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Mekong Eye News Digest: 1 February 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, February 2, 2017

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

To February 1, 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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Drowning out traditions –The Nation via The Mekong Eye

Despite little consultation, Laos and China forge ahead with the construction of the Pak Beng dam in Northwest Laos. The smiles that once brightened faces in Luangtong, a small community in Laos’ northwest Oudomxay province, have disappeared. These days the residents appear defeated, stunned by the knowledge that before long the land that has sustained them for generations will be submerged under the waters behind Pak Beng Dam.

Sailing to the Source of the Mekong –Sixth Tone

After they had made it to the spiritual source of the Mekong, Bright and Forsyth shared what they’ve learned about Western ideas of development, what it means to be selfless, and how the river’s delicate ecosystem connects people from Yunnan and Tibet in southwestern China with those as far away as southern Vietnam.

Interview: Too early to oppose Mekong navigational improvement plan: expert –Xinhua

It is too early for some Thai scholars and media sources to oppose the plan to clear islets and rocky outcrops along the Mekong River to boost shipping navigation as there is no clear evidence that such a plan would cause environmental or other damage, an expert on the matter has told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

The Environmental Costs of Sand Mining on the Mekong –Sixth Tone

In China’s Yunnan province, dredging river sediment is good business — but experts warn of its impact on the region’s fragile ecosystems. “Sand dredging changes the structure and appearance of the riverway,” Huang Daoming, deputy chief engineer at the Institute of Hydroecology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, told Sixth Tone. Depleting the riverbed of sand not only leads to the erosion of riverbanks, but also threatens fish populations.



Before the Flood: Can the Bunong Culture Survive Cambodia’s Sesan II Dam –Mongabay via The Mekong Eye

Divided by promises of compensation, ethnic minority villages in northeastern Cambodia face relocation for a hydropower dam. When completed, the Lower Sesan II dam will inundate 36,000 hectares (89,000 acres) of forest and force 5,000 people to relocate, activists say. The Bunong, an ethnic minority group whose livelihood and culture depends on the river and the forest, will be among the most affected by the dam.

Protests over Mondulkiri sanctuary –The Phnom Penh Post

Some 50 villagers representing Phnong ethnic communities in Mondulkiri protested two days in a row last week against the provincial land department’s decision to list parts of Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary as private state land, paving the way for a company to clear it.

Environment Ministry Now Controls 40 Percent of Cambodia’s Land –The Cambodia Daily

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday signed a sub-decree to create “biodiversity conservation corridors”—patches of land connecting Cambodia’s protected areas—putting an additional 1.4 million hectares under the management of the Environment Ministry. This brings Cambodia’s protected areas overseen by the ministry to more than 40 percent of the country’s land area.

Standoff over Tbong Khmum farmland enters week two –The Phnom Penh Post

Some 300 demonstrators from seven villages in Tbong Khmum province are entering their second week of protest against a local company’s ongoing attempts to clear farmland they say belongs to them, claiming the government tricked them out of their land in the 1990s and had granted to Sopheak Nika Investment company.

Gold Mine Firms Pitch Happy Future, But Civil Society Wary –The Cambodia Daily

After years of stalled projects, representatives of two of Cambodia’s first large-scale gold mining projects are making big promises: huge foreign investment, happy communities and positive contributions to the local ecosystem.

Coal-fired plant tests new power generator –The Phnom Penh Post

Structural testing of the third unit of a 700-megawatt coal-fired power plant under development in Preah Sihanouk province has begun, with the new unit expected to go online by the end of the quarter. The 135-megawatt power-generating unit will add to the existing 270-megawatt capacity of the massive Cambodia International Investment Development Group (CIIDG) power station.

Living life on the edge, but commercial aspect still triumphs –The Phnom Penh Post

Riverbank house collapses have become the norm in Cambodia. But whether this has deterred existing residents, who are still safe for now, from moving to safer grounds remains a clear no..



Pak Beng Hydropower project looks set to move forward –Vientiane Times

The construction of the Pak Beng Hydropower Project is expected to begin at the end of this year after reaching agreement among Lower Mekong countries. A group of technical officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Lao National Mekong Committee Secretariat and media organisations recently visited the construction site of the Pak Beng Hydropower Project in Oudomxay province.

Lao Province Issues Banana Ban –RFA

Authorities in the northern Lao province of Bokeo suspended the operations of 18 Chinese-backed banana plantations after they discovered widespread violations of the regulations governing the use of agricultural chemicals, government officials told RFA’s Lao Service.



