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Mekong Eye News Digest: 8 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 9, 2017

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

To 8 February 2017

Curated by The Mekong Eye. A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, environmental impacts, safeguards and related issues. We include a balanced and representative range of news and views from local, regional and global sources. The Digest reaches over 5500 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

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Battle rages for the Mekong –Bangkok Post

Plans to blast shipping obstacles along the mighty river spell tragedy for precious biodiversity. “The Mekong’s alteration not only affects fish and the livelihoods of local people, but directly affects many species of birds all along its course,” says Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok, of the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand. (See also: The soul of the Mekong is in serious trouble –Bangkok Post (opinion) )

Blasting the Mekong for commercial shipping –The Third Pole

The Thai government has moved ahead with the plan to boost trade, sparking outrage among environmentalists. But today the natural landscape and the rich biodiversity of this great river are under threat from a rock and islets demolition plan. However Thai authorities say this cannot be approved until the survey and environmental impact assessment have been completed.

Mekong dams threaten 60m: academics –The Nation

The Mekong delta in southern Vietnam faces severe impacts from the construction of upstream hydropower dams, experts here said, urging the regulatory body Mekong River Commission (MRC) to implement dispute settlement mechanisms to solve the problems. Dams built in the mainstream of the Mekong in China and Laos block the water flow, fish migration and sediment disbursal to downstream areas, they said.

New study shows significant impact of Chinese dams on Mekong –The Third Pole via Mekong Eye

Dam construction has resulted in widely fluctuating river flow, threatening fish productivity, which is key to region’s people and economy. Large dams on the Mekong River in China’s Yunnan Province have considerable impacts on downstream river flows, new research by Timo Räsänen and colleagues at Aalto University in Finland and published recently in the Journal of Hydropower has shown.



Cambodia Groups Urge to Reject New Laos Dam at Talks –VOA Cambodia

At the forthcoming regional consultation forum on Laos’ Pak Beng hydropower dam in Luang Prabang, Cambodian environmental groups will urge relevant stakeholders, including the Cambodian government, to reject the 912-megawatt project, alarmed by the potential impacts on fisheries and sediment flow in the Mekong.

Kith Meng Backs Plans for Three Hydropower Dams –The Cambodia Daily

The Royal Group chairman, whose business interests range from ANZ Royal Bank to cellular service provider Cellcard, already has a stake in the Lower Sesan II dam in Stung Treng province. The 400-megawatt hydropower project is nearing completion after being plagued by accusations of illegal logging, forced evictions and heavy damage to local fish stocks.

Gold Mines, NGOs Fight Over the Treasures of Mondolkiri –The Cambodia Daily

Wildlife groups and gold companies can at least agree on this: There’s treasure in the hills of Mondolkiri province. Where their views differ, however, is exactly what those treasures might be. Australia’s Renaissance Minerals is eager for the Mines and Energy Ministry to grant it its first-ever mining license in a protected area so the company can begin excavating the Okvau gold deposit in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary.

In Cambodia’s Prahok Season, Concerns Raised Over Future Droughts and Dams –VOA Cambodia

Every year, travelers and farmers gather at the riverbanks some eight kilometers from Phnom Penh to buy and sell the fish. This year’s prahok fish (traditional fermented fish paste prahok) sold at unusually high prices. The fish sellers talked about last year’s drought, declining water levels and dam construction.

Boeung Kak: A Disastrous Decade -Phnom Penh Post

Ten years ago this week, Phnom Penh City Hall and the development firm Shukaku Inc announced an agreement to transform the Boeung Kak lake area into a sprawling mixed-use development. In the years following, thousands were evicted and a protest movement grew among the disgruntled residents.

Koh Rong Land Dispute Flares Up with Reports of Arrests –The Cambodia Daily

Tensions are rising in one of the country’s hottest tourist destinations as a lingering land dispute stretching back almost a decade has again flared up. The Royal Group received a land concession in 2008 to develop a $3.38 billion plan with casinos, hotels, golf courses and polo fields.

