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Mekong Eye News Digest: 04 January 2017

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.

By The Mekong Eye

Mekong Region, January 11, 2017

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

To 04 January 2017

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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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT GLOBAL CONTEXT LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS  RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

 

 

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT 

China Launches Lancang-Mekong Economic development initiative –Tactical Investor (Blog)

For centuries, the Mekong Delta region had witnessed wars and peace, and now residents on the river’s basin are seeking greater prosperity and development, while Beijing hopes to play a more pivotal role. The 1st Lancang-Mekong leaders meeting is held in Sanya on March 23. Leaders from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to attend along with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Governments in the region plan to coordinate on water resources, security and development, particularly in connectivity infrastructure, production capacity, agriculture and poverty alleviation.

Spare the Mekong –Bangkok Post (Opinion)

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government made an out-of-the-blue decision that paves the way for the demolition of the Mekong River’s rocky outcrops for the sake of “improved waterway navigation”. But the plan to destroy the river’s outcrops and disrupt its ecosystem is obviously not viable for the river and must not be accepted by any countries, including Thailand.

 

CAMBODIA

Illegal Timber Transporters Linked to Singaporean Plantation –The Cambodia Daily

Authorities in Mondolkiri province have arrested five men who were allegedly hired to transport two truckloads of illegally logged wood to a rubber plantation that has been linked to timber laundering. Within a few months, however, the task force announced that it had seized nearly 240 cubic meters of timber.

Plans afoot to expand the capital through land rezoning –The Phnom Penh Post

Along with Phnom Penh city hall, the government is planning to carve out and merge pieces of land from Takhmao city and Mok Kompoul district in Kandal province into Phnom Penh in the near future. At present, relevant departments from the Ministry of Interior and the Phnom Penh Municipality are still conducting analyses on the technical aspects of the project.

Evictees Plan Occupation on 5th Anniversary –The Cambodia Daily

Dozens of families who were evicted from Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community five years ago and sent to live on a plot of land in Kandal province said they would attempt to occupy apartment buildings now standing where they once lived in an effort to secure greater compensation.

Opponents of new road gather at B Kak mosque –The Phnom Penh Post

Cham Muslims assembled outside Boeung Kak’s Al-Serkal Mosque last week to protest against City Hall’s decision to build a road that will run just 50 metres from where the mosque sits. Hundreds of Cham Muslims protesting a divisive road to be built on the land of a Boeung Kak mosque appealed to higher powers for intervention: Allah, and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Koh Kong Protesters Submit Petitions to Hun Sen –The Cambodia Daily

Protesters from Koh Kong province embroiled in a decadelong land dispute submitted two petitions to government offices amid a stakeout of the capital that has been ongoing since last month. The protesters, who say their land was stolen by sugarcane plantations in 2006, have been camped out at Samakki Raingsey pagoda, refusing to go home until officials intervene in their dispute.

 

LAO PDR

Kasy town to be relocated to make way for railway –Vientiane Times

The urban centre of Kasy district in Vientiane province will be relocated to an area near the Kasy road to allow for construction of the Laos-China railway. A plot of flat land located in the Kasy road area has been allocated, requiring the relocation of about 400 houses and government offices that currently line Road 13 North.

Construction of Laos-China railway kicks off –Vientiane Times

Construction of the Laos-China railway to link Vientiane with the Chinese border will finally get underway following an official ceremony held in LuangPrabang province. The mega project will be completed by the end of 2021 and the railway will form part of the planned regional rail route to link China to Singapore via Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.

 

MYANMAR

The NLD should start 2017 by scrapping the Myitsone dam –Myanmar Times (Commentary)

Twelve months ago, many pundits on Myanmar predicted the National League for Democracy-led government would, once it assumed power, quickly scrap the controversial Myitsone dam project. The arguments against the Myitsone Dam project are pervasive and convincing. Decision-makers in Myanmar should scrap the project as their first action in 2017.

