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Mekong Eye News Digest: 18 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 19, 2017

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

To 18 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.

 

SUBMIT subscription requests, press releases, articles, resources for consideration to: tkunklangdone@pactworld.org

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

 

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT 

Experts ‘greatly disappointed’ by yet another Mekong hydropower dam –Vietnam Express International

Power-hungry nations are at risk of leaving 60 million people hungry if more dams are built. International environment experts are urging Vietnam and its Mekong River neighbors to cancel another hydropower project amid concerns that the project is flawed and needs to be fixed. (See also: New dam on Mekong looms –The Phnom Penh Post)

China Dam Construction Is Putting Pressure on Mekong River –Cambodia Daily

A cascade of six dams being built in southern China has caused significant changes to water levels in the Mekong River as far downstream as Cambodia. Mekong water levels have increased during the dry season and decreased during the wet season at several sites on the river as a result of China’s dams, according to the study.

Mekong Dams: Can Downstream Nations Expect Understanding from Upstream Developers? –FBNC via the Mekong Eye (Story and 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.

Chinese firms improving social protections: study –The Phnom Penh Post

Grassroots mobilisation has successfully pressured Chinese dam operators to adopt social safeguards in countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, according to a new study in the journal Energy Policy, though one observer yesterday said the firms still had much room for improvement.

Mississippi advice for the Mekong –The Nation

A HIGH-LEVEL delegation from the Mississippi River Commission led by its president, Maj-General Michael Wehr, will visit the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and its members this week. “The partnership between the MRC and the Mississippi River Commission has benefited both organisations in term of lessons learnt [about] sharing on sustainable development and river basin management.

 

CAMBODIA

Battambang dam 98 percent complete –The Khmer Times

Construction of a $100 million dam project and the largest reservoir in Battambang province is 98 percent complete and scheduled to be finished before April. The Battambang Multipurpose Dam, located in Ratanak Mondul district’s Plov Meas commune, has dikes connecting one mountain with another to create a reservoir with a storage capacity of 286 million cubic meters of water. 

Land Disputes Up, Resolutions Down, Ministry Data Shows –The Cambodia Daily

Environment Minister Say Sam Al recently claimed that all land dispute cases in the country have been resolved, yet a report released by the Land Management Ministry on Tuesday shows a rise in complaints and a drop in resolutions last year.

Government Happy for Chinese Dominance of Cambodia Energy Sector to Continue –AEC News Today

Clearly appreciative of Chinese investment in the Cambodia energy sector, Minister of Mines and Energy, Suy Sem said that Chinese hydro-power dams have significantly reduced Cambodia’s reliance on oil-fueled power plants and electricity imported from neighboring Vietnam and Thailand, helping build independence in the Cambodia energy sector.

Govt downplays large gap of sand import and export of Cambodia and Singapore –The Online Citizen (Blog)

According to trade data sent by both countries to the United Nation Database of Commodity Trade Statistics, Singapore has about 70 million tons of sand arriving from Cambodia compared to 6 million tons Cambodia reported sending there from 2007 to 2016.

Cambodia’s Land Compensation Issues Persist –RFA

About 70 people from three different communities in Cambodia staged a demonstration in an effort to prod the government into action over unsettled land claims. Residents from the Thma Puok and Ou Chrov districts along with the Poipet Railroad community told RFA that local officials have ignored their repeated pleas for compensation for a railway being built in their village.

 

LAO PDR

The Dammed Don: Lao hydropower project pushes ahead despite alarm from scientists –Mongabay

Snaking down the length of the Mekong River the beautifully detailed map looks strikingly like those marking the distribution of unexploded ordnance in Laos. The red dots that pockmark the course of the river, from its origins in the highlands of China to its outlet in Southern Vietnam, do mark existing or potential destruction; each indicates a place where a hydropower dam has been constructed or is proposed.

Lao energy not so ‘cheap’: experts –The Phnom Penh Post

During a visit to the Lao border on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen thanked the government of Laos for “selling electricity at a cheap price to Cambodia”. Experts, however contend a continued reliance on energy imports means prices will invariably remain high for consumers.

