By The Mekong Eye
Mekong Region, August 10, 2016
MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)
To August 10, 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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The Don Sahong dam construction launched in January 2016 has already stopped the water flow along the Hou Sahong channel disrupting fish navigation and depriving hundreds of fishing families of their livelihood. Two more dams on the mainstream Mekong are currently being readied for construction. Altogether a total of nine dams are being planned by the Lao Ministry of Energy. If future dams become unviable, there is no technology in the world that can recover the lost biodiversity and reverse the damage done to the Mekong. Machinery can be restored but the fragile ecosystems and nature can never be resurrected.
Dismissing its neighbors’ pleas, impoverished Laos is rapidly building a Mekong River dam that threatens fisheries crucial to millions of Southeast Asia’s poorest people. The site of the Don Sahong dam, less than 2 kilometers (1 mile) from the Lao-Cambodian border, is in an area famous for spectacular waterfalls and deep pools that is among the few habitats of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. A “coffer dam” blocks one of the Mekong’s main channels to allow construction of the hydropower project, which will suck in as much as half of the river’s water during the dry season.
ASEAN-Japan Meeting: Regional Environmental Protection –Myanmar International TV
ASEAN Senior officials on Environment and related meetings, 10th ASEAN-JAPAN Dialogue on Environment 13th ASEAN+3 Senior officials meeting on Environment hosted in Nay Pyi Taw, Friday. At the meeting, the official discussed previous environmental conservation issues, sustainable development of the city plan, development of ASEAN environmental conservation strategy plan and ASEAN environmental statement.
Mesco closes in on gold license –The Phnom Penh Post
After an unexpectedly lengthy review, the Ministry of Environment has approved the environmental and social impact study of Indian mining firm Mesco Gold, clearing the last major hurdle for the company to receive a license to operate the Kingdom’s first royalty-generating mine. The ministry’s nod comes after officials spent 18 months poring over the company’s environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA), a comprehensive document that outlines Mesco’s plans for its Phum Syarung gold mine in Ratanakkiri province. The 750-page study identifies and assesses the potential impacts of the proposed underground mine, and sets out a support and development plan for affected communities. (See also: Angkor Gold Receives Environmental Approval for Phum Syarung Mine in Cambodia –Junior Mining Network)
SEZ polluting Bavet canal, villagers say –The Phnom Penh Post
Villagers living along a canal in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town say its water has been polluted by untreated discharge from the nearby Manhattan Special Economic Zone (SEZ), rendering it unusable. Three communes live along the Tapov canal – Bati, Prasat and Bavet – with villagers from the first two saying that they have complained about the pollution since 2015 and that the quality of the water has continued to decline and the smell is unbearable.
Cambodia Pushing for More Benefits from Mekong Integration –Voice of America
The government is seeking to develop ways of increasing the benefit felt by Cambodia from economic corridors opened throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion as part of Asean integration, an official has said. The economic corridors are intended to spur economic integration in Asean and boost infrastructure development. There are three main economic corridors: one linking China and Asean; one linking the southern countries on mainland Southeast Asia; and another linking Vietnam with Myanmar via Laos.
SEZs hold key to economic corridor growth –The Phnom Penh Post
Industrial parks that offer special privileges to companies that operate inside them play a dominant role in attracting investment in the region, but countries must focus more on building up their infrastructure and human resources to take advantage of increased connectivity, development experts said. Officials and development partners attending the 8th Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) Economic Corridors Forum in Phnom Penh said targeting border areas for special economic zones (SEZs) provides a tangible start for attracting foreign investment and stimulating cross-border trade.
More than 400 families in two villages in Long district of northern Laos’ Luang Namtha province are being increasingly affected by a cassava-processing plant operated by a Lao-Chinese company that releases pollutants into a nearby stream on which they depend for water, a local resident said. But the effluent it releases has polluted a stream used by the residents of Phonesamphan and Taohom villages, said the villager.
Laos, Asean take stocks to pursue goals on forest protection –Vientiane Times
Laos and other Asean member countries are pursuing efforts to meet common goals and address problems related to deforestation as well as promoting sustainable forest management. “This seriously threatens the existence of our valuable tropical forests, which will subsequently result in undesirable and severe social, economic and environmental impacts,” Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr Thongphath Vongmany said.
The China Gezhouba Group Corp. has signed an agreement with the Laotian government to develop a 35 MW hydroelectric plant in Laos’ southern Salavan province. China Gezhouba will develop what is being called the Xelanong 2 project using a build-operate-transfer model, with construction of the US$72 million facility expected to take about 40 months. Xelanong 2 and its 55-meter-high dam will be located on an unspecified tributary of the Mekong River and is part of the Laotian government’s effort to dramatically increase the availability of electricity to its population by 2020.
