By The Mekong Eye
Mekong Region, December 16, 2016
MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)
To December 14, 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 5000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.
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The Mekong River Basin is threatened by rapid development that would adversely affect the people and wildlife within this region. To conserve the Mekong and help support the communities who live beside it, the U.S. Agency for International Development has just awarded a new 5-year initiative that will be led by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Global Water Center. The initiative, “The Wonders of the Mekong: A Foundation for Sustainable Development and Resilience,” aims to preserve a functional, biodiverse and healthy Mekong River.
ASEAN Youths Form River Watch Network –KIC via Burma News International
Youths from seven Association of South East Asian countries (ASEAN) who recently participated in the Regional River Watch and Children’s Ecological Rights Forum have agreed to establish a regional river watch network. The network aims to enable a better exchange of information between the countries.
Activists Alarmed After PM Promotes Don Sahong –The Cambodia Daily
As construction on the Don Sahong dam near the Cambodia-Laos border passes its halfway point, activists and locals are increasingly concerned over the disappearance of Irawaddy dolphins and incidences of illness they suspect are caused by the muddied water.
Cambodian villagers are worried that the few remaining Irrawaddy dolphins in a pool in the Mekong River could die off as they are forced to migrate upstream into Laos to escape disturbances caused by the construction of a massive hydropower dam project, local residents and activists said.
Over the last two decades, the population living off the Mekong in the downstream delta region has increased by at least 10 million people, upping the demand for fish and leading to a phenomena scientists call “fishing down,” which results in the depletion of large fish that are then replaced by once discarded smaller fish. “Laos should stop the dams because they are having a big impact on fishing,” said Ra Thuy, a 41-year-old fisherman who also plies these waters with a sampan and net. “The dams are stopping the fish from traveling upstream to spawn”.
Power line project threatens highly endangered bird: org –The Phnom Penh Post
A proposed power transmission line to be constructed at the edge of the Tonle Sap Floodplain Protected Landscape as early as next year will pose a new threat to a critically endangered bird species known as the Bengal Florican, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Assembly Wants Answers From Mines Minister –The Cambodia Daily
The National Assembly’s anti-corruption commission has asked Suy Sem, the minister of mines and energy, to appear for questioning on December 15, as villagers in Koh Kong province cast doubt on government claims that it had temporarily banned sand mining there.
$30m casino chatter on east bank of Mekong River –World Casino News
This past weekend, it was announced via The Star that MQ Technology Bhd had partnered with Cambodian Resorts and Entertainment Co Ltd with plans to create a hotel and casino along with a theme park. The project would cost $30 million to complete and would be located in Banteay Chakrey which is an area of the Prey Veng Province of Cambodia.
Development firm owners charged with illegal logging –The Phnom Penh Post
The Preah Vihear Provincial Court yesterday charged the two owners of the Hong Sopheap Development Company as well as one employee and a soldier for allegedly cutting trees in protected forests, a court official said.
Villagers Allege Tycoon Burned Down Spirit Forest –The Cambodia Daily
Bunong villagers representing hundreds of families in Mondolkiri province’s O’Reang district have demanded a meeting with officials after accusing men working for a CPP-linked tycoon of burning down a sacred forest. The local said that the forest had been burned and an old home was left a smoldering ruin.
Sordid Tales of Evictions, Development Laid Bare in Study –The Cambodia Daily
When an $80 million, four-year development plan was announced this September, the government displayed an unprecedented level of communication with the future evictees, according to a study released by housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT). But in other cases even, “when residents are pre-warned of eviction and the planned usage of the site, there tends to be very little or no information publicly shared beyond such notifications,” the report says.
Feature: Chinese road builders help improve lives in Laos –Xinhua via China.org
“With better roads, we can transport our farm produce easily to sell. We can plant more, earn more money and no longer have to worry that our produce may spoil in the fields before it ever makes it to the consumers,” Ketmane, a local villager at Muang Xay told Xinhua. With the improvement of roads in northern Laos, there are more visits from tourists who have driven themselves from China, especially those from Yunnan, Hunan and Sichuan, which brings more revenue to local residents.
The Mong Ton is the largest of five dams planned for Myanmar’s stretch of the Salween River. If it is built, traditional ways of life, and areas of global ecological significance, will be gone forever. The Mong Ton dam will provide 90% of its hydroelectricity to China and Thailand, leaving ethnic minority communities in Myanmar’s Shan state to bear the costs.
A glimmer of hope for the Salween? –Myanmar Times
In a noticeable turnaround from the last plan, the roadmap – which identifies river basins where further hydropower projects will be built – no longer includes any dams on the upper section of the Nu/Salween River in China. This is a major reversal from government plans in 2013 to build five dams on the upper section of the river. It signals an important victory for the scientists and environmental groups in China who have worked for over a decade to document the biodiversity found along the Nu River and make a case for preserving one of the last free-flowing transnational rivers in Asia.