Regional officials consult on Pakbaeng hydro project –Vientiane Times

Representatives from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam recently gathered in Vientiane for the first Joint Committee Working Group (JCWG) meeting on procedures for notification, prior consultation and agreement (PNPCA) for Oudomxay province’s proposed Pakbaeng hydropower project.

Laos expands power grid and eyes biomass in renewable energy push –Bio Energy Insight

Laos is looking to expand its power grid network and may use renewable energy to produce electricity, according to Xinhua News. The Laos government plans to install 54 more electricity transmission lines and build another 16 substations by 2020.

Dam in Laos Stirs Up Controversy and Fish –Labroots

The Don Sahong Dam along the Mekong River passing through Laos is facing controversy for just that reason between environmentalists, local residents, and the hydroelectric company behind the project, foreign power Mega First Corporation Berhad of Malaysia. Despite growing research that suggests that large hydropower dams emit unacceptably high greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for low economic returns, the biggest issue behind the dam actually concerns fish, not carbon.

 

MYANMAR

Mines Rules to be submitted for govt review this month –Myanmar Times

The new Myanmar Mining Law could soon have regulatory teeth that support the implementation of the law and establish a state and Union power division in the licensing process. The Mines Rules, which will essentially provide the fine print details to supplement the amended legislation, have been drafted and will be sent to the government for review by the end of this month.

The Salween Peace Park: A Radical, Grassroots Alternative to Development in Karen State –The Irrawaddy

A path has opened for environmental conservationists and rights advocates to strengthen their fight against gold mining and other socially and environmentally destructive projects in the rich forests of Karen State in eastern Burma: the Salween Peace Park. The 5,200-square-kilometer Peace Park is a radical initiative to create an indigenous-led sanctuary to protect indigenous cultural heritage and endangered wildlife.

Bridging the divide in Bilu Kyun –Frontier Myanmar

A bridge being built across the Thanlwin River at Mawlamyine will bring positive change to scenic, rural Bilu Kyun but some residents worry about the possible negative impact of development on the environment.

Can Suu Kyi Control Myanmar’s Rich Natural Resources? –Eurasia Review (Analysis)

The political atmosphere in Myanmar is likely to experience a major qualitative shift if Aung San Suu Kyi succeeds in establishing state control over the country’s natural resources. No doubt she has an advantage as most of the hydro power resources, the biggest natural resource of the country, are situated in areas dominated by the majority Burman community. But the lion’s share of mineral deposits is in the hands of the several ethnic minority organisations.

Palm Oil Projects Destroy Local Livelihoods: Report –The Irrawaddy 

More than 1.8 million acres of palm oil plantations in Burma’s southern Tenasserim Division do more harm than good for local Karen villagers, causing land conflict, damaging livelihoods, destroying biodiversity, and polluting the environment, according to a new report titled Green Desert, which was released by several local civil society organizations after 18 months of research.

Promises broken, land grabbed in Myanmar’s ‘oil bowl’ –Anadolu Agency

After the KNU signed a ceasefire deal with the previous government in 2012, locals returned home — only to find their villages and farmlands destroyed and granted to palm oil companies. Around 1.8 million acres of rain forest have been allocated to more than 40 local companies owned by military-linked businesspeople and three international companies between 1999 and 2016 for a series of palm oil plantations.

Myanmar’s ‘green princess’ is a humble activist on a mission –Mongabay

Thant Cin, the great-granddaughter of Burma’s last royal family, King Thibaw and Queen Supalayat, is considered one of Myanmar’s first environmentalists and works to fight deforestation and environmental degradation in the Southeast Asian nation. Despite having lived the life of a commoner, Thant Cin still considers it her royal duty to look after the interests of the Burmese people by fighting to protect the environment.

 

THAILAND

Mekong rapid blasting ‘likely to backfire’ –Bangkok Post

Activists already have urged the government to reject Chinese plans to blow up Mekong rapids and islets so that Chinese ships can traverse the river. Thailand stands to lose more than it gains from its decision to join China in blowing up rapids in the Mekong River to ease the passage of large shipping vessels, says a fellow from the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

We’re ignoring the risks on the Mekong –The Nation (Opinion)

Mum on the dams, Thailand backs China’s blasting plan, a danger to wildlife that could shift our border. The government’s confusing stance on the issues that are mounting along the Mekong River is worrying. Vietnam and Cambodia have ramped up pressure on Laos and China over the environmental impact of damming the waterway. The livelihoods of millions of people are at stake.