Malaysian companies appeal for more govt representation in Vientiane –New Straits Times Online
Malaysian companies operating in Laos have appealed to the government to have a stronger representation in Vientiane to assist in the dealings with the Laotian government and other stakeholders. There are now 20 Malaysian companies which are actively operating in the country, in key areas such as hydropower, mining, development of specific economic zones, and infrastructure projects, especially railway which is led by Giant Consolidated Limited.
Mining companies must repair environmental damage: official –Myanmar Times
More than 1000 jade mining companies will be forced by law to clean up their sites in Hpakant and Lone Khin mining areas in Kachin State once their permits have expired, the government says. U Win Htein, director general of the Department of Mines, under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, told The Myanmar Times on August 2 that the government would enforce an existing law requiring companies to protect the environment and repair any damage inflicted by their operations. (See also: Aung Sun Suu Kyi moves to clean up Myanmar’s murky jade trade –The Guardian)
Govt to survey dams nationwide –Myanmar Times
The government is planning on reviewing the status of dams throughout the country to see if they are worth keeping. U Htun Win, deputy minister for agriculture, livestock and irrigation, told parliament on August 2 that the review would take into account the efficiency, cost-effectiveness and long-term benefit of the dams. A shift in policy, away from building dams and toward running irrigation channels to farmland, has already led to a 50 percent cut in the request for irrigation funding next year. The funds would be used primarily to provide irrigation drainage to existing dams that lacked it.
Rumors that have been building for months have come to fruition, with Myanmar announcing a national logging ban effective immediately. Although temporary, conservationists are lauding the ban, which will run until the end of March 2017. Myanmar has seen an uptick in deforestation in recent years, with satellite data from the University of Maryland showing the country lost nearly 5 percent (2 million hectares) of its tree cover from 2001 through 2014. Of this, 2014 saw more than a quarter-million hectares lost – more than any previous year during the study period.
(See also: Myanmar logging ban a major step to forest sector reform –EIA International)
Myanmar’s Energy Sector Lacking Security –AEC News Today
Myanmar is on track to be a major player in Asia’s energy security. It has an abundance of untapped resources, a geographic location strategically sandwiched between two economic giants (China and India) and has recently opened itself to world markets. Yet the nation faces internal and external challenges in developing a competitive Myanmar energy sector. To create an investment friendly environment Myanmar must first address internal security issues such as ethnic conflict while juggling its external relationships with China and the West.
Thilawa Zone B to start in November –Myanmar Times
Construction of Thilawa special economic zone B will begin this November on 700 hectares of land, an official responsible for the project said. Development of the second stage of the country’s first economic zone will begin with infrastructure including roads, electricity and water, said U Myint Zaw, general manager of Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Limited. Meanwhile the smaller Zone A is around 90 percent complete, with US$760 million in foreign investment committed to the project across 400 hectares of land. The project is located to the south of Yangon.
Request for Klong Dan review –The Nation
THE Attorney-General’s Office has asked the Administrative Court to review its compensation ruling for the Klong Dan wastewater-treatment project after new information surfaced. “A probe has recently revealed that the contract to construct the plant is against public order and is thus considered void under the Civil and Commercial codes,” Somnuek Siangkong, spokesman for the office, said. If the court considers the new evidence as material, it might retract its order for the government to pay more than Bt9 billion to the NVPSKG consortium for cancelling the project. (See also: Khlong Dan wastewater plant to be downsized and used –Bangkok Post
NHRC calls for revision of Mahakan plan –Bangkok Post
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked City Hall to halt the eviction of Mahakan Fort residents while legal experts introduce ways to amend the decree of expropriation issued for the community in 1992. NHRC member Tuenjai Deetes, who chairs a sub-panel on community rights, called for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to revise its land reclamation decree, allowing residents to stay in their original houses and preserve the community’s cultural heritage. “Communities and heritage sites can co-habit,” she said, adding it would not prevent the BMA from turning part of the land into a public park as it intends.
Megaprojects to get boost from Yes vote –Bangkok Post
The government’s 20 planned megaprojects with a combined valued of 1.41 trillion baht are set to move forward smoothly after the Yes vote for the new constitution. Krisada Chinavicharana, director-general of the Fiscal Policy Office, said the referendum result will ensure that the government’s investment in big-ticket infrastructure projects is on track. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration aims to kickstart the construction of the 20 big-ticket projects this year in a bid to stimulate the economy.
