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Mekong Eye News Digest: 23 November 2016

Curated by The Mekong Eye. A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, investment, safeguards 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 4500 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

By The Mekong Eye

Mekong Region, November 16, 2016

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

To November 23, 2016

Curated by The Mekong Eye. A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, investment, safeguards 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 4500 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.


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Changing Mekong Currents Compound Dam Anxieties in Southeast Asia –The Diplomat

The government of Laos officially submitted the Pak Beng Dam to the Mekong River Commission in mid-November and has begun preparatory work around the future dam site. While this announcement appears to indicate that the government of Laos and international funders for more than 100 hydropower projects are continuing to move full steam ahead despite serious concerns from downstream countries and affected communities, emerging financial risks and regional shifts are increasingly impacting the risk calculus for future projects. (See also: Environmentalists fear effects of new Mekong River dam –AP (Video))

‘Vicious capitalism’ speeds up completion of first mainstream dam in Lower Mekong –Channel News Asia

Like many hydropower projects, the Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos comes with pros and cons. While the Lao government and investors focus on economic benefits, environmentalists and residents voice concerns over risks it may bring to the Mekong. In the journey across Thailand and Laos, Channel News Asia investigates who actually benefits from the controversial project.

Experts question praise of China’s ‘drought relief’ –The Phnom Penh Post

The Mekong River Commission, in a missive posted on their website, credited China’s “emergency water release” from its Mekong dams with successfully helping to alleviate the drought in the Mekong River Basin earlier this year, a claim disputed by experts. However, expert warned that China’s ability to control water releases could be problematic for the Mekong Basin in the future, noting that “every transaction with China comes at a price”.



Call for affordable electricity –The Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia’s electricity sector needs to focus on adopting the latest technology to reap the full benefits of its coal-fired and hydropower plants if the government is to achieve its 2020 goal of nationwide electrification, visiting executives from the US-based energy giant General Electric (GE) said.

Environmentalists, solar sector see hope in treaty –Phnom Penh Post

A new treaty signed by Cambodia’s delegation to the COP22 climate conference in Marrakesh aims to bolster the country’s nascent solar energy industry, though some say substantial outside assistance is needed for solar to take off.

Chinese-invested Sihanoukville industrial zone in Cambodia eyes 300 factories expansion –Xinhua via Global Times

The Chinese-operated Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ), the biggest SEZ in Cambodia, is planning to open 300 factories by 2020, providing up to 100,000 extra jobs, local media reported on Friday.



Laos dam projects put entire region at risk –Bangkok Post (Opinion)

Study after study, including the MRC-commissioned 2010 Strategic Environmental Assessment, warn that dam-building on the Mekong mainstream will have tremendous implications, fundamentally altering the river’s ecology and destroying much of its biodiversity. Despite concerns are mounting as the third project of Pak Beng dam is undergoing the consultation process, yet the projects forged ahead. (See also: More Alarms Over Next Hydropower Dam in Laos –VOA News, As Laos Plans More Dams, Experts Urge Greater Protections –VOA Cambodia, Lao Dam Tests Regional Cooperation –RFA)

Xayaburi dam: ‘Testing ground for untried technologies’ –Channel News Asia

In 2019, the first dam on the Lower Mekong will be completed. Environmentalists fear it will threaten fisheries and communities, but the Lao government says the concerns are exaggerated. In the first part of a special series, Pichayada Promchertchoo visited the dam site to find out how developers plan to mitigate the impact.

Endangered dolphins at risk as controversial Don Sahong dam takes shape –Channel News Asia

It is estimated that there are only about 80 of the animals left in the Mekong. At this part of the river, straddling the border of Cambodia and Laos, there are, at most, only five. Now, the dolphin’s plight in these waters has come to represent the environmental struggle engulfing the Don Sahong project.



Our River…, Our Life… –Karen News via Mekong Citizen (video)

The Salween River is one of Asia’s great rivers that brings life to the people who live along its banks. Plans to build dams on the Salween River by the Burma government, China and Thailand threatens millions of villagers and animals that depend on the free flowing river for their living, food sources and as a vital transport link.

