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Mekong Eye News Digest: 25 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 26, 2017

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

To 25 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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New Mekong River blasting project will only benefit China: experts –The Nation via The Mekong Eye

At a public forum entitled “Criticising the Mekong River’s Rapids Removal Project” at Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation yesterday, experts from different fields expressed concern about Thailand’s plan to make the Mekong navigable for cargo barges of up to 500 tonnes gross. (See also: The wrong kind of MEKONG BOOM –The Nation, Mekong River clearance plan raises fears –The Straits Time, Thailand Backing Controversial Survey to Clear Mekong Islets –VOA News)

Mekong giant catfish being driven to extinction in natural habitat –The Nation via The Mekong Eye

Survival of Mekong giant catfish is at a critical point, with the species on the brink of extinction in the wild due to development projects along the Mekong River, experts have warned. Meanwhile, local people said they feared their traditional culture associated with catching Mekong giant catfish would slowly disappear.

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. 



Strict rules in place for import of sand: Government –The Straits Times

Smuggling and forged permits not condoned, it says, denying Cambodian NGOs’ claims. Singapore has denied accusations that it illegally imported sand from Cambodia, saying “strict controls” are in place to ensure contractors source sand legally and in line with local environmental rules.

Mondulkiri to try new land scheme –The Phnom Penh Post

The World Wildlife Fund, in cooperation with Mondulkiri government officials, announced a new land-management initiative aimed at balancing environmental protection with economic development. The initiative will theoretically bring together government officials, the private sector, local communities and NGOs to work together to plan the future development of land in the province.

The man trying to change the environment in Cambodia –Khmer Times (Interview)

Environment Minister Say Samal often gets bad press about illegal logging, deforestation and other issues, but as one of the youngest ministers in the government, he says he is slowly changing people’s attitudes and perceptions. The 36-year-old Mr. Samal told Khmer Times that one of his biggest achievements as a minister has been to shorten the time period for the often controversial Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) to a maximum of 50 years, and he has also stopped issuing any more ELCs.

No Wood, But Permit in Protected Area Extended –The Cambodia Daily

The Agriculture Ministry renewed the license for timber extraction on a land concession in a protected area in September, despite previously concluding that the land within the concession had been completely cleared, according to a conservation group and documents obtained by reporters this month.



Progress made on SEZ in Luang Prabang –Vientiane Times

The developer of a US$1.2 billion special economic zone in Luang Prabang province is in the process of demarcating the project site and building an access road. The project, which is being developed by the Phousy Group, will comprise an area of 4,850 hectares in the districts of Luang Prabang and Chomphet with a concession period of 99 years.

Xekaman 3 hydroelectric plant in Laos: a very major landslide in December –American Geophysical Union (Blog)

The Xekaman 3 hydroelectric power station in Laos is a 250 MW dam. Built between 2006 and 2010 at a cost of US$273 million, 90% of the electricity generated is exported to Vietnam.  Fairly soon after completion the dam started to be plagues by landslide problems, not at the dam site but at the penstock, which it appears was constructed on an ancient landslide without adequate measures being taken to provide stability.

Workers prepare ground for Laos-China railway –Vientiane Times

The construction of workers’ camps for the Laos-China railway is under way in Luang Namtha province but there is much to be done before work on the railway itself can begin. There are now 200 or 300 Chinese workers in the camps, but they are unable to work on the railway as unexploded ordnance (UXO) has not been cleared from the area.

Lao PDR, Cambodia Strengthen Cross-Border Cooperation for Sustainability –Lao News Agency

Officials from the National Mekong Committees and fisheries authorities of Lao PDR and Cambodia have recently reaffirmed their commitment to enhance trans-boundary cooperation for the improved management of fisheries in the bordering provinces of the two countries.



New task force will help advise on sustainable mining –Myanmar Times

The mines department has announced plans to establish a new committee to oversee gemstone extraction. The details are so far vague, with no confirmed launch date and a nebulous mandate related to environmental conservation and promoting corporate social responsibility, but members are set to include both civil servants and non-governmental representatives.

Shan villagers slam ‘toxic’ power plant –Eleven Myanmar

Shan State residents explained that they have suffered badly from Tigyit coal-fired power plant, during a press conference on January 20 at the Orchid Hotel in Yangon. They said people experienced respiratory diseases and low birth weights because of the power plant. (See also: As possible restart of Tigyit coal plant looms, opposition rallies –Myanmar Times )

China-Myanmar gas power plant to supply electricity to Yangon by year-end –Xinhua

A China-Myanmar joint venture gas power plant, Thaketa, will be able to start to supply electricity to Yangon city and the region by the end of this year and can ease the electricity shortage to some extent which Yangon is faced with, a high project official said on Sunday.