Plans Announced for SEZ and New Airport Terminal in Southern Rangoon –The Irrawaddy

A Rangoon regional minister explained in Tuesday’s parliamentary session plans to develop an area across four townships for a special economic zone and a new airport terminal. According to the statement—Letkokkon, Kawhmu and Dala townships are listed as hosting the initiative.

The fight for the Salween, mighty river still running free –The Interpreter

Beijing’s latest hydropower development plan has dropped all references to dams on this river, which is known as the Nu or Upper Salween in China, the Salween in Thailand, and the Thanlwin in parts of Myanmar. China’s updated five-year plan, published in November, confirms the victory of communities, environmental groups and scientists who have campaigned for more than a decade to keep the Nu flowing free. (See also: The plan to dam Asia’s last free-flowing, international river –The Huffington Post (Blog)

Locals worried by potential under-compensation for felled rubber trees –Burma News International

Locals are worried they won’t receive adequate compensation for their rubber and seasonal fruit tree plantations after they are felled to set up power lines connecting Mon State’s capital to Myawaddy Town in Karen State.

Welcome to Mogok, Myanmar’s mysterious mining mecca –Southeast Asia Globe

High in the hills of northeastern Myanmar, past a few sleepy army checkpoints on a stretch of road where mobile phones lose their signal, an ageing signpost set against a mountainous landscape reads: “WELCOME TO RUBY LAND”. This is the entrance to a little-known and seldom-visited town called Mogok, which is said to be the source of 90% of the world’s finest rubies.

Tenasserim villagers take Heinda mine battle to Supreme Court DVB

Villagers from the country’s southernmost division remain locked in an unprecedented legal battle with a Thai-owned tin mining company, which they accuse of flouting a regional order to halt operations while the case proceeds. Their villages have been plagued by a raft of environmental and health concerns.

 

THAILAND

Decisions due on coal, gas, petroleum auctions –Bangkok Post

The development of two coal-fired power plants in the South are the retirement of the Erawan and Bongkot gas blocks and the long-delayed 21st round of new concessions for 29 petroleum are very crucial and controversial. Energy experts and operators had initially hoped that the issues would be concluded by 2017 before the military government steps down. But final decisions appear to be a long way yet due to strong opposition from villagers in the case of the power plants, and from energy activists and NGOs on the concession issue.

Development project rows may escalate –Bangkok Post

Residents fear environmental impact. Over the past year, numerous development projects and policies have ended up in conflict between government agencies and local residents. Some of them were put on hold and others are ongoing. For 2017, a number of conflicts have the potential to erupt or at least see an escalation. These include the following projects in the article.

Phetchabun national park road proposal put on hold –The Nation

The National Environment Board has resolved against the Highways Department’s proposal to expand roads in Phetchabun province’s Nam Nao National Park, saying the proposal should be reviewed and other feasible options considered. Phetchabun national park road proposal put on hold. 

Environmental Justice In Thailand –Chanel News Asia (Video)

The Mekong River is a source of livelihood for millions.  But a web of business deals and official corruption threaten to destroy it.  In this episode, a Thai activist and lawyer seeks to stop the construction of a dam in Laos, and defend villagers’ rights to the land and river.

 

VIETNAM

Experts warn about environmental pollution’s impacts on GDP growth –Vietnam News

Natural disasters and environmental pollution can reduce GDP by 0.6 per cent per year from 2016-20, according to the National Centre for Socio-economic Information and Forecast (NCIF) under the Ministry of Planning and Investment. Therefore, changes are needed to reduce the economy’s reliance on non-renewable energy.

Industry Spotlight: Vietnam’s Renewable Energy Market –Vietnam Briefing

Hydropower remains the most popular alternative but in the coming years, solar, wind and bioenergy are ready to establish themselves as new energy sources in Vietnam. By 2030, this is expected to grow to over 10 percent as the government welcomes private investments in the energy sector and implements incentives for investments.