Demonstrators protest IFC hydropower workshop in Kachin –Myanmar Times

Around 60 people staged a demonstration in Myitkyina yesterday, voicing opposition against any resumption of hydropower projects in Kachin State. The demonstration took place outside a consultation held by the International Finance Corporation, a private sector-financing entity of the World Bank. (See also: Environmental groups voice opposition to IFC dam workshops –Burma News International)

China’s Myanmar Dam HypocrisyThe Diplomat

China is preserving the ecology of the Nu River within its borders. Downstream in Myanmar, it’s a different story. China’s recent decision to exclude the Nu River in China (also known as the Upper Salween) from their dam-building program highlights Beijing’s contradictory support for dam projects downstream in the ethnic states of Myanmar.

Minister discusses dams and hydropower with Chinese firm –Eleven Myanmar

Top officials from Myanmar have discussed dams and hydropower projects with one of China’s biggest hydropower companies. Officials from SPIC outlined hydropower generation, plus environmental conservation and the social responsibility process of economic enterprises. Myanmar is keen to work with China on such areas.

ADB eyes greater role in Myanmar road, port projects –Nikkei Asian Review

The Asian Development Bank will help Myanmar modernize its transportation infrastructure, such as roads and ports, seeing public-private partnerships as key to promoting projects. The Manila-based multilateral lender will serve as an adviser assisting the Myanmar government in such matters as drawing up plans, selecting contractors and procuring funds.

Villagers vow to continue gold protest –Myanmar Times

Farmers in Mandalay have vowed to continue with their protests in front a government office until their problems with gold miners who have allegedly encroached on their land is resolved. The farmers from Thabeikkyin township, who have been staging sit-in protests in front of Number 2 Mining Enterprise Office since January 14, said the authorities had not made any effort to meet them or discuss their problems.

Work to expand Thilawa SEZ to begin in FebruaryMizzima                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Work to expand Myanmar’s Thilawa special economic zone will begin in late February near Yangon. The first-phase construction is expected to finish in mid-2018.In the expansion project, an additional 100 hectares will be developed alongside the existing 400-hectare site, located 25 kilometers southeast of Yangon.



The Mekong Part 4: Blasting the Rapids in Thailand –RFA

China wants to remove rocks and islets in the Mekong in order to clear the way for large cargo ships, effectively turning Southeast Asia’s longest river into a Chinese trade and shipping lane. Thailand’s military government meanwhile has plans to build a multimillion dollar freight transport hub in the country’s northern province of Chiang Rai. The aim is to link Chinese shipping with Thai land transport.

Thap Lan: Thailand’s Unsung Forest Gem Under Threat, but Still Abrim with Life –Mongabay

Thailand’s Thap Lan National Park is part of the Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai Forest Complex (DPKY-FC), designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance to global biodiversity. Thap Lan faces major threats, including poaching, illegal logging and the expansion of a highway leading from Bangkok to the country’s northeast. The park, along with the rest of the DPKY-FC, could be downgraded by UNESCO to inscription on the “List of World Heritage in Danger.”

Siemens to deliver gas-fired power plant to Thailand –Power Engineering International

Siemens has received a $550m order for the delivery of a turnkey combined cycle power plant to Thailand. The gas-fired power plant in South Bangkok consists of two units in a single-shaft configuration and will feature two H-class gas turbines for the first time in the country. After commissioning in 2019 the 1200 MW power plant is expected to power 1.5 million Thai households.



Vietnam punishes four for Formosa spill –Taipei Times

Vietnam said on Thursday it would punish four officials over one of its worst environmental disasters, caused by a unit of Taiwan conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group. Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp polluted more than 200km of coastline in April last year, killing more than 100 tonnes of fish and devastating the environment, jobs and economies of four provinces.

Proposed hydropower plant in Laos to affect lower Mekong River in Vietnam –VietNamNet Bridge

Laos is making hectic preparations for the building of one more hydropower dam – Pak Beng – on the Mekong river section which runs through Oudomxay province, despite strong warnings about the influence on the lower course, especially in Vietnam’s Mekong River Delta.

Vietnam weak at river basin management: scientists –VietNamNet Bridge

Scientists say that problems in river basin management, due to a lack of cooperation among agencies, are threatening the country’s water security.  After years of discussions and negotiations, Da Nang and Quang Nam Province have signed an agreement on integrated management of the basin and coastline.