Weak adherence to environment law leads to licensing of polluting projects –VietNamNet Bridge
The requirement on environmental impact assessment was first set in the 2005 Environment Protection Law and the 1998 Water Resource Law. Later, the Water Resource Law was amended with many new provisions and standards, taking effect in January 2013. In principle, when laws are amended, reports on environmental impact assessment must be made again, while old reports must not be used. Investors’ reports on the possible environment impact of their projects are often vague and cursory, but government agencies frequently approve them.
Draft decree levies fee for exploiting water resources –Vietnam News
Any organisation or individual exploiting or using water for hydropower projects might have to pay for the right to exploit the nation’s water resources, as per a decree being drafted. However, they exclude organisations or individuals running hydropower projects related to national defence or security. It is one of three entities scheduled to pay to receive the right to exploit water resources under this draft decree compiled by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, which also regulates the levels of fees that an individual or organisation has to pay.
Revised power plan: more renewable energy –Vietnam Plus
Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung has called on ministries and agencies to closely supervise the country’s power demand to ensure national energy security and meet socio-economic development needs. The adjusted power development planning emphasises the reduction of coal-fired power, the increase of renewable power and the availability of nuclear power in Vietnam, said Nguyen Anh Tuan, Deputy Head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT)’s Institute of Energy.
Legal proceedings taken against violations of waste management –VietNamNet Bridge
The police in the central province of Ha Tinh decided to start criminal proceedings against violations of the regulations on hazardous waste management in Ky Anh town. According to Deputy Director of the provincial Police, Ky Anh Environment Company illegally an unlicensed contract on waste transportation and disposal by burying with Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Co. Ltd. He stressed that Ky Anh Urban Environment Company has no function for treating industrial waste. The treatment of hazardous sludge from Formosa Ha Tinh Company and the transportation of industrial waste by Ky Anh Urban Environment Company violates environmental laws, the officer noted.
National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan has asked the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho to combine economic development with environmental protection. She made the request at an August 6 working session with the municipal Party Committee’s Standing Board to give her feedback on its draft report on the city’s ten-year implementation of the Politburo’s resolution on building and developing Can Tho in the context of national industrialisation and modernisation. (See also: NA deputies of Cần Thơ vow to fulfill tasks –Vietnam News)
According to Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha, the contest has been held by the MoNRE every two years to promote dissemination of information and public awareness raising about the State management activities over natural resources and environment. It also aims to strengthen co-operation between the sector with relevant agencies, mass media and the community, while further renovating and enhancing information quality and dissemination in the field of natural resources and environmental protection.
The plant will only return to operations when environmental issues have been resolved. A soda ash manufacturer in the central province of Quang Nam has been reportedly killing fish for a year, and air and noise pollution caused by the plant has affected more than 400 local families.
Why development projects must respect indigenous peoples, ancestral domains in Asia –Eco Business (Opinion)
Laws intended to protect lands belonging to indigenous groups may inadvertently end up doing just the opposite, especially when the laws are not grounded in an understanding of traditional worldviews. An often overlooked aspect of urban and regional development is the observance of traditional land laws of indigenous communities, who have long occupied parcels of land serving both as areas for living and to make a living. In developing Asia, some national and local governments have formulated and enacted land management policies without considering their implications for the traditional land laws of indigenous communities, creating displacement and even conflict.
Voters in Thailand Endorse Military’s Proposed Constitution –The New York Times
In its first test at the polls, Thailand’s military government won overwhelming approval Sunday of a new Constitution that aims to reduce the power of political parties and extend the influence of the military. With 94 percent of the ballots counted, voters were approving the military’s proposed Constitution by a wide margin, according to returns issued by the election commission. A companion ballot measure that would give the military junta the authority to fill the Senate with its appointees was also easily winning approval. (See also: How to start the post-poll healing process –Bangkok Post (Opinion)
Lao, Myanmar presidents highly value their bilateral ties –Vientiane Times
President Bounnhang Vorachit and a high-level delegation made a one-day state visit to Myanmar by the invitation of Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw. The visit aimed to enhance the tradition of friendship and cooperative relations between the two countries based on the principle of mutual benefits. According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, the two sides discussed the promotion of peace and stability in border regions, and the repair of damage to border posts caused by severe weather conditions.
Laos, China want better synergy in development –Vientiane Times
Laos and China are aiming to achieve better synergy in development with the relevant sectors from both countries to work together to merge Laos’ Eighth five-year National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) with China’s 13th five year NSEDP. The willingness to make the move was signalled during the meeting between Lao Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Saleumxay Kommasith and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi in Beijing, China. (See also: China open to upgrading Laos bilateral relations –China Radio International via Gb Times)
From Nagaland in the northwest to Dawei in the deep south, delegates made their way to join the week-long Ethnic Youth Conference in Panglong on July 27. aimed at strengthening links between young people from different ethnic backgrounds, achieving peace and generating consensus on how a federal Myanmar should look. And while political and ethnic activism is well-established among Myanmar’s better-known minorities, for a number of those present, the topics being discussed took them into new territory.
