By The Mekong Eye
Mekong Region, September 1, 2016
MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)
To August 31, 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 Forum 2016 was hosted by Mekong Institute (MI) in Khon Kaen, Thailand under this year theme “Sharing Responsibility for Common Prosperity.”, the forum brought together more than 200 participants from six GMS countries. Said Dr. Watcharas Leelawath, executive director of Mekong Institute:“It is thus a common responsibility for each parties concerned to cooperate to take care of the Mekong river for farming and energy-production, serving people who live along the mother river,” added the expert.
Perserving Mekong’s biodiversity –Vientiane Times via The Nation
A new community fisheries project in the Mekong River was launched in Vientiane on Thursday with the Laos Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry agreeing to cooperate with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-Laos). The project’s aim is to improve transboundary freshwater natural resources management via the creation of a fish conservation zone (FCZ), fisheries management committee and village patrolling units in 15 villages of target provinces.
Solar firm becomes ‘first’ to link to national grid –The Phnom Penh Post
State-run energy supplier Electricité du Cambodge (EDC) signed a 20-year agreement to purchase renewable energy from Singaporean solar firm Sunseap International yesterday. The deal makes Sunseap the first solar energy source that EDC will connect to the national grid. EDC director-general Keo Rattanak told reporters that the deal will not solve the longstanding electricity deficit in Cambodia – where much of the country remains unconnected, blackouts are common and energy prices are stubbornly high – but will help to diversify Cambodia’s energy sources.
Angkor Gold Receives CDC Approval for Phum Syrung Gold Mine –Junior Mining Network
Angkor Gold Corp is pleased to announce that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has granted approval for the certificate of registration on Mesco’s Phum Syrung mine. The council consists of all 26 Ministries in Cambodia and is chaired by the Prime Minister. As this process has been formalized and endorsed by the country’s leaders, the issuing of the full mining license shall now be completed by the Minister of Mines and Energy (MME). is pleased to announce that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has granted approval for the certificate of registration on Mesco’s Phum Syrung mine.
PM Tries Again on Deforestation –Khmer Times
In recent months Prime Minister Hun Sen has made an effort to show that the government has a handle on the voracious deforestation that has ravaged the country’s forests over the years. Yet his speeches and decrees have done little to slow down, much less stop, illegal logging and timber smuggling across the country. On Tuesday, he ordered provincial governor to “totally eliminate” illegal timber smuggling and illegal logging in his province.
Prey Lang Activist Appeal to be Heard –Khmer Times
More than five years after being convicted of “intentionally causing damage” at a cassava plantation in Kampong Thom province, nine community activists will have their appeal heard by the Supreme Court on September 9, confident it will overturn what they claim were false charges. In 2011, a group of villagers in Sandaan district’s Svay Chorm village went to protest at a recently cleared plot of land in the Prey Lang forest owned by businessman Oul Ratha, attempting to stop him planting cassava by blocking machinery, community representative Chheang Vuthy told Khmer Times.
Laos starts construction on Don Sahong hydropower project –VietNamNet Bridge
Vietnam is expected to see fish resources decline and erosion and saline intrusion increase because of the new hydropower plant in Laos. KPL News has reported that the commencement ceremony of the construction of Don Sahong hydropower plant took place on August 16 in Champasak in the south of Laos.
Govt approves three laws for NA debate –Vientiane Times
The government’s monthly meeting has approved in principle three amended laws concerning investment promotion, media, and government, aiming to better serve the country’s development needs. Concerning a new law related to special and specific economic zones, cabinet members were asked to give inputs and discuss the law at another meeting to be held between the PM and Deputy PM at a later date.
Myitsone dam project: The fourth choice, or the fifth one? –Myanmar Times (Opinion)
The well-argued editorial, referring to an article that recently appeared in Frontier Myanmar weekly magazine, describes four options Myanmar has for tackling the highly sensitive Myitsone dam project. All of this is to say that the Myitsone project should be decided based on holistic and realistic consultations with the Myanmar people. They deserve accurate information. They deserve to participate in the decision-making process. All relevant stakeholders should be aware of this and should also consider a fifth choice for the Myitsone dam’s future: the will of the people. (See also: Want to question the government…–Eleven Myanmar (Opinion), Why does China care so much about stalled dam project in Myanmar? –South China Morning Post)
Interim report from Ayeyarwady dam commission due next month –Myanmar Times
The commission tasked with reviewing and scrutinizing hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River met for the first time this week, with the recently formed body planning to submit an interim report on its findings next month. Irrigation expert U Cho Cho, a member of the commission, said that the commission has begun reviewing several reports on matters ranging from environmental impacts to dam designs.
IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the private sector have launched the first working group for Myanmar’s hydropower sector. The Hydropower Developers’ Working Group (HDWG), first established in Lao PDR in late-2013, is the only platform exclusively for hydropower companies and industry-related professionals to influence policy and identify solutions to improve upon sustainability and business operations in Myanmar. (See also: Hydropower working group launched in Myanmar –Hydroworld)
Chin State invites hydropower investment –Myanmar Times
The Chin State government welcomes local and foreign investment into hydropower production, according to Salai Isaac Khen, state minister for development, electricity and industry. As a priority, officials will survey the rivers to find the most suitable locations for large-scale hydropower projects and will report their findings to the Union government, he said. The state government has the power to award small- and medium-sized power projects, but any dam with the potential to generate more than 30 megawatts must be approved at Union level.
Dam Project Gets the Go-Ahead in War Torn Shan State –Burma News International
A controversial Chinese dam project in Shan State has been given the go-ahead, as local human rights organisations warned that the development could stoke ongoing conflict in the region. The project, called Naung Pha dam, will produce 1,200 megawatts, of which 90% will be exported directly to China. The project has gone ahead despite local communities and human rights organisations protesting against the development.
Myanmar is suspending operations at more than 2,000 jade mines in the resource-rich Hpakant region of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state until environmental impact studies have been completed, a state official said of the government’s latest response to a series of deadly landslides. The central government decided in July not to renew hundreds of existing jade mining licenses that expired that month until companies complete environmental impact assessments.
Mystery Myanmar mines shake up world tin market –South China Morning Post –The Financial Times
Mysterious mines in Myanmar have become important to the world tin market in a sign of how the country’s opening-up is revealing resources obscured during decades of military dictatorship and internal conflict.
A major highway project that will serve as a trade link between Burma and Thailand has been displacing local communities who live along the route in Karen State, southeastern Burma, say human rights organizations. The Asian Highway project also connects the greater Mekong sub-region’s east-west economic corridor, and is leading to increased militarization and the risk of armed conflict, said three ethnic Karen organizations that conducted a study in the region.
Energy and climate: A turning point looms –Frontier Myanmar (Opinion)
Time is running out for an international moratorium on new fossil-fuel power plants. It is a golden opportunity for Myanmar, where so much electricity infrastructure is yet to be built. Energy efficiency, batteries, solar modules and wind turbines are less vulnerable to climate change impacts and policy than conventional alternatives. Costs for renewable-energy technologies are falling fast.
Limited capacity hinders Myanmar’s water management –Eleven Myanmar
River basin organisations should be established to support the activities of the National Water Resource Committee (NWRC), to enhance the country’s water management which has faced serious capacity limitations, said an official. At the Global Water Conference 2016, Aung Myo Khaing, deputy director of the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems (DWIR), said that safe navigation, river conservation and pollution control would be prioritised and international good practices would be learnt by means of cooperating with many international organisations.
Wary of China, India Moves to Woo a New Myanmar –The Diplomat
India, for its part, has a long-standing relationship with Myanmar. After several years of discussions, India agreed to the building of Sittwe port in 2008 at a cost of $120 million. In addition, India extended a $20 million credit for renovation of the Thanlyin Refinery. Apart from the 160 km India-Myanmar friendship road built by India’s Border Roads Organization in 2001, India has been working on a second road project and investing in a deep-sea project (Sagar Samridhi) to explore oil and gas in the Bay of Bengal and at the Shwe gas pipeline project in western Myanmar.
Get your face masks out for ‘coal tourism’ –Bangkok Post (Opinion)
It was a coincidence that a group of executives of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and I visited designated site for a controversial coal-fired power plant Thepa’s tambon Pak Bang at the same time. According to the report, the coal-fired power plant will be equipped with the best technology to ensure pollution will be under control, to make it a green power plant. However, the power plant will definitely release pollution, especially toxic ash and filthy air. And some 200 families will have to relocate to pave the way for the power plant.