 

VIETNAM

 Foreign investment flows into solar energy –VietNamNet Bridge

Vietnam has become an attractive destination for Chinese and Taiwanese solar panel makers who want to make use of tax advantages to export to the US and Europe. Recently, Chinese companies GCL-SI and Trina Solar signed contracts with Vietnam-based Vina Solar Technology Co., Ltd on solar cell manufacturing at Vietnamese plants.

HCM City promotes key transport projects –VietNamNet Bridge

The city has recently called for private investment under the public-private partnership (PPP) model to kick off several key transport infrastructure projects under in the context of a limited State budget amid increasing transport demand. At a cost of nearly US$133 million, the Thu Thiem 2 Bridge with a length of 1,465m and six lanes started construction in early 2015 and will be completed in April 2018 under build-transfer (BT) model.

What is the right water supply solution for the Mekong Delta? –VietNamNet Bridge

International organizations and the government of Vietnam are all considering solutions to supply safe water to the Mekong River Delta, one of three deltas in the world most vulnerable to climate change. (See also: Mekong Delta 2016: historic drought, saline intrusion destroys crops –VietNamNet Bridge)

Vietnam facing water security challenges –VietNamNet Bridge

Vietnam’s demand for water is skyrocketing while water resources are being depleted. The report issues a warning against significant impact on the lives of many people as underground water resources are being overexploited, water pollution is worsening, and upstream forests are overexploited, leading to water shortages in the dry season and flash floods and landslides in the rainy season.

China turns deaf ear to Vietnam’s concern over border nuclear plants –Tuoi Tre News

China is yet to reply to Vietnam’s request to establish an information exchange after the former put three nuclear power plants into operation near the two countries’ border, potentially compromising the environment and health of local residents.

 

 

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT                                             

Against the flow –Bangkok Post

Like the mighty Mekong River, China seems like an unstoppable force as it spreads its influence in the region. From the urban office worker to the village boatman, many people’s lives are changing — for better or for worse — with the growing influence of China in the Mekong region. This situation has produced a mixed set of reactions.

 

Beyond Sustainable Development for ASEAN –Brink Asia

In view of various climate change phenomena, how can economies develop sustainably? Specifically, can economies grow while giving equal consideration to the tri-nexus of economy, environment and society? It is a question confronting policymakers in Southeast Asia on a recurring basis. For development to be sustainable, the environment should be treated as capital and internalized in policy frameworks. An option available for policymakers (in an attempt to include ecosystem valuation) is to set boundaries for pollution and other environmental impacts.

Development Aid From China Vs. Japan: 3 Things Other Countries Should Know –Forbes

China pledged $24 billion in aid to the Philippines in October, perhaps prompting Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s visit. The competition between Asia’s two economic powers is real.  But the two countries offer aid in three not so subtle different ways. Here are the buyer-beware basics: Japan is more transparent, China expects natural resources in return, Japan wants aid to open doors for factory investors.

What you Need to Know About Public Private Partnerships –AEC News Today

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) have become somewhat of a buzzword over the last few years with this form of arrangement capable of delivering greater efficiency in the provision of public services such as energy, transportation, water, healthcare, sanitation, and communications. The ADB video explains how Public Private Partnerships can be implemented between public agencies at either a federal, state or local level, and private agencies to deliver infrastructure those agencies would not be able to afford on their own.

Do Political Protests Actually Change Anything? –Bustle

For the best summary of what actually works and doesn’t in street marches — at least in terms of creating clear political change — let’s turn to the research of Dr. Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, one of the world’s experts on protest participation.

 

CAMBODIA

Ratanakkiri NGOs Are Hit by Series of Major Resignations –The Cambodia Daily

The surprise leap of Chhay Thy, a prominent human rights worker in Ratanakkiri province, to the ruling party this month was preceded by two other high-level NGO officials in the province resigning to work in government in the past year, a series of moves seen by some as a growing trend. Their resignations indicate the narrowing of space for NGOs in the province to work with and advocate for indigenous groups.