Myanmar Rivers Network has called for the suspension of construction on mega dam projects, a special economic zone and extraction of value-added mineral resources until a federal agreement is signed. The network released a statement saying that the respective governments and companies must give full compensations to villagers who had been moved by force because of previous dam construction projects.
National environmental policy gets an update –Myanmar Times
Myanmar will get a new national environmental policy in early 2017, say officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Speaking at the final round of national consultations, the deputy director general of the Department of Environmental Conservation, U Than Aye, said the ministry has been working with the UN to develop the framework, which will soon be finalised and presented to the Union government for endorsement.
A coalition of 422 civil society and environmental groups are calling on the government to halt all proposed coal and large-scale hydropower projects, citing a raft of negative impacts on vulnerable local communities. At a Rangoon press conference hosted by EarthRights International, the campaigners urged the government to pivot toward community-led renewable energy programmes.
RID set to go ahead with Mae Wong dam –Bangkok Post
The Royal Irrigation Department, which is constructing the controversial Mae Wong dam has insisted it will complete all environmental and health impact assessment procedures before the scheme goes ahead. Deputy director-general said the assessment would be in line with the Central Administrative Court’s ruling that decreed a cabinet resolution approving in principle the construction of the controversial dam should stand. It rejected an environmental group’s bid to derail the project.
Australian gold miner Kingsgate Consolidated is pinning its hopes on new Thai mining law to keep its Thailand gold mine afloat into 2017. Australian executives Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd are hoping a new Thai mining bill passed by parliament will save its mining operations from closure at the end of the year.
Civic groups slam mining bill –Bangkok Post
Civic groups slammed the new mining bill adopted by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). A revised version has incurred heavy criticism from civil society players since its drafting begun over a year ago. The new legislation decentralises the regulation of mining activities, giving authority to local and regional authorities, as well as relevant committees, to approve or oversee certain operations. (See also: Critics step up mining bill fight –Bangkok Post)
Activists oppose longer Chevron concession –The Nation
THE THAI Energy Reform Watch group (TER Watch) urged the government to reverse its decision to extend a petroleum concession to US oil giant Chevron. TER Watch submitted a petition to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha opposing his Cabinet’s resolution to give Chevron 10 more years to explore and produce oil and gas in the B8/32 block in the Gulf of Thailand after its current 20-year concession expires in 2020.
About 1,000 villagers submitted a complaint to the local People’s Committee office about what they consider to be unfair compensation for those affected by a Taiwanese steel plant’s toxic chemical spill. The group of petitioners argued that the amount of compensation offered to them is not enough to cover the losses they have suffered in the country’s worst environmental disaster.
Hanoi diagnoses fish death causes –Vietnam News
The recent mass fish deaths in several lakes in Hà Nội were in part caused by untreated wastewater discharge and weather changes, the city’s People’s Committee has said. Water in the city’s lakes was contaminated by industrial wastewater, since most of the lakes serve as retention basins. Waste and wastewater discharged by locals also polluted the lakes.
Hydropower’s heavy toll –VietNamNet Bridge
A river too silted up for boats to sail through. A field choked by sand intrusion. These are two of the photos that Nguyen Khanh Tam Anh brought to a conference held this week on hydropower plant development to illustrate the heavy toll that his family and many others have been suffering due to the mass development of hydropower plants in the country’s central regions over the past 10 years.
Sediment decline hurting Vietnam’s rivers –VietNamNet Bridge
Concerned agencies and institutions have been asked to research the impact of exploitation activities and draft plans to reduce further degradation of the rivers.
Storing water is must for water resource management: experts –VietNamNet Bridge
Vietnam, which has proposed a transboundary water resources management policy, will take the initiative in storing water to cover its needs instead of relying on other countries. It is necessary for Vietnam to propose a cooperation policy among countries through which the rivers go, so as to optimize their use, experts have said.
Land corruption on the rise: NEU research –Vietnam News
Interaction between firms and public land administration officials pose major and serious corruption risks, posing a threat to public-private partnership (PPP) policies aiming to boost Việt Nam’s infrastructure development. “Research and practice tell us that management and use of land is one of the fields with highest risks of corruption in Việt Nam. This affects sustainable development and residents’ life quality,” the Principal of National Economics University (NEU) said.
Why is Climate-Conscious Vietnam Choosing Coal Over Nuclear –South China Morning Post
Rising costs and environmental fears bring an end to Vietnam’s nascent nuclear power programme, forcing the climate-conscious country back into the embrace of coal. Vietnam’s decision to abandon its nascent nuclear power programme and turn back to cheaper, dirtier, coal says much about where the nation thought it was headed – and about where it has ended up.