Egat insists on going ahead with Thepa plant –The Nation
Construction of the Thepa coal-fired power plant is set to begin in the second quarter of next year, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said, even though many locals have refused to sell their land despite facing threats. Egat has so far insisted that it will build the 2,200-megawatt power plant in Songkhla’s Thepa district, despite strong protests from local people. The Environment and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) for both the plant and coal transport has also not been approved by the Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning Office (ONEP).
In the eyes of many NGOs, new coal-fired power plants and infrastructure development will give the Southern Region a new face, but sadly an ugly one. The NGOs believe that as soon as the new power plant begins operations, large-scale industrialization will follow and many development projects may affect people’s rights. Representatives from several NGOs expressed these concerns at a forum held by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Songkhla. Locals at the same forum also voiced suspicion that the rushed power and infrastructure development projects simply aimed at facilitating large-scale industrial expansion.
Thailand’s military government plans to open bids in March 2017 for expiring oil and gas contracts held by Chevron Corp and PTT Exploration and Production, an energy ministry official said on Thursday. Chevron’s Thai unit holds concessions to operate the Erawan gas field. PTTEP operates the Bongkot gas field.
Vietnam needs master plan for water sources: expert –VietNamNet Bridge
Mekong Delta suffered the most serious drought in the last 90 years in March and April. The situation was so serious that the State had to ask China to discharge water from its reservoirs to let water go to the lower course. However, according to Vu Trong Hong, chair of the Vietnam Water Resources Association, there were only 200 million cubic meters of water, which went through three countries – Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia — and all of which need water. Therefore, the volume of water reaching Vietnam was very modest.
Vietnam pushes renewable energy with focus on solar power –Vietnam Express International
In response to fast growing demand for power, Vietnam is building more coal-fired thermal plants and buying electricity from neighboring China as part of measures to avoid outages. Along with the need to decrease the reliance on fossil fuels, the country needs to build an energy sector more focused on renewable energy, particularly solar energy. The government has also opened up its renewable energy sector to foreign investors, allowing them to invest in power generation.
Vietnam’s new mega integrated plant might pose risk to environment –Russian Construction Journal
Hoa Sen Group, a Vietnamese steel manufacturing company announced that it would build a large industrial complex in Ca Na industrial park located in Ninh Thuan province of the central part of Vietnam. A number of Vietnamese experts are cautious about this ambitious initiative of Hoa Sen. First, operation of such an enormous enterprise might pose a significant risk of environment pollution, given that Vietnam has already faced this problem. Second, experts suppose that the country has already had an excessive number of steel producing facilities and a new one is surplus.
Construction swelling Sai Gon River –VietNamNet Bridge
The levelling of land for construction purposes, as well as the effects of climate change and rising sea levels, has contributed to a dramatic increase in water levels of the Sai Gon River. Bui Viet Hung, of the Environment Department at Vietnam National University, said that if 1,000 hectares of land along the Soài Rạp River were levelled for construction of new buildings, the water levels near the mouth of the Sai Gon River would rise by one centimetre. The larger the levelled area, the higher the water would rise, Hưng said, adding that Sai Gon River’s rising water levels have worsened flooding in HCM City.
Vietnam: Mining industry faces serious challenges –Hellenic Shipping News
The mining industry has been facing great challenges this year, according to An Thong Investment & Minerals, a subsidiary of Hoa Phat, the mining cost is very high, while the iron ore price globally has dropped by 30-50 percent compared with early 2014. The same situation is occurring with crude oil exploitation. The exploitation cost is high, while the world’s oil price, though having recovered, only hovers around $50 per barrel.
Kon Tum: Illegal gold mining rampant in Đắk Long Commune –Vietnam News
Illegal gold mining has become rampant in Đắk Glei District’s Đắk Long Commune over recent years, causing serious environmental pollution and damage to local residents’ life. A resident of Đắk Long Commune in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum told a zing reporter that illegal gold miners have publicly operated for many years in various places in Đắk Ôn hamlet.