Opponents call for cancellation of Hat Gyi Dam –The Nation

People’s Network of the Salween River has called for an immediate halt to construction of the Hat Gyi Dam in Karen State, Myanmar. Representatives from 150 concerned communities in Shan and Karen states attended a seminar at Chiang Mai University where Sunnee Chiros, a former Thai human rights commissioner, presented a study found that the dam’s environmental impact assessment process was flawed.

Hydropower review taskforce stalls, waiting for instructions –Myanmar Times

A commission member on the taskforce reviewing hydropower projects said the team has yet to hear back from the president about the first submitted report. The first report on hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River was sent to the President’s Office on November 11, with a strong recommendation against restarting the suspended Myitsone dam. (See also: China continues to court on Myitsone project ahead of commission presser –Myanmar Times)

China continues to court on Myitsone project ahead of commission presser –Myanmar Times

As the commission tasked with reviewing hydropower projects along the upper reaches of the Ayeyarwady River submitted its first report to the president this past week, Chinese state media has assured its nation of the ongoing “friendly and cooperative” Sino-Myanmar relationship.

Tender to be held for Thilawa SEZ condos –Myanmar Times via Bangkok Post

An 80-acre site has been set aside for a residential area inside Thilawa special economic zone, an official has said, with a 9-acre portion to be dedicated to condominiums. Director of Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings (MTSH) said a joint venture system will be in place for the construction of the condo complexes.

Burma’s Electricity Demand Predicted to Nearly Double By 2020 –Irrawaddy

Demand for electricity consumption in Burma could double over the next four years, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and government officials have predicted. Electricity consumption throughout Burma is limited to 2,500 megawatts per day, while total production is 4,500 megawatts from both hydropower and thermal power production.

Kachin MPs slam vague mining deals –Myanmar Eleven

MPs representing Hpakant Township, Kachin State, claim mining regulation is as vague as it was under the former administration and argued the government still cannot regulate mining properly.



Pak Moon dam’s committee resigns en masse –Thai PBS

The 7-member committee to resolve the Pak Moon dam problem has resigned en masse to protest against the unilateral closure of the sluice gate of the dam in violation against the joint agreement of all stakeholders that the opening or closing of the sluice gate must be based on technical consideration.

Encroachers ‘must go’ for promenade –Bangkok Post

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has insisted that communities encroaching on public land intended for the controversial Chao Phraya riverside promenade project must move out as construction is set to begin next year. BMA officials met communities on both sides of the Chao Phraya on Monday to explain measures to provide financial aid to help community residents move out.

Anti-coal power protesters seek pledge from PM to pursue renewable energy –The Nation

Opponents of the Krabi coal-fired power plant began a meditation protest outside Government House yesterday, urging the government to honour its promise to defer construction of the proposed Bt48-billion project.

Ratch delays plans for fourth unit at Hongsa plant –The Nation

The plan to build the fourth unit of the Hongsa power plant of SET-listed Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Plc (RATCH), Thailand’s largest private power producer, is being delayed pending the…

Shock and confusion around closure of Kingsgate-owned Chatree mine in Thailand –Sydney Morning Herald

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army general, has cited a public outcry over health and environmental issues for his order, which shocked foreign companies with investments in Thailand.



“The law of the jungle” on Annamite Range –VietnamNet via Mekong Eye

The strength of local customary laws helped maintain the village’s forest when all surrounding forests have turned into barren hills or been replaced with industrial plants and impacted by hydropower development in the 3S basin.

Salinization threatens Vietnam’s Mekong Delta –Tuoi Tre News

Saltwater has intruded into a large section of a major river in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, threatening the livelihoods of local residents. Saline water has spread to some 20 kilometers of the Tien (Front) River, with locals now bracing themselves for an extended drought and further salinization.

Vietnam’s hydropower dam fined $5,200 for deadly water discharge –VN Express

A hydropower dam which discharged a large amount of water without any advance notice and caused flooding in the central province of Ha Tinh last month has been fined VND115.5 million, or nearly $5,200.

Vietnam abandons plan for first nuclear power plants –Reuters

Vietnam’s National Assembly voted to abandon plans to build two multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plants with Russia and Japan, after officials cited lower demand forecasts, rising costs and safety concerns.

Clean energy: investment potential exists but bottlenecks impede progress –VietNamNet Bridge

Favorable natural conditions and the government’s determination to allow Mekong Delta to develop environmentally friendly energy have both contributed to investment opportunities. But it is necessary to remove the bottlenecks hindering the development of clean energy.

