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Mekong Eye News Digest: 14 September 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.

By The Mekong Eye

Mekong Region, September 16, 2016

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

To September 14, 2016

Curated by The Mekong Eye. A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, investment, EIAs and other development issues. We include a balanced and representative range of news and views from local, regional and global sources. The Digest reaches over 4000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists. 

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As Mekong Changes Course, Development Trumps Conservation –VOA Cambodia

Huge hydropower dams and irrigation systems to power modern farming in the Mekong region have changed humans interact with the river. For as long as one can imagine the meandering flow of the mighty Mekong River has passed through the nations of Southeast Asia, making its way south from China’s Tibetan plateau until it spills out into the South China Sea. But for the past few years fishing communities living along the riverbanks have complained that their fish stocks are drying up. The iconic waterway is going through some unprecedented changes.

A threat more urgent than global warming –Vietnam News

In Southeast Asia, drought and salination caused by harsh weather and alleged water storage at dozens of upstream dams on the Mekong River bankrupted about 1.5 million farmers in Viet Nam. The riparian countries are now seeking to learn from other models in addressing trans-border challenges.

Why silt is so important for the Mekong –The Third Pole (Commentary)

Mekong river carries massive loads of sediment and nutrients from upstream to downstream and across national borders, replenishing and enriching the land as it goes. This process is key to sustaining the ecological integrity of the river and surrounding landscapes, which in turn supports the economy. However, a boom in sand mining and hydropower development on the Mekong is transforming the river’s sediment flows, with profound consequences for the region if left unchecked. For a prosperous, sustainable future for the region, all Mekong countries must come together now and adopt international standards for managing transboundary river resources.



Gold Mining to Begin –The Khmer Times

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has issued the country’s first industrial mining license, which will see Indian-owned Mesco Gold soon start operating an underground gold mine in Rattanakiri province. Angkor Gold Corp., a Canadian-based mineral exploration company, announced that the license had been granted for the 12 square kilometer Phum Syarung mine in O’Yadaw district. “With the grant of the first fully approved mining license in Cambodia to Mesco Gold, a new stage in the evolution of the mining industry in the country has begun, which so far was limited to exploration only,” JK Singh, chairman of Mesco Gold’s parent company said.

Call for Better Handling of Land Disputes –The Khmer Times

Civil society organizations repeated calls for land disputes to be resolved quickly, peacefully and without authorities using police and the courts to put pressure on communities. Speaking at an event celebrating poor urban communities at the American Intercon School, more than 200 people, including representatives from affected communities around the capital, discussed the ongoing issue of forced evictions and what they can do to minimize potential violence and distress. (See also: Forum calls for speedy land dispute resolutions –The Phnom Penh Post)

Areng Residents Wary of Road –The Khmer Times

Areng Valley residents cautiously welcomed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s announcement late last month of a plan to build 18 kilometers of roads in Koh Kong province. But community representatives are now more wary of the plan and have asked the government to make sure the road is used for its intended purpose – ecotourism – and not for illegal logging and drug trafficking.



Korea Western Power to build hydroelectric power plant in Laos –Pulse News  

South Korea’s public power supplier Korea Western Power Co. announced that it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to jointly develop a large-scale hydroelectric power plant in Laos with Thailand’s energy company CEWA. According to the MoU, the Korean company plans to invest $1.6 million to build a hydroelectric power plant with a capacity of 700 megawatts (MW) in an area about 21 kilometers south of Pakse, Champasak Province. After the completion of the construction, the company will operate the power plant and sell power for 28 years.

Contract extended for Poyry to provide services for Xayaburi hydropower in Lao PDR –Hydroworld

Xayaburi Power Company and the government of Lao PDR have awarded Poyry an extension to the owner’s engineering services contract for the site supervision of the Xayaburi hydropower plant in Laos. Xayaburi, on the Mekong River in Xayaburi Province, will have an installed capacity of 1,285 MW from seven 175-MW turbine-generator units that will supply electricity to Thailand and one 60-MW unit to supply electricity to Laos. This electricity will replace diesel power plants in the Luang Prabang and Xayaburi provinces.



China’s dam problem with Myanmar –Project Syndicate (Commentary)

It is time for China to recognise that the decision to end the Myitsone project will not be reversed. It can hope that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s commission makes some face-saving recommendations, such as paying compensation to China or making new deals for smaller, more environmentally friendly power plants. But with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi committed to a neutral foreign policy, China’s days of sucking resources from Myanmar, without any regard for the environmental or human costs, are over.

