicts –Voice of America

An international human rights organization says Southeast Asia is facing increasing conflicts and violence over land grab activity. A “land grab” relates to taking land quickly, forcefully and often illegally. In this case, the International Federation for Human Rights says governments need to strengthen legal reforms to protect local people from investors seeking land for business use.

 

GLOBAL CONTEXT

AIIB and changing standards in China –The Straits Times (Opinion)

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or AIIB held its first annual meeting last month, at which finance ministers of member countries agreed in a panel discussion that “the key is not capital; the key is an institution to use capital effectively and efficiently”. There are generally three methods to mobilise capital: co-financing with peer institutions, issuing bonds in the international capital market and public-private partnerships(PPPs). The AIIB will engage with, and learn from, the lead co-financiers in those projects, where the latter’s environmental standards and procurement policy generally apply.

Southeast Asian countries learn about Korea’s water management –Korean Herald

Senior government officials from Asian countries are learning about water management from Korea’s water resources public corporation(K-water), according to Seoul officials July 31.K-water started last month a three-week workshop about water management and control. Those attending are sixteen officials from seven Southeast Asian countries including Thailand and Cambodia.

Latest Report on Global Small Hydropower Market Analysis, Size, Share, Growth Trends and Forecast 2015 – 2023 –Hydroworld

Researchmoz added “Small Hydropower Market, by installed capacity – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth Trends, and Forecast 2015 – 2023” to its huge collection of research reports. A research report on the global small hydropower market for published by Transparency Market Research (TMR), estimates the market to expand at a CAGR of 2.85% during the period from 2015 and 2023.

 

LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS

MYANMAR LANGUAGE

The New NLD-led Government will release Investment Policy Soon –Eleven News

“the investment policy will release soon, but not in rush. It will follow after the Economic Policy. It is currently in draft, and need approval from the parliament,” said Mr. Aung Naing Oo, Director General of of DICA (Directorate of Investment Company Administration) and the secretary of MIC (Myanmar Investment Commission). In 2016-17 fiscal year, Myanmar expect up to US$ 6 bn of foreign direct investment and will priorities for employment opportunities and investment in manufacturing. “there will be changes in investment sector priorities.” Mr. Aung Naing Oo continued. Myanmar Investment Commission was reformed in May, 2016.

THAI LANGUAGE

Electricity from renewable energy, solution for Thailand energy sector –Thasettakij

To promote the production of electricity from renewable energy, Thai government aims to increase the proportion of electricity produced by renewable energy from the current at 10% to 20% over the next 20 years. The goal is not too far to reach because Thailand has more advanced capacity in development of renewable energy comparing to neighboring ASEAN countries. According to the report; ASEAN Renewable Energy Development 2006-2014, in 2014 Thailand’s electricity production capacity from renewable energy ranked third after Vietnam and Indonesia at the growing rate of approximately 8% per year. Especially, the production of electricity from solar energy and biomass that Thailand has the highest production capacity, in addition the support from the government allows the business grows at low risk. Although, the future of electricity generation from renewable energy in Thailand looks bright, but to make the business sustainable in the long term required understanding and awareness of the importance of renewable energy by all citizens.

VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE

Thailand diverts Mekong, more severe impacts would follow –V News (Vietnamese language video with English subtitle)

Southeast Asia is suffering from the worst drought in more than 50 years. ASEAN countries committed to conducting a thorough study on the situation to come up with solutions and preventive measures. Of which extensive irrigated agriculture in Northeast Thailand has long been a dream of the Royal Irrigation Department (RID). But the plans have bewildered local residents and worries Thai environmental activists. Furthermore, the proposed project has raised concerns from Cambodia and Vietnam, downstream along the Mekong River, who worry that Thailand’s water seizure could exacerbate water shortages in the dry season, especially during drought years as at present.

 

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

 

UPDATE: Regional Experts Ready to Launch Public Participation Guidelines for Public Input –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via The Mekong Eye

Regional experts from government and civil society finalized the draft set of guidelines for engaging the public in Environmental Impact Assessment processes. During the fourth meeting of the Regional Technical Working Group (RWTG) on EIA, the 25-member group, supported by the USAID-funded Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE), debated the details around project scoping, stakeholder identification, transboundary impact, gender approaches and other issues. The Guidelines will next be reviewed by the public in a coordinated series of region-wide public consultations in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam beginning in late September and wrapping up in October.

UPDATE: Cambodian Journalists Investigate Dam Impacts, Learn Reporting Skills and Plan for New Network –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via The Mekong Eye

Twenty Cambodian journalists from six Mekong provinces and Phnom Penh attended a three-day workshop in Kratie province to learn how to better report on the costs and benefits of hydroelectric dams and other development on the Mekong River. The July 14-16 workshop was the second organized by Mekong Partnership for the Environment partner Cambodia Institute for Media Studies (CIMS), as part of their project connecting and training journalists who report on the environment. The workshop was divided into two part: journalism skills training and a field visit to communities who may be affected by dam construction and management.

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

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

CALL FOR PROPOSAL: IUCN launches call for proposals for the preparation of the ‘Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems in Mekong Countries’ project –IUCN

IUCN has launched a call for proposals for the management and delivery of the Project Preparation process for the ‘Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems in Mekong Countries’ project. The goal of the project is to sustainably manage peatland ecosystems in targeted countries, including Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar, and to conserve biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The deadline for submission of proposals is Thursday, 1 September. 

STORY: The Pathways For Gender Equity And Women’s Leadership in Water Governance –Oxfam Cambodia

A confident and brave young woman who talked passionately and clearly, Dary Thanh, from the “Women on air” radio program of Oxfam’s partner Northeastern Rural Development in Cambodia (NRD),inspired participants to realize that many things are possible. With the support from Oxfam, Dary was in Phnom Penh to attend the OXFAM & IUCN Gender and Women’s Leadership in Water Governance workshop on 11 & 12 July 2016. 

BLOG: As Clouds Head for the Poles, Time to Prepare for Food and Water Shocks –World Resource Institute

A changing climate means less rain and lower water supplies in regions where many people live and much of the planet’s food is produced: the mid-latitudes of the Northern and Southern hemispheres, including the U.S. Southwest, southern Europe and parts of the Middle East, southern Africa, Australia and Chile. As WRI-Aqueduct’s future scenarios for water supply show, diminished water supplies will be apparent in these areas by 2020 – less than four years away — and are expected to grow worse by 2030 and 2040.

 

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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