Amid extinction fears, survey to count Irrawaddy dolphins –Myanmar Times

Irrawaddy dolphin populations in Southeast Asia have long been on the decline, with illegal fishing practices and pollution as the main killers. In Laos, the dolphin population was so low in the last 2016 survey – only 3 were counted – that the World Wildlife Fund deemed them “functionally extinct”.



Ubon Ratchathani village fed up with the foul smell of urbanization –The Isaan Record

Thailand’s impending garbage crisis is putting a strain on communities in the Northeast as municipalities are rushing to modernize their waste management systems, often with unwanted consequences for local residents. Since a waste incinerator was set up next to the community, residents have been confronted with the foul-smelling side effects of urban waste management.

Unchecked Development, Poor Planning Set Stage for Flood Crisis –Khaosod

More than blaming the flooding which has devastated the south just on record rainfall, those familiar with the issue say mismanaged water resources and unplanned development are to blame. The conditions for flooding were made possible by unchecked urban sprawl, wetlands destruction and poorly conceived infrastructure projects, a city planner, environmentalist and local flood relief volunteer said.

B Grimm partners CEEC for ‘renewable’ projects –The Nation

China’s state-owned energy conglomerate, to develop renewable energy projects in Thailand and Asean with an eye to become one of Thailand’s leading private power producers, as it aims to reach 5,000 megawatts in generating capacity within the next five years. B GRIMM Power Plc has signed a MOU with China Energy Engineering Corporation (CEEC), a collaboration framework to develop renewable power plants in Thailand and Asean.

Activists slam Egat’s coal plant bidding –Bangkok Post

The Network of Songkhla-Pattani People’s against the Coal-Fired Power Plant will meet the governor of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) next month the planned construction of a coal power plant in Songkhla’s Thepha district. The network coordinator said that Egat was going against the law because as far as he knew the project’s environment and health impact assessment (EHIA) had neither been completed nor approved by the cabinet.



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.

With Growth of Coal Power Plants, Vietnam’s Future Is Grim –The Diplomat

Vietnam doubles down on coal-fired power plants, despite a recent study warning of the high environmental costs. According to this research, by 2030 Vietnam will be the ASEAN country most affected by coal pollution in term of the premature mortality rate due to coal plant emissions, with 188.8 excess deaths per million people.

Drought, salinity take heavy toll on farmers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta –Tuoi Tre News

Millions of Vietnamese farmers are facing major crop losses due to severe drought and an alarming level of salinity, the worst in many years to impact vast areas of agricultural land in the Mekong Delta. Among the ‘culprits’ is rising sea level sparked by climate change and an El Nino-related drought.

Mekong Delta shifts strategy, takes advantage of benefits of flooding –VietNamNet Bridge

In the past, Mekong Delta residents, striving to produce as much rice as possible, built closed embankments to prevent floods and cultivate third crops. But now they need floods to preserve water to fight drought and saline intrusion.


DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT                                             

Mekong diplomacy: a bridge that has failed –The Nation via The Mekong Eye

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) bears an enormous weight on its shoulders, overseeing both the development and the protection of a channel on whom millions of people depend. But the commission has proved powerless in the latter mission, failing to protect or involve communities in hydropower projects that threaten their livelihoods.

Challenge of Asia’s governments is to work with aid –Bangkok Post (Opinion)

Governments across Asia have to address massive challenges — climate change, rapidly aging populations, urbanisation and immigration — that often outpace their financial and human capabilities. Collaboration with other sectors is increasingly seen as a way to use additional financial resources, solicit innovative ideas and tap into expertise that government may be lacking. Governments aiming to get things done at all in today’s world benefit from engaging NGOs, businesses, charities and social enterprises.

Defending Free Speech in ASEAN –The Diplomat

The issue of free speech is often wrongly articulated. It is not just the right of the person to speak, but the right of others to listen. The corollary is important. Indeed, take the example of when governments crackdown on the media. It is not because journalists write but because readers read. Before me lies the latest issue of the Mekong Review, which includes an interview with the Thai journalist Thaweeporn Kummetha, of the online newspaper Prachatai. In a few words she explains exactly what I mean by the “right of others to listen.”

Asian Risks Respond to Energy Shifts –RFA

The prolonged slump in world energy prices has produced a mix of benefits and looming risks for China. O’Sullivan’s study says the risks are rising for Asia as reliance on oil from the Middle East grows. While China’s public concerns may be muted, its growing confidence coincides with its military buildup, particularly with naval power that could help to guard its import routes from the Middle East.