Government Accuses NASA of Incitement Over Deforestation Data –The Cambodia Daily

The Environment Ministry has accused the U.S.’s space agency and local media outlets of “incitement” for publishing and misreporting year-old deforestation data that show years of rapid forest loss. In 2015, the University of Maryland used U.S. satellite data to reveal that between 2001 and 2014 the annual forest loss rate in Cambodia accelerated by 14.4 percent.

 

MYANMAR

Post COP22, how is Myanmar doing on climate change measures? –Mizzima

Since Myanmar’s Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) law was passed, international NGOs have started to train concerned citizens in participating in environmental discourse. Pollution and social impacts of development, such as resettlement and the rights of indigenous peoples, remain the main complaints of affected groups.

 

VIETNAM

Vietnam – Infrastructure Development – Outlook on the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) –Lexology

The Government has enacted several laws in order to promote infrastructure development especially through private investment. The latest one, Decree 15/2015/ND-CP on public-private partnership investment (the PPP Decree), was very promising regarding the forms of contract concerned, the various sectors targeted, the State support or participation and tender requirements. As a matter of fact, its enforcement revealed that more efforts were needed to achieve a successful PPP program.

Vietnam Hydropower Market Analysis, Share, Trends and Forecast by 2030- Market Research Report 2017 –SAT PR News (Report)

“Hydropower in Vietnam, Market Outlook to 2030, Update 2016 – Capacity, Generation, Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), Investment Trends, Regulations and Company Profiles” is the latest report from GlobalData. The report provides in depth analysis on global renewable power market and global hydropower market with forecasts up to 2030. The report analyzes the power market scenario in Vietnam and provides future outlook with forecasts up to 2030.

 

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

New study analyzes biggest threats to Southeast Asian biodiversity –Mongabay

Southeast Asia is a global biodiversity hotspot — but with about 4 billion people living in the region, the pressures on that biodiversity are severe. Deforestation rates in Southeast Asia are some of the highest anywhere on Earth, and the rate of mining is the highest in the tropics. The region also has a number of hydropower dams under construction, and consumption of species for traditional medicines is particularly pronounced. (See also: Humans have destroyed 7% of Earth’s pristine forest landscapes just since 2000 –The Washington Post)

The Upcoming War on Our Health and Environment –NRDC (Blog)

Before Inauguration Day, the Trump era has opened with an extremist agenda that poses an alarming threat to our people, our environment, and the core values we share about justice, fair play, and our commitment to leave future generations a livable world. Already, we’ve seen a set of cabinet nominees dominated by fossil-fuel advocates, billionaires, and bankers; a president-elect who says “nobody really knows” what’s happening to our climate; and a full-on witch hunt for the experts who know the truth.

Federal Report: Environmental Safeguards Provide Billions In Economic Benefits –Desmog (Blog)

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a long-overdue draft report on the economic impacts of environmental regulations and safeguards for the fiscal year 2015. The OMB looked at the cost of environmental regulations and compared to them to the economic benefits. Their results showed very clearly that these safeguards are providing an exponentially greater economic benefit than they are costing.

Solar can already generate more energy than oil, says major scientific review –INSURGE intelligence

The study published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews looks at 29 studies which compare the energy generated by solar photovoltaics (PV) to the energy needed to create and install the panels. The findings are astonishing: due to the lag in data used by scientists to analyze these issues, most studies fail to capture how far solar power has actually come. Solar is likely double in power what was previously thought, putting it on par with oil.

Hydro expansion will fail without energy market reform –China Dialogue

China’s government must tackle wastage in the energy sector before bringing more hydropower online. Energy demand in China is slowing. This is causing a major headache for the hydropower sector, which has invested heavily in new projects in recent years. The continued construction of hydropower, as with coal, has led to surplus capacity, tumbling profits and an unbalanced national energy system.

How China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Fared Its First Year –Forbes

AIIB will celebrate its first year of operations on January 16, having invested in nine projects across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. When the AIIB was announced, critics feared that it would be used to advance China’s national interests while lowering environmental and human rights standards. Happily, this has not occurred, in part because cooperation with multilateral institutions has helped to inoculate the development bank against criticism in these areas. Rather, through the AIIB, China has been able to advance its economic interests using soft power.