Real desire of the people for Myitsone –Eleven Myanmar

Residents from five Kachin villages held a press conference to say the Myitsone dam site was of historic importance. The statement said Myitsone was of historic significance for the Kachin people, demanding a complete shutdown and the return of confiscated land. “We oppose any project without transparency and our consent,” the statement said. (See also: Villagers demand Myitsone axed –Eleven Myanmar)

Myanmar bets on hydro in new energy plan –The Nation

Electricity-starved Myanmar is looking to overhaul its long-term power strategy, aiming to hike the planned share of hydropower in its energy mix at the cost of polluting coal as it tries to attract foreign investment. Myanmar’s initial plan was to boost coal’s share to a third by the end of the next decade from just 3 percent now and to slash the contribution of hydro to 38 percent from 63 per cent. But most people are “reluctant to implement coal-fired power plants, that’s why we won’t be able to implement the planned coal power plant projects,” said Aung Ko Ko, director of hydro and renewable energy planning branch at the ministry.

Salween River Dams Should Not Replace Myitsone Dam –Burma News International

Preparations should be made to prevent dam building on the Salween River, replacing the Irawaddy River’s Chinese backed Myitsone Dam project if it is cancelled. Dr Aung Nai Oo; Mon State Parliament Deputy Speaker said: “Hundreds of social associations in Sagaing, Irrawaddy, and Mandalay regions will not accept the Myitsone dam project. The amount of compensation to be given to China will be too high if the Myitsone is not going to be built. So, will our Salween River become a payoff for Myitsone? I believe we need to prepare ahead in case the idea shifts towards here.

Mon group opposes dam planned for Salween River –Myanmar Times

Mon activists attacked dam projects slated for the Salween River, releasing a report about the potential negative impacts. The announcement that 1360-megawatt Hatgyi project would be resumed was made on August 12 by Ministry of Electric Power permanent secretary U Htein Lwin. Potential effects could include altering the river’s flow, increased erosion, destruction of islands, damage to downstream agriculture, reduction in the fish population, and disastrous earthquakes or broken dams in this seismically active region. (See also: Ethnic Activists Voice Alarm Over Salween Dams  –The Irrawaddy)

Tanintharyi fields community concerns via public forum –Myanmar Times

Tanintharyi Region is holding public forums where community members can weigh in on how the regional government’s efforts to promote development across a range of sectors, from gender equality to electricity, should proceed. Dawei township held a forum on September 5 and 6 as part of the new regional government’s efforts to include community concerns when drafting development policies. The first forum as part of the strategy was held in Kawthaung township, and the third and final forum will take place in Myeik.

Myanmar seeks investors in power industry –Saudi Gazette

The 4th Great Mekong Subregion Power Summit & Expo 2016 is slated on Nov. 29-Dec. 1, 2016 in Yangon, Myanmar. Gathering ministerial authorities and state & regional regulators, IPPs from domestic and from the international community, financiers, third-party consultants, EPCs, and equipment manufacturers and technology providers, the event explores opportunities for investment across the region, present the latest technologies and debate the best financial strategies to support power and utility projects.

Is yearly flooding the new normal? – Frontier Myanmar

A combination of factors ranging from climate change to deforestation are being blamed for an apparent increase in flooding, with hundreds of thousands displaced for a second consecutive year. Across Myanmar, nine people have been killed and more than 490,000 people affected across five regions – Ayeyarwady, Bago, Magway, Mandalay and Yangon – as well as Rakhine State, according to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

Transparency watchdog calls for jade sanctions to remain –Myanmar Times

Premature rolling back of sanctions could risk undoing progress made so far in Myanmar’s democratic transition, resources watchdog Global Witness has warned, urging that targeted sanctions on the corruption-riddled jade industry remain in place. Global Witness dedicated to exposing corruption and improving transparency. In a statement, Global Witness cautioned that the jade industry remains “firmly in the grip of military elites, US-sanctioned drug lords and crony companies”.

Govt Investigates Taungthaman Lake Project, Following Locals’ Complaints –Karen News

The divisional government launched an investigation into a resort and culture park under construction on the eastern bank of the famous Thaungthaman Lake outside the city of Mandalay, after local residents complained about the impact of the project. Some of the initial construction near the famous U Bein Bridge has been suspended after staff from a number of ministries visited the site last Thursday. They gave notice to halt construction after concerns were raised that it could damage the local culture and environment.