Cambodia joins global infrastructure fund in Davos –The Phnom Penh

Cambodia has become the first Asian country to sign on to the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership (SDIP), a global initiative that aims to unlock the funding of infrastructure projects through public-private sector partnerships. The announcement came during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s four-day visit to the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Why Cambodia has cosied up to China –The Economist 

Each side gets something out of the relationship. For Cambodia, the most obvious benefit is economic: it is poor and aiddependent; Chinese money lets it buy and build things it could not otherwise afford. But there are also two strategic benefits. First, Cambodia uses China as a counterweight to Vietnam. Cambodia also uses China as a hedge against the West. Chinese money comes with no strings attached, unlike most Western donations, which are often linked to the government’s conduct.



Does Myanmar need a gemstone law? –Myanmar Times

In July 2016, Myanmar’s government took the positive step of suspending jade and gemstone licensing until relevant laws could be reviewed and an environmental management plan for jade mining areas developed. This pause has created an unprecedented opening for developing a new framework that may better benefit the country’s citizens.

JICA chief: ‘We are also trying to be inclusive and hear the people’s voice’ –Frontier Myanmar (Interview)

Since the NLD government took office, Japan has promised billions in aid and investment, much of which will be administered through its development aid arm, the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The agency’s chief representative in Myanmar, Keiichiro Nakazawa, spoke to Frontier’s Thomas Kean about the government’s donor coordination efforts, the next phase of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone and plans for a new port and airport in southern Yangon.

Myanmar’s foreign direct investment rush recedes –The Financial Times

Foreign businesses still see Myanmar as a promising place for infrastructure investment and as a production base, but many are waiting to launch new projects because of uncertainty over economic policies. One positive sign is a revision of the corporate law expected in the coming months, which is likely to allow foreign businesses to hold stakes in existing domestic companies.



Vietnam Hits Activist with Article 88 Anti-State Charge –RFA

Vietnamese authorities arrested a human rights activist over the weekend, sparking concern from the U.N. over Hanoi’s use of a section of the country’s criminal code to throttle dissent. Tran Thi Nga and her husband were arrested at their home in the northern province of Ha Nam, according to a Facebook post by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).



Tibetan Springtime and the Tale of the Major Rivers in Asia – If Tibet dries, Asia dies –Viet Ecology Foundation via the Mekong Eye

“Destruction of nature and nature resources results from ignorance, greed and lack of respect for the earth’s living things…It is not difficult to forgive destruction in the past, which resulted from ignorance. Today, however, we have access to more information, and it is essential that we re–examine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations,” said the Dalai Lama.

ASEAN Energy Cooperation: the Only Way to Prevent ‘Lights Out’ in the Region –Brink News

In the wake of this economic success story in ASEAN, energy demand has increased rapidly and is projected to grow in the coming years. At the same time, conventional energy production is expected to decline in important oil and gas exporting countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Expanding energy access and delivering secure and sustainable energy supplies will be key to sustaining Southeast Asia’s economic success story as industry, business and households depend on energy to keep the lights on.

China builds world’s biggest solar farm in journey to become green superpower –The Guardian

High on the Tibetan plateau, a giant poster of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, guards the entrance to one of the greatest monuments to Beijing’s quest to become a clean energy colossus. The remote, 27-square-kilometre solar farm tops an ever-expanding roll call of supersized symbols that underline China’s determination to transform itself from climate villain to green superpower.

China’s Silk Road Looks to Revive its Economic Fortunes –Modern Diplomacy

On January 18 a locomotive with 34 carriages pulled into Barking Rail Freight Terminal in London’s east end. This particular train had travelled 7,456 miles from Yiwu, China, the journey took 16 days and travelled across eight different countries to deliver its goods to the UK market. The Yiwu-London route is just the most recent development of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) policy; a massive international infrastructure development program which spans Eurasia and aims to remove the divide between separate European and Asian trading blocs.

Scrapping new coal plants in Asia would save 50,000 lives –The Nation

Approximately 50,000 lives a year could be saved by 2030 if no new coal-fired power plants are built in Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, according to a groundbreaking peer-reviewed study by researchers at Harvard University and Greenpeace International. Air-polluting emissions from coal-fired power plants in these regions currently cause an estimated 20,000 premature deaths per year, increasing to 70,000 by 2030 if plants now in the pipeline go ahead. The majority of these deaths (55,000 by 2030) will be in Southeast Asia.




Workers from Tagaung Nikel Mine on Strike against Investment Rules –7 Day Daily

Workers from Tagaung Nikel factory went strike for the second time due to the investment rules. The investment rules allows foreign workers to work as a cheap labor. It challenges local workers’ contracts. The Chinese investor brought cheap unskilled labor from China, and it cause less employment for Myanmar workers. Mr. Aung Myo Tun, the leader of the strike, said “In foreign investment laws and rules, it allows foreign workers only for the skilled labor. As they brought cheap labor it makes us difficult for employment and it also caused social problems”. The Ministry of Mines gave permit to the Chinese Mining company CNICO in 2008 for Tagaung Nikel Mine.