Investors waiting for higher wind power prices –VietNamNet Bridge
Up to 19 wind power projects have been registered in Binh Thuan Province but investors are yet to start work on them, saying the current selling price regulated for this source of green energy is below production cost.
While Vietnam has been largely successful at rebuilding forests within its own borders, the country now imports much of its wood from neighboring Cambodia – where logging is often done illegally and unsustainably. While Vietnam has come a long way in rebuilding its forests over the past 50 years, the problem of deforestation hasn’t disappeared. Instead, as global demand for timber products persists, it has simply been exported.
New Cambodian Environmental Journalism Network Urges More Comprehensive Coverage of Environment –Apsara News Network via Mekong Eye
The just launched Cambodian Environmental Journalism Network (CEJN) says journalists should work across borders with Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese and Lao journalists in order to share stories on the environment. As a result, the Mekong Partnership for the Environment encouraged the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies to establish the CEJN. While the media coverage of the environment in Cambodia is still limited, CEJN urged media organizations to enhance comprehensive coverage in cooperation with media in the neighboring countries.
Killing of Myanmar journalist: another victim of illegal logging and forest crime? -EIA via Mizzima (Commentary)
The killing in Myanmar of a journalist who covered issues related to illegal logging in the country must be investigated thoroughly and all findings made public. It is the responsibility of all of us to protect and work in partnership with those who are working in extreme and dangerous circumstances to end the impunity that exists in Myanmar for those few who benefit from environmental crime. (See also: Monywa-based Eleven Media reporter found beaten to death -Myanmar Times)
Taiwan investors among world’s most caring about environment: study –Focus Taiwan News Channel
Asian investors have been found far more likely to pay attention to environmental and social issues than the Europeans, and Taiwan is one of 10 countries in the world whose investors are most concerned about the environment, according to a survey by Schroders, a London-based asset management company. Taiwan ranks seventh with a score of 7.3 in the study, which collected responses from 20,000 investors in 28 countries who had a minimum of 10,000 euros (US$10,557) invested.
Hydropower Market to Gain from Enhanced Demand in End Use Industries till 2020 – Grand View Research, Inc via SAT Press Release (Press Release)
The global installed capacity for hydropower is expected to reach 1,524 GW by 2020, according to a new study by Grand View Research, Inc. Cost advantages of hydropower based electricity generation and the substitution of fossil fuel based power production in an attempt to reduce carbon emission is expected to drive market demand. According to the estimates, sustainable hydropower will help avoid approximately one billion tons of annual carbon dioxide emission by 2050.
For most ASEAN nations, economic growth has consistently outstripped infrastructure development over long periods. Developing Asian economies need substantial investment to meet current infrastructure needs. The funding gap is even more acute when the strong economic growth in these countries is considered along with the impact that growth will have in terms of the demand for more and better infrastructure.
Unit to tackle resource crimes –The Phnom Penh Post
The government has established a new taskforce to crack down on natural resource crimes. The taskforce will be headed up by military police General Sao Sokha, who also chairs the anti-logging taskforce, a body that has seen mixed – if widely touted – results since its establishment in January. (See also: Commission to Save Natural Resources –The Khmer Times)
What are the Challenges for ASEAN in a Changing Global Landscape? –Brink News (Interview)
A rapidly changing global economic and political landscape brings with it challenges, a few anxieties and new opportunities for ASEAN. BRINK Asia spoke with Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, about the changing dynamics that ASEAN is faced with and their wider implications for the region.
China and the World –Foreign Affairs
In 2013, China launched an initiative to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The AIIB, Beijing argued, could help fill a multitrillion-dollar gap in financing for railways, roads, power plants, and other infrastructure in the world’s fastest-growing region. However, Washington contended that the new institution could undermine the existing system by offering investment without imposing the anticorruption and environmental standards used by existing groups.
Nuclear Power to Expand in Asia: Expert –News 18 (Opinion)
Days after Vietnam stalled its plans to build nuclear power plants citing safety concerns, a nuclear expert in India says overall nuclear power is likely to expand in Asian countries. In the post-Fukushima world, where safety concerns were repeatedly raised around nuclear power plants, but that the incident was “location specific”. He also added that eventually, Vietnam may pursue nuclear power as well.
China’s clean-energy giants on an overseas shopping spree –South China Morning Post
With ample government resources at their disposal China General Nuclear Power and Three Gorges lead the charge on solar, wind and hydro international investment targets. Chinese state-funded renewable energy firms are spreading the net overseas, as quality new projects become harder to come by at home, and have already been successful in snapping up some prime operational projects, while bidding for others, both in developed and emerging markets.