80 % Vietnamese industrial zones violate environmental regulations: expert –Tuoi Tre News

Eighty in every 100 industrial zones in Vietnam are violating the country’s environmental regulations, an expert said at an economic workshop in Hanoi on Friday. Pollution damage accounts for an estimated five percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP), while the respective figure for China is ten percent, the expert said, citing World Bank.

Major paper plant halted due to environmental concerns –VietNamNet Bridge

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has requested the USD1.2-billion Lee & Man Paper Plant in Hau Giang Province to halt operations for investigation due to public concerns over its environmental impact. According to the report, the plant would discharge around 28,500 tonnes of sodium hydroxide into the Hau River every year.

Environmental expert calls to block Dai Duong paper factory -VietnamNet

Environmental experts have proposed the Tien Giang People’s Committee to revoke Taiwanese-invested Dai Duong paper project located in Long Giang Industrial Park due to risks of environmental pollution, according to newswire Tuoitre.

Gov’t cannot go it alone in protecting environment –Vietnam News

Local authorities should get more involved and significantly improve their management of environmental issues, Chu Phạm Ngọc Hiển, Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. A key issue discussed at the conference involved the division of responsibilities between management agencies, especially in response to environmental crises. (See also: Negligent approval hurts the environment –VietNamNet Bridge (Interview))



ASEAN insurance role in infrastructure financing –The Jakarta Post

Insurance, known for its long-term nature, plays an essential role in supporting and sustaining economic growth in the ASEAN region. Beyond the traditional protection products, the insurance industry provides capital with a long-term investment horizon and generates opportunities for public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects that are instrumental to economic growth.

How Mekong fish use “a ladder” for migration –Channel News Asia (Video)

The Xayaburi dam in northern Laos is equipped with a fish ladder, an 18-metre passage designed to help fish migrate up and down the Mekong river. Anuparp Wonglakorn from at Xayaburi Power Co Ltd, the project owner, explains how the technology works.

What happens now? 5 questions about US aid under Trump –DEVEX
given the absence of a public service track record to examine, as well as Trump’s tendency to float policy ideas that don’t necessarily imply firm commitments, actual answers are harder to come by at this point. There are two reasons for cautious — and relative — optimism among development professionals.



MIC working to avoid line ministry approval for investments –Myanmar Times

The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) is working on guidelines that would allow foreign investors to avoid the time-consuming process of asking government ministries for permission under the new Myanmar Investment Law. Receiving a green light from line ministries is already a “big barrier” for investors in Myanmar, whereas dealing directly with MIC takes much less time.

Rakhine state violence threatens Myanmar’s reform –Global Risk Insights

Chinese companies have a record for investing in areas with human rights problems, and have shown a willingness to invest in Rakhine despite the state’s treatment of the Rohingya. In contrast, instability in Rakhine has deterred other foreign investors from speculating. Plans for the Ponnagyun SEZ on Sittwe’s outskirts purportedly fell through because the South Korean investor was deterred by continuing state violence.



Court dismisses gold-mining firm’s case against ThaiPBSThe Nation

The Criminal Court dismissed the defamation case filed against Thai Public Broadcasting Service (ThaiPBS) over a report on gold-mining operations in Loei province. The decision was based on the fact that the report presented honest comments from local people.




Small Infrastructure has a Big Impact in China –Brink Asia

It is a familiar dilemma to policymakers around Asia: How much infrastructure, and what kind, is enough? How should developing economies prioritize when the needs are so great? China’s experience offers a surprising answer. While large-scale infrastructure sometimes generates GDP growth (it often does not), smaller is often better for poverty reduction.
Oil to stay more valuable than renewables even if prices never recover, says HSBC –The National Business

Oil will still be more profitable than clean and renewable energy even if crude prices never rebound, according to HSBC’s global head of energy finance. “Oil is much more profitable than renewables,” said HSBC’s William Stevens in London on Tuesday. “You can’t put a price on the wind or the sunshine but you can on oil.

Trump should join the China-led AIIB to tap potential in emerging Asian markets –Global Times

Beijing is likely to adopt an open attitude toward the potential of the US’ joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Although it is forecasted that China and the US will encounter increasing trade frictions after Donald Trump is sworn in, a Trump presidency will probably create new spaces for the two nations to strengthen economic cooperation.