Thailand plans to dust off Hatgyi Dam; EGATi awaits Myanmar Govt to negotiate with ethnic group –Prachachat Online Business

Thailand plans to dust off Hatgyi Dam in Myanmar and divert “surplus” water to Bhumipol Dam to alleviate drought. EGATi (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand International) is eager to invest more than 100 billion baht in Hatgyi project. As for Mong Ton Dam project, EGATi plans to invest over 300 billion baht but it still waits for Myanmar government’s approval after the redesign to lower impacts on surrounding communities.  A source from Thailand’s Ministry of Energy revealed Thai government wants to reiterate energy cooperation with the Myanmar government, especially Hatgyi Dam in Karen state, near Thailand’s Sob Moei Village. (Read full article in English on the Mekong Eye and in Thai on Prachachat)

Officials committed to Dawei –Bangkok Post

Thai officials and their Myanmar counterparts remain committed to the long-awaited Dawei megaproject, with the Myanmar-Thailand Joint High-Level Committee (JHC) and the Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC) to be set up soon to foster development. Porametee Vimolsiri, secretary-general to the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), said the recent joint ministerial meeting held in Myanmar agreed to revitalise the role of the JHC and the JCC to rev up the multibillion-dollar project.

Dam the Mekong, Thailand Buys More Hydroelectricity from Laos –Chiangrai Times

A power purchasing agreement was signed, during Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth chan-Ocha’s visit to the Prime Minister of Laos Thongloun Sisoulith, while attending the 28th and 29th Asean Summits and related meetings from September 6-8 in Vientiane. Thailand has increased its purchase of electricity from 7,000 to 9,000 megawatts from Laos this year to ensure sufficient supply and meet rising demand.

From salt to solar –Bangkok Post

Not long ago, a drive towards the seaside towns such as Hua Hin and Pattaya yielded a sightseeing opportunity of large salt farms. The decline of salt farming can be observed along major roads that run parallel to coastal zones such as Sukhumvit Road (towards Chon Buri) and Rama II to the southern provinces. The transformation from salt farms to solar farms sounds like a graceful metamorphosis but it has caused worry among conservationists and birdwatchers, because the salt farms and coastal zones in the community were listed as wetlands of national significance over a decade ago.



A threat more urgent than global warming –Vietnam News

The threat of vulnerable fresh water resources being overexploited, polluted or depleted is even more imminent than global warming as incidents affecting billions of people around the world are being increasingly reported. Reports presented last month at the Global Water Conference 2016 said 780 million people in developing countries lack access to clean water and 3.4 million people die each year from water-related diseases. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.

Hydropower dam tunnel collapses in central Vietnam flash floods, many missing –Thanh Nien News

At least two workers and 14 local residents are missing after a hydropower water tunnel collapsed in Quang Nam Province Tuesday. Huynh Khanh Toan, vice chairman of the province People’s Committee, said flash floods triggered by Typhoon Rai caused the water tunnel at the Song Bung 2 Hydropower Plant to collapse when 18 workers were working nearby. The two missing workers have been identified, rescuers are searching for all the missing people.

In southern Vietnam, Hong Kong paper mill renews concern as trial run nears –Tuoi Tre News

As a Hong Kong-invested paper mill in the southern Vietnamese province of Hau Giang is poised to test its operation despite questionable waste treatment solutions, local scientists have demanded a halt to the plan. The Lee & Man complex, a US$628.7 million project developed by the Vietnamese unit of Hong Kong’s Lee & Man Paper, should only be allowed to start the trial-run once it has had an adequate waste treatment plan, according to local experts.

Environment Ministry’s report shows serious environmental problems –VietNamNet Bridge

A report from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) shows worrying figures about the environment. It is estimated that 100,000 tons of plant protection chemicals are used in Vietnam every year, and that more than 2,000 investment projects have insufficient environmental impact assessments, while hundreds of industrial zones (IZs) have no waste water treatment systems.

