By The Mekong Eye
Mekong Region, January 13, 2017
MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)
To 11 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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A study led by researchers from Aalto University in Finland reveals that the hydropower projects in China have caused major river flow changes to the Mekong River since the year 2011. An analysis of river flows in Northern Thailand indicates that the hydropower operations considerably increased dry season flows and decreased wet season flows. Furthermore, the study shows that the dry season flows have also become increasingly variable.
The Stimson Center’s “Letters from the Mekong” series challenges the assumption that the current rapid pace of dam construction on the Mekong River will continue until the entire river is turned into a series of reservoirs. The construction of even a few large dams risks undermining food security in the world’s most productive freshwater fishery. However, Stimson’s research strongly suggests that not all of the planned dams will be built.
Sugar Company Worn Out by Empty Promises –The Cambodia Daily
Some 100 farmers who have spent the past 11 days sleeping on land to guard it from bulldozers in Preah Vihear province are exhausted by empty promises from the government to solve their problem. The Chinese firms that plans to turn the area into a sprawling, $360 million sugarcane plantation.
(See also: Sugar plantation victims release demands –Khmer Times)
Raid on illegal mine sparks protest –Khmer Times
The government is stepping up the fight against illegal mining in the country, cracking down on an illegal mine in Mondulkiri province last Friday and arresting two people. But local residents targeted by the crackdown protested after the raid, complaining that large mining corporations were allowed to continue their actions unfettered while the government praised itself for shutting down small family mining operations.
Villagers swat down 1.5-hectare resolution –The Phnom Penh Post
The government offered almost 200 families 1.5 hectares each to resolve a land dispute with two sugar companies in Koh Kong province during a meeting, though the families demanded greater compensation. Tep Thorn, head of the eighth land dispute resolution working group at the Ministry of Land Management, met in Phnom Penh with 15 representatives of 175 families from Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts.
Cambodia’s environmental minister claimed this week that problems stemming from the country’s economic land concessions were solved, a notion that was called into question by a civil society organization that monitors land issues in the Southeast Asian country.
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.
Wildlife Sanctuaries Issued First Zoning Plans –The Cambodia Daily
Almost nine years after Cambodia mandated the zoning of all protected areas to shield its most precious parts from development, the government finally zoned its first two sanctuaries last week, though some locals and conservationists doubt the effort will make much of a difference to forests and wildlife.
Singapore and Cambodia: A Relationship Built on Sand –The Diplomat
Singapore has been a major backer of Cambodia and its post-war reconstruction. But much of the relationship has been built on sand. The island-state desperately needs clean, salt free sand for its building industry, and Cambodia has no shortage of the stuff. But in its rush to purchase sand on an industrial scale, Singapore and Cambodian authorities have faced a barrage of criticism over environmental damage, while enormous discrepancies in reporting procedures have emerged and cast a pall over the sector. (See also: Singapore Could Face Legal Action Over Sand Importation –The Cambodia Daily)
Cambodia Planning For First Large-Scale Marine Fish Farm –The Fish Site
A proposal for the country’s first large-scale marine fish farm that would raise grouper, sea bass and other valuable dinner-table species has been sent to the Council of Development for Cambodia for approval. The council is expected to consult with Sihanoukville authorities on whether there would be effects on local fisheries or the marine environment before making a final decision.
Many investors have expressed interest in the planned construction of an oil supply pipeline project that will transfer petrol from Vietnam to Laos,Lao Minister of Energy and Mines said. Initially, Lao Petro Company was set to solely invest in the 500 million US dollar project but many fuel companies later expressed an interest in joining the proposed project.
More power plants fuel energy generation -Vientiane Times
The Ministry of Energy and Mines reports that 50 power plants around the country will generate electricity this year with an installed capacity of almost 6,860MW.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen praised Laos for selling cheap power to his country. While Hun Sen failed to detail the amount and cost of the Lao-produced electricity, or whether Cambodia will continue to buy electricity once the Lower Sesan 2 dam located in Stung Treng province is completed, residents complained that the cost of power is still too high. (See also: Hun Sen Visits Laos Dam Site, Again Promises Cheap Power –The Cambodia Daily)
The Salween Peace Park, an indigenous Karen landscape conservation initiative dedicated to the conservation of bio-cultural and ecological diversity in one of Southeast Asia’s last greatest natural landscapes, has made a major step toward reality. Following a public referendum, a draft charter for the Salween Peace Park, memorializing the inalienable right to self-determination, and local governance of indigenous Karen over their ancestral land, was completed and received wide support.