Environmental issues a major concern among public in 2016 –VietNamNet Bridge

The environmental disaster caused by the steel complex of Taiwanese Formosa Group discharged untreated waste water polluted four provinces in the central region, caused mass fish deaths and damaged local people’s livelihoods was just an example of environmental disaster in 2016. 2016 has been a year full of burning environmental issues, with Vietnam saying that it would not welcome foreign investors who conduct transfer pricing or cause environmental problems. (See also: Vietnam suffers 50 major toxic waste scandals in 2016 –Vietnam Express International)

Thermal plants threatened by their own waste – Vietnam News

The National Power Utility Electricity of Vietnamam (EVN) said that just four tonnes out of 15.8 million tonnes of coal ash and gypsum discharged by the plants every year are treated. The remaining quantity is stored or buried around thermal power plants or transported to landfills, posing threats to the environment and causing respiratory diseases among local residents.

Deputy PM urges study on north-south express railway –Vietnam Plus

Deputy Prime Minister has urged the Ministry of Transport to accelerate finalizing the pre-feasibility study on the north-south express railway project. The study should be appraised by independent, experienced foreign consultants before being submitted to the Prime Minister and the State Appraisal Council, he stressed.

Power projects mired in land-use discord –Vietnam News

Several contentious issues are dogging implementation of key projects managed by the Southern Power Management Board (SPBM), contradictory regulations and land evaluation and compensation rules that residents are not ready to accept. The board currently manages investments that are designed to meet energy demands of 23 provinces and municipalities in the Southern region in the year 2016 and beyond.

Terraced hydropower plants on small rivers contribute to flooding –VietNamNet Bridge

The heavy rains of 400 mm and floods since mid-October 2016 have caused more than 100 deaths, damaged 42,800 hectares of rice fields and 39,000 hectares of crops. “The program on building terraced hydropower plants on small rivers is a wrong decision. It is the root cause of floods,” said Vu Trong Hong, former Deputy Minister of Water Resources, now chair of the Vietnam Water Resources Association.

 

 

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT                                             

How data holds businesses accountable for deforestation –Green Biz

Trase — Transparency for Sustainable Economies — is the brainchild of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the U.K.-based Global Canopy Programme (GCP). “Over the next five years, we aim to cover over 70 percent of the total production in major forest-risk commodities, for the first time laying bare the flows of globally traded commodities that are driving deforestation,” said Toby Gardner, a research fellow at SEI who is masterminding the project. Through transparency, Gardner hopes for accountability. And if the deforesters are accountable, he hopes they will stop — or be forced to stop.

Bad year for human rights activists in Asean –The Nation

Activists across Asean faced serious threats from authorities, powerful people and corporates during 2016, highlighting the lack of human rights awareness in the region, rights campaigners said. This year has been a tough one for activists who campaigned in various fields in the region, with instances of murder, forced disappearance, threats, and legal prosecution.

Quick Take: ADB still has more muscle than the AIIB –China Economic Review

It has been almost a year since the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was formed, since it was launched in January 2016, the AIIB has approved eight projects in Oman, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and Indonesia totalling just over $1 billion. This compares to the 126 projects the ADB has approved over the course of 2016, with latest annual figures showing total investments at a record $27 billion in 2015.

 

MYANMAR

Police Arrest Third Suspect in Death of Myanmar Reporter –RFA

Myanmar authorities have arrested three suspects in the murder of a local reporter who was badly beaten and left to die on the side of a highway in the town of Monywa in Sagaing region last December. Soe Moe Tun, the Monywa-based reporter for Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group who had been reporting on illegal logging and wood smuggling, the mining industry, was found dead on Dec. 13.

 

THAILAND

Push for foreign investment –Bangkok Post

To achieve its target, the government plans to issue three new laws known as BoI Plus to grant greater privileges to new investors. Investment remained a government priority in 2016, mostly through strong promotion by the Board of Investment (BoI). The government plans stronger investment promotion in 2017, plus legal amendments and new regulations to promote foreign investment.