German companies eye young solar energy market in Vietnam –Thanh Nien News

Representatives of six German companies began their business trip in Vietnam to explore the potential of the local solar photovoltaic market. The Delegate of German Industry and Commerce in Vietnam said the representatives participated in a conference in Ho Chi Minh City to discuss and learn about investment opportunities. The group visited DBW Garment Factory, one of the latest commercial photovoltaic (PV) rooftop projects and an example of German solar PV technology in Vietnam.

Southern Vietnam faces power starvation –Vietnam Express International

Power cuts are a huge issue for the industrial and manufacturing sectors in southern Vietnam. Southern Vietnam, which is home to commercial hubs like Ho Chi Minh City and manufacturing clusters such as Dong Nai and Binh Duong, may face more power shortages from 2017. The country’s total power output is likely to fall short of the south’s demand by 10-15 percent, said Duong Quang Thanh, chairman of state monopoly Electricity of Vietnam (EVN).

Chinese nuclear reactors located close to Vietnam-China border –VietNamNet Bridge

Scientists have expressed deep concern over the presence of Chinese nuclear power plants in areas close to the Vietnamese border. A series of large-capacity nuclear reactors, 500-1,000 MW, have been put into operation in areas near Vietnam. Three plants are located 300-500 kilometers from Hanoi. Though the next-generation nuclear power is believed to be safe, experts still show concern about the presence of many nuclear power plants near Vietnam.

Giant landfill in Saigon causing pollution –VietNamNet Bridge

The $100 million Da Phuoc solid waste treatment complex in Da Phuoc Commune, Binh Chanh District, HCM City is considered the most modern of its kind in Vietnam but it is also a source of pollution for the surrounding area. After years of operating, processing more than 8 million tons of waste, this landfill has been enlarged and has turned into a “mountain” of garbage. Residents living in the surrounding areas have repeatedly complained about the serious pollution caused by Da Phuoc landfill.



AIIB & ASEAN connectivity –CCTV (Video Interview)

For more on this year’s China-ASEAN Expo and the 13th China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, Victor Gao: CCTV current affairs commentator, shared his opinion on AIIB and ASEAN connectivity.

AIIB has swift start, solid governance, good cooperation: Dutch policy advisor –Xinhua via China Daily

After a swift start, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has solid governance, good policies and good cooperation among members to take the challenge of building up more projects, a Dutch policy advisor said at a workshop at Groningen University, the Netherland. “What remains now the main challenge is to build up more standalone projects and do it more in the private sector. Also is important the implementation of the policies in practice,” Alex Niatsetski told researchers attending the workshop on the impact, opportunities and difficulties of the Belt and Road Initiative for the China-EU relations.



FT Investigation: How China bought its way into Cambodia –The Financial Times

Big investment deals have cemented Beijing’s relations with Phnom Penh, but they have also helped yield political dividends for China as it imposes claims to disputed areas in the South China Sea. With US destroyers sailing close to Chinese-built islands equipped with anti-ship missiles, the South China Sea has become one of the world’s most highly charged flashpoints. As regional tensions have grown, so has Cambodia’s value to Beijing. Of particular use is Phnom Penh’s membership in Asean. Because Asean works by consensus, the objections of one member can thwart any group initiative.



New Myanmar investment law is the ‘right move’ –The Nation

International lawyers have welcomed Myanmar’s new investment law, saying it will create a better investment environment for both local and foreign investors once enforced. Jo Daniels, managing partner of Baker & McKenzie Myanmar, said at a media roundtable that the new law could be one of Myanmar’s most significant legal reforms once approved by the parliament. While praising the move, she believes much of the benefits still hinge on the enforcement efforts of the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC).



Despite challenges, progress continues on the China-Laos Railway Project –Global Times

The China-Laos railway project was seen as a highlight of the cooperation between the two countries. However, the project has come under doubt because of its cost and impact on the local economy. As part of the UN-proposed Trans-Asian Railway network and China-proposed “One Belt and One Road” initiative, the project is supposed to benefit both the Chinese and Laotian people, according to the project’s operator and some experts. The Global Times recently traveled to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to look into the challenges facing this long-distance railway.



Asean Summit: Tolerance is the key to prosperity –Bangkok Post

US President Barack Obama used a forum with Southeast Asian youth leaders Leaders to stress the importance of human rights and tolerance of different cultures, races and beliefs to achieve prosperity and sustainable development in the Asean region. “I have strongly believed that when people from different cultures interact, there are always new ideas and new innovations,” Mr Obama told 180 young men and women from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at Souphanouvong University in Laos.