Asian transport projects may thwart efforts to save world’s tigers –The Guardian

The WWF said an infrastructure boom in coming years will lead to the construction of 11,000km of new transport projects, carving up the big cat’s habitats and stopping them from travelling across the huge ranges they need. There are also plans for a transport link between Bangkok and a port slated for Dawei in Myanmar, near a critical corridor between two tiger reserves.





CSO said some companies have not postponed their sand dredging in Koh Kong province yet –Radio Free Asia Khmer

CSO and environmental activists in Koh Kong province said that sand dredging and exporting sand of some companies are still active now a day. They would like to request to Ministry of Mine and Energy, especially government of Cambodia, should reconsider about those sand dredging license in the sea and even should cancel those license and consider more about natural conservation. Mr. Dit Tyna, a spokesman of Ministry of Mine and Energy, said that the Ministry will conduct a study in depth about exporting sand. Moreover, the ministry also looks for collaboration with CSO to figure out all illegal sand dredging companies as well.



Anti-coal groups protest at the government house, demanded the government to stop Krabi coal-fired power plant –Green News TV

On 18 November, the Protect Andaman from Coal Network gathered together at the Government House and submitted the letter to Prime Minister, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha demanded the government to keep the promise to end the coal-fired power plant in Krabi province and be 100% self-sufficient using renewable energy. Following the previous negotiation, Thailand government has agreed to suspend the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process and stop the bidding for Krabi Coal-fired Power Plant construction. In addition, the government agreed to support Krabi province to develop renewable energy and be energy self-sufficient. Although the government actions make many believe that this will not lead to a conclusion as agreed.



ARTICLE: Managing the Mekong’s Economy for Whom? –The Mekong Eye

“Water is liquid capital” proclaims the lead-out of World Wide Fund for Nature’s new report “The Role of the Mekong in the Economy.”  The report’s findings stress that despite the Mekong’s central role to the economies of countries in the Lower Mekong Basin, river management decisions are not being coordinated with long term economic development, nor planning efforts. Unless decision makers start considering the connections between water choices and economic development, the region’s prosperity seems destined for trouble.

UPDATE: Communities’ new tool for participation: manual on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in the Mekong Region –Mekong Partnership for the Environment

USAID-supported Mekong Partnership for the Environment partner EarthRights International is bringing a new tool to communities across the Mekong region. On 10 November 2016, EarthRights held a workshop on “Community Engagement in Environment Impact Assessment in Cambodia and other Mekong Countries” in Stung Treng province, Cambodia. The specific objectives were to disseminate the recently-developed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in the Mekong Region manual, to exchange ideas on how to advance the inclusion of community-based approaches into formal EIA processes, and to strengthen networking among CSOs and other stakeholders from Cambodia and the Mekong region.

STATEMENT: Don Sahong Dam – disaster in the making that must be halted! –Save the Mekong Coalition via the Ecologist

The construction of the Don Sahong Dam in Laos PDR must be halted until full information on the project’s impacts – in particular the fate of millions of fish that migrate each year through the Hou Sahong channel now being dammed – has been published, writes the Save the Mekong Coalition in this open letter sent today to the project developers.

REPORT: Tainted Lands: Corruption in Large-Scale Land Deals –Global Witness

A surge in land grabbing over the past decade has seen millions of people displaced from their homes and farmland and pushed deeper into poverty. As demand for food, fuel and commodities increases pressure on land, companies are all too often striking deals with corrupt state officials without the consent of the people who live on it. Until now, there has been little analysis of the role that corruption plays in the transfer of land and natural resources from local communities to political and business elites.

CASE STUDY: Lao PDR Weaves a Renewable Energy Future –ADB

Construction of the Nam Ngum hydropower plant started in 1968. Harnessing the power of the country’s largest watershed, the first hydropower plant in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was producing 30 megawatts of electricity within four years.

ARTICLE: Trust, Communication, Data, Behind Nam Ngum Basin Success -ADB via AEC News

Construction of the Nam Ngum hydropower plant started in 1968. Harnessing the power of the country’s largest watershed, the first hydropower plant in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was producing 30 megawatts of electricity within four years.


Editor’s notes:

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