Mandalay Region government, CSOs discuss green economic policy –Eleven Myanmar
A meeting for the preparation of green economic policy and a drafting of a strategic framework occured on January 9th in Mandalay. Green economic policy and a strategic framework are part of this MOU, which aims to reduce environmental impact, for the harmonious development of living standard of people, to create job opportunities that are beneficial for the environment, and to ensure continuous, responsible development.
Twenty-one farmers were granted bail by a Myanmar court on January 10 after being jailed over a land-grab dispute with the military that has highlighted acute challenges faced by the rural poor. Sixteen of those detained were women, according to a family member, including one who was taken to jail along with her six-month-old baby.
Partners line up for transport overhaul –The Nation
At least five countries are busily helping Myanmar cope with its poor transport infrastructure. Connectivity is indeed a main part of the National Transport Master Plan, completed with JICA’s assistance. One of these priority corridors includes the project road, the Greater Mekong Subregion East–West Economic Corridor.
Mon State Gov’t requests EIA from investing companies in the State –Burma News International
The Mon State Government has directed any investing companies in Mon State to report on their Environmental Management Program (EMP), in order to provide transparency and minimize negative impacts on the environment. The investing companies can only start implementing projects after receiving approvals for Initial Environment Examination (IEE), EIA and SIA which will be developed and applied depending on the size and nature of the company’s project.
Architects, conservation team to discuss promenade –Bangkok Post
The Committee for the Conservation of Rattanakosin and Old Town has agreed to forward the controversial Chao Phraya riverside promenade project to the Defence Ministry. Around 200 riverside communities oppose the project, saying it will destroy their livelihoods. They are also afraid they will be relocated if the project proceeds.
Locals slam Mekong blasting plan –Bangkok Post
The government is moving forward with a controversial navigational plan to allow the passage of 500 tonne ships and port developments – all at the behest of the Chinese. The government’s aim to clear the Mekong River’s rocky outcrops to ensure the smooth passage of large cargo boats has set off alarm bells for environmental activists and locals who fear the ecology in the area will be put at risk.
Policymakers to decide Krabi plant fate -Bangkok Post
Energy policymakers will make a final decision on Feb 17 about whether the government will proceed with a plan to build a coal-fired power plant in the southern city of Krabi, says the Electricity Generating…
Mineral exploitation control to be tightened –Vietnam News
Government officials have announced that mineral exploitation will be more tightly controlled under a new regulation coming into effect on January 15. The new decree will replace Decree 15/2012/NĐ-CP, regulating environmental protection responsibilities of organisations and individuals to exploit new mineral supplements.
Vietnam’s Next Environmental Hotspot –The Diplomat
While waiting to see how Hanoi handles the existing environmental crisis in Ha Tinh province, it’s worth a look southward to see how Vietnam’s government and people are responding to emerging environmental risks posed by a Chinese-owned giant manufacturing complex and supporting coal-fired thermal power plants stationed along major waterways – the only fresh water supplies to paddy fields and crowded cities in the Mekong Delta.
Agricultural land contaminated by waste discharge –VietNamNet Bridge
The runoff of the land in mountainous area has also caused serious consequences, including eutrophication in downstream river basins. Many land areas in Red River Delta cannot maintain alluvial properties. And more seriously, large agricultural land areas in the suburbs and industrial zones’ neighborhood are being poisoned by the waste water.
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 effort aims to seek the parliament’s approval on the project’s investment by 2018. The Deputy PM has also instructed the Ministry to work with relevant agencies to review the planning and development of the national railway network.
Vietnam asserts role in ASEAN cooperation in environment –VietNamNet Bridge
Vietnam’s participation in ASEAN cooperation in the environment has clearly demonstrated the country’s proactive, active and responsible integration into the world. General Director of the Vietnam Environment Administration Nguyen Van Tai made the remark at a workshop reviewing 20 years of Vietnam’s engagement in the ASEAN environmental cooperation.
What to expect for rainforests in 2017 –Mongabay
While 2016 lacked the drama of Indonesia’s 2015 fire and haze crisis, surging deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest and ongoing destruction of forests for industrial plantations meant that it was far from a quiet year for the planet’s rainforests. So what’s ahead for 2017? The article shows eight things we’ll be closely watching in the new year of 2017.
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.”
A survey of 200 executives has revealed high expectations for growth and highlighted the need for greater clarity and transparency in economic policies. A survey by global strategy consultants Roland Berger has highlighted the optimism in the business community as Myanmar makes progress toward economic reform, including creating a better investment environment.