Sustainability stressed as Asia develops transport infrastructure –Business World Online

Sustainable transport can propel economies in Asia and the Pacific by facilitating trade and boosting labor output without health risks associated with rapid development, according to a forum organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Policy makers and civil society leaders from across the region have gathered in Metro Manila for the three-day Transport Forum 2016: Sustainable Transport for all that opened on Tuesday to discuss issues ranging from air quality to geological risks.




Mesco Gold Mining company got gold mining license in Ratanakiri Province -Radio Free Asia Khmer

On August 10th 2016, Ministry of Mine and Energy has just firstly issued the mining license to Mesco Gold to commence with a gold mine in Ratanakiri province after Environmental Impact Assessment was conducted and approved, and impacts and issues have been resolved. The company will start their construction in November of this year and expect to extract 2000 mg of Gold from 500 Tons of stones per day. The company will exploit the gold mine on 50 hectare of surface land, 30-meter depth. Ms. Dam Channy, Director of Khmer Highlander Association said that the villager has agreed voluntary on the compensation and mitigation measures on the impacts after the company organized two meetings between the company, villagers and local authority. She expects that this development project will contribute to development of communities.

Anyways, villagers still keep their eyes on the mining activities in their village, head of village said.



MYPO Report criticizes the impacts of Salween dams –Karen Information Center

The Mon Youth Progressive Organization, which is based in Mawlamyine, Mon state of Myanmar released a report on 8th September. It emphasized how the proposed dams on Salween rivers could bring detrimental impacts to the cities in Mon state, which are at the downstream of the river. Mi Ar Chai, the lead research of the report said, “about 500 thousand peoples, could lost their livelihoods, ecosystems could have destroyed, and thousands of people could be displaced. It could result in eminent rural urban migration, if they lost their livelihoods.” The reports say the government need to respect the rights of the indigenous people, and it could also have impacts on current peace process in Myanmar. “We will sign a petition to stop all dam projects in Salween and will send open letter to the president”, Mi Arr Chai said.



ANNOUCEMENT: Online Consultation: 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 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.

ARTICLE/VIDEO:  Video Calls for Angkor Beer Boycott Over Mekong Dam –The Mekong Eye

Community members worried about a major dam being constructed in Laos released a video this week appealing for a boycott of Cambodia’s number one beer manufacturer, Angkor Beer. Stop Don Sahong, Boycott Angkor Beer claims the 32 meter-high dam now under construction will affect the flow of the Mekong River, destroy fisheries and farmland in Cambodia and the lower Mekong, and affect millions of people in neighboring countries—all to generate only 260 MW of hydroelectricity.

UPDATE: Community EIA Meeting in Thailand: “Any effort to improve participation in EIA should be encouraged” –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via The Mekong Eye

USAID-supported Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) is strengthening Thai communities’ knowledge on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes for large-scale development projects that may have impacts on the environment and their communities. MPE partner; Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC) organized a two-day National Meeting on “Community Participation in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA)” 28-29 August 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thirty representatives from community-based organizations, government ministries, academia, and affected communities participated in this national event, in which participants from diverse walks of life discussed the ongoing development in EIA policies and how to improve public participation in EIA for future development projects in Thailand.

UPDATE: Open Development Network launches new user interface –Open Development Mekong

The team at Open Development Mekong (ODM) and its network partners are very happy to announce the recent release of a major update since the platform was soft-launched in beta in July 2015. During the past months, the team has been gathering and addressing feedback from users and partners in order to improve not only the look-and-feel of the site but also the processes behind it. With this new version, users will enjoy: a redesigned user interface, better support for mobile devices and revised features, such as the search functionality with improved content exposure and the new data pages with new filtering capabilities.

EVENT (Nov 9-11): 2016 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food, and Energy –WLE Greater Mekong

The 2016 Greater Mekong Forum on Water and Food 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.

EVENT (Sep 15): A panel discussion on China: an ever growing footprint –Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China has engaged in an increasingly muscular foreign policy while clamping down on critics both at home and abroad. Even amid a slowdown the world’s second largest economy has huge regional clout. As Xi’s tenure progresses, how will China evolve, both for its own people, its neighbours and fellow regional superpower the United States? On September 15 the FCCT will hold a panel discussion on China and its relationship with the region featuring speakers with intimate knowledge of the country.


Editor’s notes:

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