For Vietnam Coal Will Ensure A ‘Cheap’ Energy Future. Or Will It? –Forbes

For Vietnam it’s a double edged sword, supporting the shift towards coal Vietnam Energy Association had recently claimed that after turning down nuclear energy the country had no other choice but to rely on fossil fuels. Even though building new coal plants can help the country phase out old inefficient and higher polluting coal plants while also meeting domestic energy demands at an affordable cost, experts believe it’s not the only alternative.


DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT                                             

Banks, UN set standards on channeling investments for sustainable development –United Nations

Nearly 20 leading global banks and investors, totaling $6.6 trillion in assets, have launched a United Nations-backed global framework aimed at channeling the money they manage towards clean, low carbon and inclusive projects. The Principles for Positive Impact Finance provide financiers and investors with a global framework applicable across their different business lines, including retail and wholesale lending, corporate and investment lending and asset management.

Making Southeast Asia resilient to climate change –Bangkok Post

If governments in Southeast Asia do not start acting now, many vulnerable populations in the region will continue to endure significant impacts to people’s lives and livelihoods. To facilitate cross-sector, multiple-actor processes, deliberative democracy exercises offer a tremendous opportunity.

Nearly 50 civil society groups back activists -Khmer Times

In a joint statement, 48 civil society organizations have urged the Appeal Court to overturn a ruling by the Koh Kong Provincial Court in a case against three Mother Nature activists.



Burma: A Journalist’s Murder and Aftermath In Brahmadesh –Euroasia Review (OpEd)

Myanmar witness lesser incidents of journo-killing and the Buddhist majority country witnessed the assassination of only five journalists in the last one and half decades. But the recent murder of a young reporter in its northwestern part, which is adjacent to Nagaland and Manipur, exposes the vulnerability of media persons, who dare to report on critical issues including the environment and shockingly with little hope for justice.

Photographer captures deadly battle for land and environment in Thailand –Reuters

Photographer Luke Duggleby recalled a meeting four years ago with Thai environmental activist Jintana Kaewkhao, who told him how she faced assassination attempts in her fight to block a coal-fired power plant along the coast in southern Thailand. Jintana survived, but Charoen Wat-aksorn, who protested alongside her and fought against another coal-fired power plant in a nearby community, was shot dead in June 2004.

Media outlets oppose new law -The Nation

MEDIA ORGANISATIONS nationwide issued a joint statement yesterday against a media regulation bill. It denounced the embattled bill as restricting press freedom rather than protecting it by opening the way for state authorities to interfere in the media’s affairs through the so-called Media Professional Council.



Small Hydropower Devices Making Big Waves –NHK World

The word “hydroelectricity” conjures up images of massive dams with huge water turbines generating thousands of megawatts. But hydroelectric projects on a far smaller scale may soon become the norm. One firm in central Japan plans to export its eco-friendly technology abroad, and transform the lives of rural people without access to power. A small hydropower plant in Toyama Prefecture uses water flowing into rice paddies to generate electricity.

 China-led AIIB plans to limit investment in coal power –GB Times

In a bid to live up to its environmentally friendly values, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is planning to adopt strict limits to investment in coal power. Launched by China as a “lean, clean and green” lender to invest in infrastructure projects in Asia, the AIIB opened for business a year ago with 57 member countries and US$100 billion in capital.

How can ASEAN Meet its Renewables Target by 2025? –Brink Asia

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will need to spend $290 billion on building out renewable energy sources to achieve its goal of producing 23 percent of its total primary energy supply (TPES) from renewables by 2025, according to a recent report.  As demand for energy continues to grow in the region, procuring it sustainably and affordably will be key, along with enhancing energy security. The region has significant renewable resources that can be harnessed, but each country within ASEAN needs to play a part.

 Drier future –China Daily

Southeast Asia has just experienced some of its worst droughts in living memory, with analysts warning that the combination of economic and population growth plus climate change is starting to have a profound impact on water security and agriculture. A number of recent reports, all from credible international organizations, see a potential water crisis looming in the wider region.

Yunnan Dams a Boon to Fishermen — For Now –Sixth Tone

Upstream from Jinglin is one of Yunnan’s 14 dams along the Mekong. Each dam has dramatically changed the river, the surrounding landscape, and the livelihood of the people who live there. After hydropower developments slowed the Mekong to the extent that fishing became possible, villagers are now seeing a decline in species. With each new dam, local residents must be relocated to make way for the massive reservoir. Additional concerns are fish populations and biodiversity.