A Vietnamese conglomerate is poised to build an enormous steel complex, despite fallout from a similar large-scale project of Taiwanese Formosa Group which caused an environmental disaster before it was even commissioned. Hoa Sen Group is expected to invest US$10.6 billion into the Hoa Sen – Ca Na steelmaking complex in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan. The corrugated sheets producer also has plans to launch four other major projects in Ninh Thuan, including an industrial park, cement making factory, a hydro- and renewable power plant, and a complex of logistics facilities. (See also: Inconsistency the only consistency in reports on fish quality in central Vietnam –Tuoi Tre News)
Groundwater Shared by Countries Is Knowledge Void –Circle of Blue
“The Mekong River Delta is under immense pressure. Upstream, a cascade of dams in China trap water and silt, the building blocks of delta life. Downstream, demand for irrigation water is rising in the world’s rice bowl. A tough task for any country, managing the delta’s water problems come with an extra degree of difficulty for Cambodia and Vietnam — water use in one country influences water availability in the other.”
Women bear brunt of natural disasters –Myanmar Times
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently investigated this divide in Ayeyarwady Region villages that were heavily damaged by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and continue to be hit with severe weather. The UNEP assessment echoes previous international work on the relationship between gender and environmental disasters. A UN Women publication claims that “when disasters strike, women are more likely than men to die”, citing the 2004 Asian tsunami where 70 percent of the fatalities were women.
Breaking Down Freedom of Press in South East Asia –Diplomatic Courier
Media and politics are two strongly interconnected and essential components of society. The state, through law, limits the room for news media to operate freely. In turn, news media can work as a tool for putting pressure on other political actors. Since most people seldom interact with politicians directly, they get their information about local government policies and current affairs via the media, which plays a strong part in interpreting them through their reports. News reports influence public opinion and, in some cases, politics.
Drafted amendments to the Investment Promotion Law that policy makers are currently drawing up are set to offer maximum profit tax exemptions of up to eight years for businesses operating in certain promoted areas. Three promoted areas are categorised with minimum profit tax exemptions of one year and the areas with the most hardship conditions will be granted maximum profit tax exemptions in a move to promote investment in rural communities.
Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit landlocked Laos, making the last push of his presidency to ‘rebalance’ Washington’s foreign policy toward Asia, a strategy widely seen as a response to China’s economic and military muscle-flexing across the region. Laos has strategic importance to both Vietnam and China. Vietnam has a long land border with Laos that gives it access to markets in Thailand and beyond. For China, Laos is a key gateway to Southeast Asia in its “new Silk Road” trade strategy. Laos, which is developing a series of hydro power plants along one of the world’s longest rivers. (See also: Laos leads region, but only in repression –Bangkok Post (Opinion)
Japan set to reap returns on investment in Myanmar –East Asia Forum
For Japan, geostrategic competition with China and support for ASEAN, combined with its economic interests, are the primary factors motivating engagement with Myanmar. Underpinning all this is the widely held perception that Japan has invested heavily in Myanmar since its independence and now it’s time to reap the benefits. Regardless of the rationale, Japanese economic activity in Myanmar will surely increase dramatically in the near future.
On September 7, leaders from Asean and China will meet for the 19th time. They must have something meaningful and substantive to look forward to in their increasingly complex relations. The joint statement on the 19th Asean-China Summit, to be released on September 7, will indicate the future path of relations. For China, it is clear that winning the grouping’s strategic trust and strengthening and widening economic cooperation beyond the region will be the two top priorities. For Asean, future ties must be of mutual benefit with full respect for law and the diplomatic process.
Canada is keen to get involved with a new international infrastructure bank in China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated Tuesday — a move that would help the east Asian country’s economic credibility around the world.
It’s time for development banks to start listening –Open Democracy (Opinion)
The aid community often ignores the wishes of the very people it’s supposed to be helping. The world needs a more bottom-up approach to development. Many development banks have taken important steps in recent years to improve participation and accountability. Sustainable development requires development banks to actively work to promote an enabling environment for community participation in their activities. Without this, the Sustainable Development Goals will remain mere aspirations.
LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS
UAGO have not reviewed the Myitsone Dam MOA yet –Eleven News
“We have not review any documents since the MyitSone Dam has been halted” said Dr. Kyi Kyi Tha Aung, the director of the Economic Documentation Section of the UAGO (Union Attorney General Office) of Myanmar. The 6000 MW Myitsone Dam project was halted with the presidential order. The former military government of Myanmar (aka SPDC, State Peace and Development Council) was sign the MOA with the Chinese investors in 2009, but the project has been halted in 2013 due to the pressure from the CSOs and the public. “We couldn’t tell any info related with the contact, as it is confidential for both parties. We will review it according to the existing laws, rules and regulation of Myanmar, and give comments and suggestions. It is under negotiation, since the project has been halted. And there is no concerns so far for making a new/amended contract” Dr. Kyi Kyi Tha Aung continued.
On 29th August, the CSSU (Committee for Shan State Unity) released a statement. It mentioned that “they will block all the hydropower projects together with the civil society organizations, environmental organizations and the activists if the projects continue without the public agreements”. The CSSU was formed by Shan ethnic parties and armed groups. CSSU has demanded all agreements with the investors in Salween rivers need to review and all information must be transparent for the public access.
Ban Klang village in Chiang Khan District, Loei province, Thailand is located next to the Mekong River near the border between Laos and Thailand. Living there are more than 300 households, in a village that will disappear if Thailand builds the planned Khong-Loei-Chi-Mun water diversion project. The leader of Ban Klang village said that local people don’t understand why we need this water diversion project. In fact, they have not needed to use the water from the Mekong River since their irrigation water comes from rain and water wells. Local people are concerned about the risks the project will cause for their lives such as: homes flooded, fish populations and crops declining, and village resettlement.
RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES
ANNOUCEMENT: Online Consultation: Draft Regional Guidelines for Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) –The Regional Technical Working Group on EIA/Mekong Partnership for the Environment
Citizens of Mekong and other countries are invited to comment on the draft Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in EIA . These guidelines have been developed by regional government and civil society partners to increase meaningful public participation in development planning, particularly in the context of rising levels of investment for development projects across the Mekong region. Their purpose is to provide practical guidance for implementing meaningful public participation in order to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the EIA process, while reducing risks for all stakeholders. Comments will close on October 31. Click here to help find shared solutions for responsible development in the Lower Mekong region.
PUBLICATION: New publication of thematic study “They Will Need Land” –Mekong Region Land Governance
The study synthesises available data on land use, land tenure and demographic trends will serve as input to the policy debate organized by MRLG in Cambodia. The study explores different policies by which the Government of Cambodia could meet this target, and highlights the potential of the reallocation of cancelled ELCs as one promising avenue for policy dialogue. Download the publication
UPDATE: Draft Regional Guidelines for Public Participation in EIA Released for Public Comment –The Mekong Eye/Mekong Partnership for the Environment
USAID-funded Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) has invited public comment on the draft Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), via mekongcitizen.org/EIA. These regional EIA guidelines have been developed by the Regional Technical Working Group (RTWG) on EIA in response to the shared concern for how to increase meaningful public participation in development planning, particularly in the context of rising levels of investment for development projects across the Mekong region.
UPDATE: Open Development Myanmar Soft-Launches, Promotes Data Discussions –The Mekong Eye/Mekong Partnership for the Environment
USAID partners have launched an innovative data portal in Myanmar. OpenDevelopmentMyanmar.net will be used to aggregate and promote key development and environmental data about Myanmar, especially data with potential regional significance. The platform is the Myanmar sub-site of the major regional open data platform, OpenDevelopmentMekong.net, which gathers and contextualizes objective data on development trends in the Mekong region.
STATEMENT: Open Letter from Save the Mekong Coalition to MRC Development Partners Regarding the Informal Donors Meeting –Save the Mekong
In advance of the Mekong River Commission’s Informal Donor Meeting, the Save the Mekong Coalition writes to express our serious and ongoing concern over the outstanding issues and questions surrounding hydropower dam construction on the mainstream of the Mekong River. We call on development partners to reiterate and renew these requests with the Mekong governments during the Informal Donor Meeting this week.
From September 12-14, 2016 we hope to see you all at the 2016 International RiverSymposium in New Delhi, India. At this global conference IFC and our partners will be presenting on a number of topics ranging from hydropower governance to more technical topics on environmental flows and fish passages. If you cannot make it to India, in Lao PDR next month we will advance our work on cumulative impact assessments by discussing the draft guidelines and next steps.
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