 

VIETNAM

The Ascendancy of Social Media in Vietnam –Indrastra

The rising influence of social media has contributed to noticeable changes in public awareness and in the role of the traditional media in Vietnam. David Brown (2015) pointed to the power of the social media in “stealing readers from the conventional press.” Facebook has become the most important and influential outlet for information. Mainstream journalists now have to rely on the key issues debated on Facebook to develop their stories on the print media. As a result, mainstream print media is increasingly moving online and mobile. Pressure on mainstream media is building in face of the challenge of losing the interest and trust of readers.

 

GLOBAL CONTEXT

Top 10 Happy Environmental Stories of 2016 –Mongabay

As always, Mongabay covered a mix of environmental stories this year. While some species went extinct, several new species were discovered. Some forests were wiped out, but others were restored. Mongabay take a look at some of the “happier” stories of 2016 (in no particular order) — from the declaration of large marine parks to animals that are recovering after years of decline, a reserve for the world’s largest primate, and increased restrictions on wildlife trade.

The top 5 water stories in 2016 –Eco Business

Hydropower remains contentious in Southeast Asia and water shortages raised tensions in India this year. There was progress on cleaning up the oceans and the conservation of marine habitats, but warming seas took a toll of coral reefs. The World Economic Forum named water the number one threat in 2015 and it was also ranked a top risk in 2016. Read the top 5 water stories of this year.

Chinese Renewable Power Giant Builds Global Empire –AP via The New York Times

Industrywide, China’s state-owned utilities have spent more than $30 billion to buy all or parts of power suppliers in Brazil, Germany, New Zealand and other countries over the past five years. The bulk of that came from State Grid, which has spent $22 billion in Brazil, Australia, Italy, Greece and Portugal. In 2013, it made China’s biggest utility acquisition in a developed country, paying $6.7 billion for 60 percent of Australia’s SGSP (Australia) Assets Pty. Ltd.

Solar power now cheaper than coal in some parts –Bangkok Post

Solar power is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world. In less than a decade, it is likely to be the lowest-cost option almost everywhere. In 2016, countries from Chile to UAE broke records with deals to generate electricity from sunshine for less than three cents a kilowatt-hour, half the average global cost of coal power.

 

LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS  

BURMESE LANGUAGE

Kaladan Seaport Project could bring prosperity or social problems -7 Day Daily

The Kaladan seaport project, invested in by the government of India, could promote better communication and transportation between India and Myanmar, especially in Rakhine and Chin state. Mr. Bo Zwe, the chairperson of the Chin parliament said, after the seaport, the project will upgrade, and develop the road within the Chin state. “the local Chin communities fear that even though the project could bring better job opportunities and prosperity to the local communities, it could also bring some social and cultural problems,” Mr. Zar Ni Aung, the executive committee member of the Khumi Literature and Cultural Association, expressed the concerns. The project was started in 2008.

 

THAI LANGUAGE

Community Issues-Environment and direction for community protest towards the year 2017 –Khaosod

Despite calling itself the government that will return happiness to Thai citizens in the whole nation, there are villagers in many community areas that are in constant alarm as the state and capitalist are bringing large development projects into the area. This includes the economic and social policy of the government that impact the lives and well-being of many communities causing them to fight and call for justice from the government. It is expected that for the year 2017, the struggle of community people will be concentrated on the following projects: The lessons from the pollution problem of Mae Moh power plant in Lampang province is the stigma that makes Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) could not find space to build new power plant project. The latest construction of coal-fired power plant in Krabi with the capacity of 800 MW were also being protested by the local villagers and environmentalists. This is due to concerns about impacts on the upcoming ecosystems and natural resources in the area.