A responsible press can help empower Myanmar’s young, growing democracy – Myanmar Times (Opinion)
As a voracious consumer of Myanmar journalism over some time, I am fascinated by how the country’s transition to freedom of the press takes root and prospers. Progress toward press freedom has occurred very rapidly in Myanmar since 2012, but we still see too many instances of journalists being detained and even charged over what they have published. A freer media is critical to the country’s political transition, but it is also time for more responsible journalism.
New World Bank standards fail to impress rights, green groups –The Straits Times
The World Bank yesterday adopted a new set of policies aimed at preventing its projects from harming people and the environment. The global lender dedicated to fighting poverty – whose commitments rose to more than US$60 billion (S$80 million) this year – said the new environmental and social framework had involved the “most extensive consultation ever conducted” by the bank. “These new safeguards will build into our projects updated and improved protections for the most vulnerable people in the world and our environment,” World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said.
Brazilian environmental agency rejects Tapajós River mega-dam, citing likely major impacts on Amazon’s indigenous people and the environment. Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, has decided not to give an environmental license to the São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam, the first of a series of dams planned for the Tapajós river basin. The project’s rejection is seen as a significant victory by the Munduruku indigenous people — whose livelihoods and lands would have been impacted, and by environmentalists.
(See also: Brazilian Government Cancels Mega-dam on the Amazon’s Tapajós River –Amazon Watch and Major Amazon dam opposed by tribes fails to get environmental license –The Guardian)
LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS
The Government and WCS Cambodia will sign an agreement on carbon credit –Thmey Thmey News
According to the press release from the US Embassy to Cambodia, Mr. William A. Heidt, the US Ambassador, and H.E Say Samal, Minister of Environment, will participate in the signing an agreement on Carbon Credit trading to Disney company on August 11 at 3PM at Ministry of Environment. Disney company is a global investment company on mitigating greenhouse gases. H.E Say Samal, the Minister of Environment, said that a big-scale trading of carbon credit in Cambodia is to ensure sustainability of finance for forest protection and community development in Cambodia.
Community fishery and Kratie Provincial Guards raised a concern on rising case number of illegal fishing in banned season that illegal fishing have been affecting fresh water dolphin seriously long Mekong river. The concern has been raised after two dolphin dead were just found in Mekong river in Kratie on July 31. Community fishery in Kratie province said that illegal fishing has been increasing in banned reason and it causes freshwater dolphin dead continuously, while some local villagers living along Mekong river are using fishing net and other illegal fishing tools to catch fishes in this prohibit season.
The Rakhine state parliaments has approved the proposal from the Buthitaung Township MP Mr. Zaw Zaw Myint. On the second day of the second regular parliamentary section, Mr. Zaw Zaw Myint proposed that all development projects in Rakhine State need to do responsible investment, strongly emphasize on transparency and accountability on decision making process. His proposal was supported by others MP and approved without any negative votes. The session discussed on transparency and accountability of project related tender process, environmental and livelihoods impacts on local communities, implementation and monitoring processes.
Mae Sa is one of four pilot river basins together with Mae Nam Sebai, Mae Nam Thachin and Mae Nam Koh Phangan. The project of paying back to nature, which is under the collaboration between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Fund is to promote the management of forest resources and integrated watershed with the community participation. This project is the first project that group of entrepreneurs- elephants, hotels, resorts, coffee houses could make use of 24 kilometers of Mae Sa river. They pay back to the community for the benefits they get from the nature. They pay compensation to Mai Nai community which is the community that maintains the upstream watershed and Maesa river basin for past generations in the form of supporting dam along the river which is a part of paying back and sustaining the ecosystem.
The mega project “water diversion” in Thailand named Kong- Loi-Chi-Mun is being planned for implementation. Sri Song Rak water gate is an important part of this project and this water gate will be built on Loei River to make way for the Mekong flowing water “natural” to 24 tunnels underground river moved to Chi and Mun River. However, the local people worry about the impact of this project and the effects to their lives. Klang village where local people live along Loei River will be flooded by the development of this project. However, The Governor of Loei province, Viroj Jiwarangsan said that Kong- Loi-Chi-Mun project aims to divert water from Mekong to Chi/Mun river basin in the northeastern part of Thailand for irrigation and agriculture and will benefit the villagers who live in the region. The Royal Irrigation Department of Thailand said the volume of water to be transferred from Loei river (next to Mekong river mouth) to Chi-Mun would be up to 4 billion cubic meters a year. And the estimated total cost of the project would be up to 2,700 billion baht (approximately US$75 billion), and take 16 years to complete nine phases. But this mega project faces the protest from environmental experts and local people.
RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES
UPDATE: Stakeholders Confirm Need for Public Participation in EIA Processes During Cambodia’s National Public Consultation Workshop –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via The Mekong Eye
Key stakeholders related to EIA in Cambodia provided feedback on Cambodia’s draft national guidelines on public participation in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process during the country’s first national public consultation workshop on 19 July 2016 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, organized by the Ministry of Environment with the Vishnu Law Group and funded by the Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE). Over 170 participants, including representatives from government, affected communities, private sector, academia, NGOs, EIA experts and international and regional observers participated in the workshop and the majority strongly suggested that all development projects need to undergo EIA processes before any construction or operation begins.
UPDATE: Regional Journalist Network Examines Dams, Diversion, Drought and Difficult Decisions –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via The Mekong Eye
At the junction of the Loei and Mekong Rivers in Thailand, Journalists from around the Mekong region examined an example of the current mix of stresses on the environment and communities across the region. The workshop “Mekong Matters: Water Governance on the Mekong River” brought 15 journalists from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam together to examine how various water development projects are causing potentially irreversible changes to fisheries, farming, culture and water supply.
BLOG: How one Small Group is Giving Communities the Power to Change the Future –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via Mekong Citizen
Representatives from Governments and Civil Society Organizations around the Mekong Region are working together to improve public participation in infrastructure development. The results, participants believe, could change the future of the region. Bringing them together is the Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE), an initiative funded by USAID that advances multi-stakeholder dialogue in the Mekong region. The Regional Technical Working Group (RTWG) on EIA came together in Siem Reap, Cambodia to discuss how to buffer environmental and social systems against the unprecedented levels of investment activity transforming Southeast Asia.
BLOG: Water Diversion: A Re-emerging Threat to Mekong Water Security –International Rivers
Water diversion is not a new idea for Thailand. Three decades ago, the Thai government initiated the Khong-Chi-Mun (KCM) scheme, a water diversion scheme for Thailand’s northeastern region that was only partially realized, while the full project was shelved many years ago. Yet recent moves by the Thai government to resurrect the KCM project are bringing back nightmares for many communities, particularly in Northeast Thailand. Rather than the delivering the prosperity that was promised, the scheme brought many problems to the local people. And now it is likely to threaten water security across the entire Mekong region.
BLOG: Reflections from the Areng Valley –International Rivers
In Cambodia, the Areng River Valley is home to the Chong ethnic group, one of the “original Khmer” groups believed to have lived in the valley for more than 400 years, as well as endangered species and mountainous jungles. The area provides food and traditional fishing jobs for indigenous populations. The proposed hydroelectric project on the Cheay Areng Dam threatens many of these important resources. If the dam is built, the valley will be flooded by a 10,000-hectare reservoir, and more than 1200 Chong people will be forcibly removed from their sacred land.
Water security and improved management of water resources, in conjunction with improved land management, are featuring more prominently on Myanmar’s agenda as the country takes a further important stride forward after years of isolation. On June 23-28 in Yangon, academics, officials, experts and international guests oversaw the graduation of Myanmar’s first fifteen Ayeyarwady Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) fellows who presented their research and work after 10 months of mentorship. The Ayeyarwady WLE Fellowship Progamme – which is being implemented by the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, along with key partners – aims to move the issues of water security and water resource management further up Myanmar’s list of priorities, whilst injecting the field with fresh minds and new leadership.
PHOTO BLOGGING: Faces of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta –United Nations University
In the far southern part of Vietnam, away from the bustling city, people live a traditional life in small villages. The Mekong Delta is historically the largest rice producing region in Vietnam. The agriculture of the region is however changing. The government has put in place new policies. In addition to the policy and social changes, the environment is changing. The region is faced with variable rain patters that are different to those known to the farmers over decades as climatic phenomenon such as El Nino change weather patterns.
EVENT: 2016 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food, and Energy –WLE Greater Mekong
The 2016 Greater Mekong Forum on Water and Food is implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, and is co-hosted by: The Centre for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand and The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. The forum is designed for knowledge users: government and development agencies, the private sector and research-for-development practitioners. We emphasise deliberation and listening, query and debate. The forum will be in Bangkok, Thailand during 9-11 November 2016. For more information, please click here.
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