A request to government to have public consultation on hydropower development projects –Radio Free Asia Khmer

A request to government of Cambodia and development partners to review in detail on development project before issuing a license.  Experts said that it is important to have local voice in project design and information about investment projects should be publicly available to ensure that it is a transparency process. Government official said that the ministry has seriously worked on it before issuing a license. Independent Hydropower Dam Consultant, Mr. Hem Oudom said that the government should organize public consultation meeting to discuss and gain inputs and feedbacks from relevant stakeholders.  A spokesman of Ministry of Mine and Energy, Mr. Meng Saktheara said that government has conducted research on environmental and social impacts and engaged with local people before issuing a license to project proponents.



EGAT to build new power plants to contribute to global warming reduction. EGAT reiterated Thailand need for coal for energy security –Green News TV

EGAT to build new power plants to contribute to global warming reduction – to replace older technologies. The company also stressed that Thailand should focus more on energy over the target to reduce greenhouse gases. Mrs. Waraporn Kunawanakit,  Engineer Level 11 of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) said during on the stage organized by Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning on January 20, 2017 to receive comments on the draft map of the country’s greenhouse gas reduction after the year 2020 that building power plans to meet the country’s Power Development Plan (PDP2015) can help to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. ‘Like the case of Mae Moh Power Plant, which is to build the new Power Plant to replace the existing plant with the use of better technology to remove pollutants. However, if this can’t be created, the budget may be lost to improve the old system. The same is with the power plant in Krabi, if successfully completed will gradually abolish the power plants that use old technology. With these technological modifications, it will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”, said Mrs. Woraporn. Mrs. Waraporn said the reason to use coal as Thailand is still giving more important to the stability of energy than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When coal is used, it is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other sections, such as increasing the proportion of renewable energy or the campaign to save energy like using the electricity saving label no. 5.



UPDATE: Mekong EIA “Dream Team” Reaches the Final Mile –Mekong Partnership for the Environment

After an eighteen month journey, a team of civil society and government experts from across the Mekong Region is poised to transform the way communities are engaged in development. The team has developed the ‘Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in the Mekong Region,’ which lays out a practical approach for governments, companies and communities looking to improve the social and environmental impacts of development projects.

ARTICLE: Troubled Wings: 7 Birds We May Lose from The Mekong –The Mekong Eye

Much attention has been given to damages that are being inflicted on Mekong fish by massive infrastructure development. But little has been said about another of the region’s most valuable ecological assets: the spectacular birds of the Mekong. The article shows 7 key Mekong bird species that our children may not have a chance to see. (See also: The Bird’s Eye View: What Endangered Birds Tell Us About the Risks of Mekong Development –The Mekong Eye)

REPORT: Hydropower in China impacts the flow of the Mekong River –Aalto University

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. (See also: China Hydropower Having Major Impact Along Mekong River: Study –Bloomberg BNA)

BREIFING PAPER: The 2016 US Presidential Election and the Implications for Climate Change –IGES via the Mekong Eye

This briefing note surveys early hints and speculations regarding the Trump Administration’s possible climate policies and personnel appointments, and discusses them in the context of the surrounding domestic political context and institutional decision-making processes. A few areas for cautious optimism are identified and obstacles to the potential worst-case scenarios are highlighted.

PRESS RELEASE: Gender workshops for sustainable energy in Lao PDR and Cambodia –UNIDO via EcoBusiness

Representatives of a diverse set of stakeholders contributed to consultative gender workshops and meetings in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Cambodia held in December in the framework of two sustainable energy projects funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The project in Cambodia aims to increase rural electrification and also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through the promotion of commercial biogas-to-power systems.

STATEMENT: Cambodia: CSOs call for the immediate implementation of the decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention  –World Organisation Against Torture

On the occasion of the two-month anniversary of the adoption of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s (“WGAD”) ruling that the ongoing detention of ADHOC staff members, we, the undersigned civil society organizations, reiterate our call upon the Cambodian authorities to implement the decision of the WGAD and immediately release them.

VIDEO: Lao Mekong Pak Beng HPP Introduction Video –Mekong River Commission

The Pak Beng hydropower project is proposed on the Mekong mainstream in the northern territory of Lao PDR. The run-of-river project with capacity of 912 MW and the average annual generation of 4,775 GWh is expected to produce power for domestic supply and export. The dam is located between the Jinghong hydropower project in China and the Xayaburi hydropower project in Laos.



Editor’s notes:

  • The above is curated by The Mekong Eye, a GeoJournalism website which you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook
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  • Any information or opinions above are the responsibility of the authors and/or originating outlets and may not reflect the work or opinions of MPE, its donors, or partners. Contents above may be edited slightly for presentation.




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