 

LOCAL LANGUAGE NEWS  

BURMESE LANGUAGE

Ethnic Nationalities Affair Center (Union of Burma) (ENAC) is drafting an Environmental Law –Eleven News

Ethnic Nationalities Affair Center (Union of Burma) is drafing an environmrtal law, ahead of the second round of 21st Century Pinlong. Mr. Sai Nyunt Lwin, one of the director of the ENAC said at a consultation meeting in Yangon, which was held on 16 and 17 January. The law was drafted based on the findings of the two research which were conducted in jade mine areas of Kachin and Kyaukphyu gas pipe line project sites. “the primary focus of the law is –  the resource ownership, management and sharing. And it will also focus on social impact of the projects”, Mr. Sai said.

 

KHMER LANGUAGE

Indigenous people in Kratie province said concession company still continue logging –Radio Free Asia Khmer

Indigenous people in Sambor District of Kratie province said that economic concession company namely Ci-Biotech has blocked a road and not allowed local people to pass about one week. The road has blocked local people of two communes not access NTFPs. Local people also said the company does not want to leak news out about luxury wood logging in their concession area. A representative of Ci-Biotech company could be contacted regarding this issue. Senior Investigate Officer of ADHOC explained that blocking a road and not allow local people to access NTFPs are violating a law and contrasting with government policy.

 

VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE

Ambitious Green Energy Plans in Vietnam and Cambodia proceed at snail’s pace –Hanoi TV via the Mekong Eye

With much fanfare, Mekong neighbors Vietnam and Cambodia proclaim commitments to address climate change by realizing 100 per cent renewable energy supplies by 2050. Critics note, however, that such promises will be hard to keep when both countries also are blazing paths to generate 50 per cent of their electricity from coal by decade’s end. (See the local language version in Vietnamese on Hanoi TV)

 

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

ARTICLE: The Bird’s Eye View: What Endangered Birds Tell Us About the Risks of Mekong Development –The Mekong Eye

Second to climate change, the loss of species represents the most significant destabilizing force on the earth systems that manage the delicately-running natural cycles that help make earth habitable to humans and contribute to our way of life in many ways. Moreover, losses in the Mekong region, which support the greatest fresh water diversity in the world and where the newest species are discovered, is now seen as a global catastrophe.

UPDATE: Official Prior Consultation Process of the Pak Beng hydropower project kicked off –MRC

This first meeting of the PNPCA JCWG was informed and discussed several key issues that require advanced proper attention and common understanding and agreement to ensure successful implementation of a six-month prior consultation process of the proposed Pak Beng hydropower project with the aim of increasing the joint benefits and cooperation. (See also: Concern as Pak Beng Dam Commences Prior Consultation –International Rivers)

BLOG: Health and Happiness for China’s Rivers in 2017 –International Rivers

Citizens all over China and the government are beginning to understand the dire state of their rivers. The good news is that Chinese people recognize that the quality of their lives is tied to the health of the environment. We saw encouraging trends in 2016, and we believe there are many reasons to be hopeful for China’s remaining rivers. And there are a few reasons to be optimistic that 2017 will be a year of health and happiness for China’s rivers.

BLOG: Why the Planning Phase of a Dam Matters: The Case of Thailand’s Kaeng Suea Ten Dam –International Rivers

Thailand’s Kaeng Suea Ten Dam is likely the most-delayed dam project in Southeast Asia. It’s well-known in Thailand thanks to the efforts of a coalition of project-affected communities and various NGOs, including Living River Siam Association and the Assembly of the Poor, which have opposed the dam for decades. We identified significant negative cultural, social and economic impacts resulting from the proposal to construct a dam in this area.

UPDATE: Myanmar Human Rights Activist Denied Bail Despite Deteriorating Health –Earthrights International

Khaing Myo Htun, a member of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), prominent environmental activist, and former student at the EarthRights School for human rights and environmental activists, was arrested on 25 July and faces charges of sedition and incitement under Myanmar’s Penal Code.

 

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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