After a flood of outbound investment, China is cracking down on capital outflows as a weakening currency adds to concerns over capital flight. The government briefing for state media came three days after The Wall Street Journal reported that China’s cabinet-level State Council planned to impose “strict control” with reviews of foreign investments and international acquisitions.
LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS
Kouy Indigenous people requests authorities to investigate on illegal logging –Radio Free Asia Khmer
Kouy Indigenous People in Chvang village of Som Ang commune of Thalaborivat district in Stung Treng province requests authorities to investigate illegal logging in their communities where is part of protected forest area. Kouy indigenous people said that new comers and dealers continue to clear forest to get land for cropping in their protected forest. on 12 December, Mr. Ouk Mao, Kouy indigenous people said that forest land has been cleared about 2000 hectare. And local villagers rarely see authority taking any actions to intervene this illegal logging. He raised a concern that if there is no intervention, protected forest will be gone soon. Since 22 September, the royal government of Cambodia has released mechanisms to intervene and ban illegal logging in the country.
Will Vietnam launch a “Resolution 10” on renewable energy? –Hanoi TV via The Mekong Eye
Vietnam has strongly committed to develop renewable energy. In recent years, Vietnam has decided to develop renewable energy (RE), especially for wind and solar, with the aim to ensure the national energy security. Experts expect implementation of these commitments will create a “Resolution 10” for the energy sector. Resolution 10 is the name of a critically important Vietnamese reform in 1988. This policy helped to liberalize the freedom and the production potential in rural and agricultural economies. Read full English translation on The Mekong Eye.
RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES
HANDBOOK: An investor’s guide to responsible development: An MPE Primer on Investment –Mekong Partnership for the Environment/Pact
Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) has been working with governments, civil society and the private sector to reduce the social and environmental impacts of large-scale development projects. MPE is supporting the development of Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment, working with regional stakeholders to improve EIA and public participation policy and practices, and supporting banks to adopt clear sustainable lending practices. This document provides guidance on creating responsible development projects in the Mekong region, including items to consider across the seven stages of project development.
INTERVIEW: Author Q&A: How communities struggling with climate and development are “Living with the Mekong” –The Mekong Eye
The richly illustrated book Living with the Mekong provides readers with insights into urban developments in one of the world’s most threatened deltas. Joep Janssen, a Dutch urban delta expert, travelled through Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City area researching the impacts of climate change and development on farmers and urban inhabitants. The Mekong Eye talked to Joep, via email, about urbanization, climate change, development, and how decision makers in the Mekong region might learn from the Dutch experience.
CASE STUDY: Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues Matter: A Case Study On An Extractive Gold Mining Site In Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia –Mekong Partnership for the Environment
Over the past year and a half, Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) partner Development and Partnership in Action (DPA) has worked to build a platform for effective multi-stakeholder engagement on the impacts of mining activities in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri Province. DPA has worked to educate and empower community members to voice their concerns and provide input on mining activities, and has also facilitated productive and collaborative meetings between the mining companies, community members and local government. With DPA’s support, these stakeholders have established an increasingly trusting and transparent working relationship.
UPDATE: Launch of Open Data Portal Brings Environment and Development Data to Myanmar –Mekong Partnership for the Environment
USAID-supported Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) partners have launched an innovative data portal in Myanmar. Open Development Myanmar is now available to the public and will 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, Open Development Mekong, which gathers and contextualizes objective data on development trends in the Mekong region.
ARTICLE: When will a basin-scale vision for the Mekong come to reality? –The Mekong Eye
The Mekong basin is being stirred up by dams, both on the mainstream and tributaries, despite the warning that they pose serious threats to an ecologically and agriculturally vital area of the world. Experts say a basin scale vision is crucial for good water governance, but when will it become a reality?
PRESS RELEASE: 4 Years We Still Remember Your Name –Sombath Somphone & Beyond Project
Four years ago, on the night of 15 December 2012, Lao senior community development figure Sombath Somphone disappeared in Vientiane, Laos. His disappearance proves to be a violence against our fundamental human rights to live in a safe and peaceful society. Click here to see “4 Years We Still Remember Your Name” (Video).
NETWORK: Journalists: join Mekong Matters Journalism Network for opportunities, connections and resources –Mekong Matters/EJN
Supporting and connecting journalists who report on development and the environment to tell the region and the world about the region’s interconnected environmental crises, journalists from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam formed the Mekong Matters Journalism Network in September, 2014. Mekong Matters has grown into the “go-to” resource for environmental journalism in the Mekong region, and has supported hundreds of journalists, events and stories.
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