Local people said illegal fishing in Khsach Sar Lake in Prey Veng Province not reduced yet –Radio Free Asia Khmer

Local people said that illegal fishing in Khsach Sar Lak in Ba Phnom District of Prey Veng Province has not been reduced yet, there is no intervention from authorities at all. Local people continually said that hundred meters of tiny fishing nets have been used illegally for fishing.

In contrast, provincial department of fishery administration has dispatched a team to monitor and take actions on all illegal fishing in the area. Currently local people are calling for intervention from government and relevant agencies to ban all illegal fishing in their area, while local people have no more believe in local authorities to ban all illegal fishing activities. The fishing industry in Cambodia is under threat due to the advance of several planned dams on the Mekong River.



Seub Nakhasathien Foundation denounces amendment on National Park Law –Post Today

Seub Nakhasathien Foundation announced the opposition of the draft amendment on the National Park law by Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation in order to solve the problems of communities living in the forest conservation areas. The Foundation aims to help solving the problems in sustainable way, therefore there are three main issues to be considered and followed by adoption of fact, fairness and feasibility.  Fact: The communities have been living in the area prior to the conservation area announcement by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Therefore, the department should have a law to certify that there are already communities in the conservation area which allows the department to protect the area as well as human rights of those who live in the area. Fairness: The communities have been living in the area prior to the conservation area announcement, therefore they deserve the rights to live in the conservation area. However, they should not invade more conservation area. The government should work with the communities peacefully in order to find better solutions and fair for both parties. Feasibility: Even though, the communities have been living in the conservation area for a long time but there are many cases of conservation area invasion which have impact on ecosystems.  Therefore, in the draft amendment on the national park law should include participatory area investigation of both parties to find agreeable conclusion.



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.

JOURNALISM GRANTS: Grants and Fellowships Help Journalists Cover the Environment –Earth Journalism Network / Internews

Mekong region journalists: apply now for Biodiversity Reporting Grants, EJN fellowships to the International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) and other opportunities.

NEWS: SEI ranked as world’s most influential environment policy think tank –Stockholm Environmental Institute

SEI is rated as the world’s most influential think tank on environmental policy issues in the University of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Global Go To Think Tanks Index, billed as the “premier database and measure of world think tanks”. The index, which is based on a survey of thousands of journalists, policy-makers, donors and topic and regional specialists around the globe, uses a detailed list of criteria including leadership and staff; quality and reputation of the research produced; policy impact and recognition.

NEWS: Banks, UN set standards on channeling investments for sustainable development –United Nations

Nearly 20 leading global banks and investors, totaling $6.6 trillion in assets, have launched a United Nations-backed global framework aimed at channeling the money they manage towards clean, low carbon and inclusive projects. The Principles for Positive Impact Finance provide financiers and investors with a global framework applicable across their different business lines, including retail and wholesale lending, corporate and investment lending and asset management.

REPORT: Accelerating Off-grid Renewable Energy: Key Findings and Recommendations from IOREC 2016 –International Renewable Energy Agency

Technology and business innovation could cut the costs of renewable power generation for mini-grids by 60% in 20 years, according to this conference report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Yet around 600 million people are still expected to lack electricity access in 2040, despite international goals to ensure sustainable energy for all.

REPORT: State of Civil Society Reports 2016 –CIVICUS

The 2016 State of Civil Society Report summarizes the key events, issues and trends affecting civil society around the world. The 5th annual report draws on contributions from more than 30 of the world’s leading experts on civil society as well as investigative work from the CIVICUS staff, which was conducted in close partnership with hundreds of activists in the field. The report is available to download in full and is also divided into sections for individual download.

STATEMENT: Vietnam: New Wave of Arrests of Critics –Human Rights Watch

Vietnam has at least 112 bloggers and activists who are serving prison sentences simply for exercising their rights to basic freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Human Rights Watch has long called for the repeal of all laws in Vietnam that criminalize peaceful expression. Vietnam’s donors should issue public statements calling on the government to end harassment and prosecution of critics and rights campaigners.

ANALYSIS: The rise and fall of World Bank funded megaprojects –Bretton Woods Project

The World Bank concluded 2016 by adding a controversial megaproject to its portfolio, while beyond the main spotlight it withdrew support from other high-profile megaprojects. Questions have been raised about the World Bank funding what is in essence a fossil fuel project, despite its alleged support for the UN’s 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, including an August 2016 statement that it “has ramped up its support for climate work post Paris”, including “more investments in renewable energy.”


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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