A Burmese journalist was found dead on December 13 while investigating illegal logging and wood smuggling near Monywa, in the Sagaing region of Northwest Myanmar, his colleague and bureau chief has confirmed. Journalists are not the only ones at risk. A few weeks ago, a Karen environmentalist, Naw Chit Pandering, was stabbed to death for speaking out about land grab and mining in the southeastern region of Dawei. Civil society groups have alleged the murder is linked to her work and warned that other activists are in danger.
Asean at 50, and Beyond –The Irrawaddy
Asean is 50 years old this year. It is a true milestone for a loosely constructed regional organization created by five countries at the height of the Cold War to have come this far. These stable bonds have propelled the grouping’s economic growth and boost its international profile. Through the highs and lows of the regional and international political landscapes in the 1990s and 2000s, Asean has managed to stick together and overcome the myriad challenges that have come its way.
The prolonged slump in world energy prices has produced a mix of benefits and looming risks for China, according to recent reports. The relative abundance of energy that followed the development of shale oil and gas in the United States has helped to ease energy security concerns in China and other Asian nations, according to studies published last month by the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR).
A string of mishaps at Chinese nuclear power plants last year has raised concerns about the safety of the rapidly growing industry, especially given the country’s overall industrial safety record, experts told RFA. Last October, the National Nuclear Safety Administration (CNNSA) made public 16 safety failures that occurred in China’s nuclear plants in 2016, all involving mistakes made by staff members, official media reported.
China takes global lead in clean energy: report –World Bulletin
China’s overseas investment in renewable energy projects jumped last year by 60 percent to a record $32 billion, marking its leadership in the global market for clean energy. In 2016, China finalised 11 foreign deals worth more than a billion dollars each, and is expected to pick up the pace this year, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS
Thailand’s Port Authority (PAT) confirmed the controversial navigational plan is for the national benefit, albeit at the disadvantage to the local population. PAT Director General suggested that the project is only in the initial phase, involving a year of surveys and multinational collaboration with six Mekong countries. Locals will be consulted. The project is expected reduce logistic cost, up to ten-times lower than that by land transport.
Mekong Dams: Can Downstream Nations Expect Understanding from Upstream Developers? –FBNC via the Mekong Eye (Video)
The Mekong River is an economic hub to feed for more than 60 million people and thousands of kinds of aqua products. However, the mother river may be cut off ruthlessly by hydro-electricity plants built and planned to be built on upstream, and even on downstream of the river. What impacts will these have on Vietnam and other downstream countries and communities? FBNC investigates in this video story. (The full video in Vietnamese on FBNC)
RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES
VIDEO: The Evolution of Development: How People from Across the Mekong Region Are Mapping Out Their Collective Future –Mekong Partnership for the Environment
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.
UPDATE: Veteran Cambodian Journalists Mentor Local Reporters on Environmental Journalism –Cambodian Environmental Journalism Network (CEJN) via Mekong Eye
More than a dozen local journalists from Cambodia’s northeastern provinces attended a workshop on news gathering and writing skills conducted by two veteran journalists in Stung Treng. Part of the workshop was to inform local journalists of the official launching of CEJN and the importance of the role of Mekong journalists in reporting about the environmental impacts on the Mekong River. Also: CEJN launched its new website
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.
COMMENTARY: How dams damage rivers –American Rivers
Over the past 100 years, the United States led the world in dam building. We blocked and harnessed rivers for a variety of purposes. Those purposes include hydropower, irrigation, flood control and water storage. While dams can benefit society, they also cause considerable harm to rivers. Dams have depleted fisheries, degraded river ecosystems, and altered recreational opportunities on nearly all of our nation’s rivers.
ARTICLE: New research reveals harm to Indigenous Peoples near Nam Theun 2 Project in Laos –Forum for Development Studies via Mekong Eye
The Forum for Development Studies published a new article by Kanokwan Manorom, Ian Baird and Bruce Shoemaker titled, “The World Bank, Hydropower-based Poverty Alleviation and Indigenous Peoples: On-the-Ground Realities in the Xe Bang Fai River Basin of Laos.” This article provides more detail on the project’s impacts following earlier articles on the situation along the Xe Bang Fai River published in 2015 by the same researcher team.
Chulalongkorn University School of Agricultural Resources (CUSAR) in Bangkok is leading a small one-year study to begin better documenting and understanding the role of post-secondary and research institutions in farmer extension services and their contribution to ecologically sustainable agriculture and rural development in up to eight ASEAN countries with strong agriculture economies. The workshop in Myanmar will take place on 25 January.
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