Ministry of Energy expects operation ‘Tepa’ power plant in 5 years, EGAT confirms use of world-class technology comparable to Japan –Green News TV

Thailand Energy Permanent Secretary revealed the 2017 energy policy with the continuing support of coal-fired power plant, stating that if ‘Krabi’ plan is not possible, ‘Tepa’ will be an alternative location for the coal-fired power plant. He confirmed that within 5 years, the power plant will generate power to the system. The construction of 2,200 megawatts Tepa coal-fired power plant in Songkhla province is following the Ministry of Energy policy to fully support in 2017, aiming to complete the Phase 1 construction with capacity of 1000 MW by 2021 or 5 years from now.  “In case that we cannot go forward with Krabi Power Plant as plan, the Ministry of Energy will proceed with “Tepa” Power Plant instead to enhance flexibility and electricity security for the Southern electricity system,” added the Permanent Secretary.

 

 

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

FEATURE & VIDEO: The Evolution of Development: How People from Across the Mekong Region Are Mapping Out Their Collective Future –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via Mekong Citizen

Five countries. A vast range of ministries, government agencies, businesses, NGOs, community organizations. Hundreds of citizens. Through a landmark participatory process, USAID-supported Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) and its public participation guidelines are changing how development is done across the region, laying out a roadmap that would result in the creation of regional guidelines for improving public participation in infrastructure development.

SURVEY: Mekong environmental journalism survey –Mekong Matters Journalism Network

Are you a journalist who reports on Mekong region environmental issues. Please help us. This 10-15 minute survey will help program planners and researchers assess the sector and understand your work and interests.

NEW WEBSITE: CEJN launched its new website – The Cambodian Environmental Journalism Network (CEJN)

The Cambodian Environmental Journalism Network (CEJN) is a brainchild of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies to enhance the knowledge and skills of Cambodian journalists on environmental issues and how to effectively report on the environment. Officially launched on December 12, 2016, CEJN is part of the year-long program funded by the Mekong Partnership for the Environment to train Cambodian journalists on reporting on environmental impact and EIA safeguard policies. 

ARTICLE: Strong Environmental and Social Safeguards Must Accompany Asia’s Infrastructure Drive –ADB

Asia’s spending on growth-boosting infrastructure is set to get a tailwind from development financing while the safeguard systems used by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other development banks as conditions for their loans are under international scrutiny. Amid these developments, a just-released ADB independent evaluation report calls attention to the importance of strong safeguards to deflect damage to the environment and communities that can be caused by projects.

COMMENTARY: Governments Must Chart a New Course for the Mekong River –International Rivers

There is little question that 2017 will bring more unpredictability to the vulnerable Mekong River and her people. How will Mekong governments choose to respond? With the New Year comes an opportunity to change course – to stem the tide of unsustainable hydropower development and instead invest in sustaining the health of Mekong River as a regional asset capable of supporting millions of people throughout Southeast Asia.

ARTICLE: Villages Come Together to Protect Bueng Khong Long –WWF

Faced with falling water levels in the lake, growing water use for irrigation, and concerns about the changing climate, the people around Bueng Khong Long came together to manage how the lake’s water is used.  Villages around Bueng Khong Long reservoir in Bueng Kan Province have united to protect their water and the lake’s internationally important wetlands. Their collective water management plan is an inspiring model for how communities can successfully balance their needs and nature’s.

UPDATE: Resettlement is Easier with a Consistent and Transparent Set of Rules –Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business

Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), together with the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee (TSMC) and JICA Expert Team held a seminar for the Yangon Regional Government staff on ‘Good Practice Approaches to Land Acquisition and Resettlement Peri-Urban and Urban Environments’. The purpose of the seminar was to share international good practices in land acquisition, resettlement and livelihood restoration applicable to Yangon and the broader Myanmar context.

 

Editor’s notes:

  • The above is curated by The Mekong Eye, a GeoJournalism website which you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook
  • Please reply to this email to submit press releases or articles, subscribe, unsubscribe or provide feedback or send to tkunklangdone@pactworld.org
  • Journalists may want to apply for Story Funds to produce independent stories on development project issues, and join the Mekong Matters Journalism Network and Facebook group
  • 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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