JICA study on urban railway -Khmer Times

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will conduct a feasibility study on building an urban railway in Phnom Penh, with the aim of developing a master plan to reduce traffic congestion in the capital.



The Pak Beng Hydropower –Lao National TV (Video)

The construction of the Pak Beng Hydropower Project is expected to begin at the end of this year. 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.

Xayabouri Dam Construction 73% Complete –Lao News Agency

The Construction Project of Xayaboury Hydropower Power Project is reportedly 73 per cent complete since construction commenced in 2012.The US$3.5 billion Xayaboury Hydroelectric Power Project is expected to be complete by 2019.

Gambling on Chinese Investment in Laos –Asia Sentinel

The Kings Romans Casino does not blend in with the forests of rural Southeast Asia, but the establishment is the heart of the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT-SEZ), a controversial gambling hub in northern Laos. The area has mostly attracted criticism for being a wildlife trafficking hotbed and its status as an effectively self-administered foreign enclave, though it has also brought investments to remote Bokeo province.

Authorities repeat call for return of Nongpaen project licence –Vientiane Times

Authorities revoked Lao Asia Trading International Company (LATIC)’s license to develop a tourist attraction on marshland in Hadxaifong district, Vientiane after the developer failed to comply with numerous agreements.

PM vows to address chronic land issues –Vientiane Times

Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has pledged to find solutions to the many land issues that have emerged and the government has formed a taskforce committee to investigate the problems and resolve them.



IFC Helps Integrate Sustainability into Myanmar’s Hydro Future –The Financial

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the government of Myanmar’s Ministry of Electricity & Energy and the Ministry of Natural Resources & Environmental Conservation are working with stakeholders to produce a balanced countrywide strategic environmental and social assessment (SEA) that can be used as a planning tool by decision-makers to improve sustainably of the hydropower sector (See also: IFC says it’s not part of Myanmar hydropower projects –Myanmar Times)

Longer wait for final word on Myitsone dam project –Myanmar Times                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

The struggle goes on over whether the controversial Myitsone dam and other hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River should be built. The commission is responsible for reviewing the hydropower projects to determine whether they are an environmental hazard – and if the proposed dams are beneficial to residents living in those areas, in particular the Myitsone dam in Kachin State. 

The Myanmar link to Asia’s next big leap –Myanmar Times

A new chapter of Asia’s growth story is being written either side of the Ganges Delta. South Asia is rising. China is striving to reach a new level. Along the Mekong, startling growth is reversing decades of stagnation. Myanmar and Bangladesh are ideally located to connect the economies on the southern side of Asia with those to the east.

ITD seeks update on Dawei plan –Bangkok Post

SET-listed Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) says it is ready to restart construction of the long-delayed Dawei deep-sea port and special economic zone over the next few months if the Thai and Myanmar governments approve continuation of the megaproject at a joint meeting on Feb 10.

Myanmar gives road link boost –Bangkok Post

The Myanmar government has approved a proposal allowing the Thai government to help improve the condition of a 68-km road which serves as an important link in the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) transport route. The Thai cabinet endorsed a plan to help Myanmar improve the 68-km section of the road at a cost of 1.8 billion baht funded by the Thai government. (See also: Burma Road Project Hooks 1.8 Billion Baht from Thailand –The Irrawaddy)

New energy master plan for Yangon –Myanmar Times

A master plan to allow local and foreign investors to have a stake in the energy and electricity sector is underway for the Yangon Region as power consumption continues to surge in the capital city.



Mekong projects must take impact on environment into account –The Nation

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may have been wrong when he said his government would clear the waterway for navigation in the Mekong River for the benefit of Thailand, suggesting that nobody should oppose this project. (See also: Prayut dismisses fears over Mekong rapids and Chiang Rai ‘won’t blow up the Mekong’ on Bangkok Post)

Tak traditions being trampled –Bangkok Post

The elephant population is threatened by encroaching industrialisation, not to mention development and urbanisation. Tak forest is jeopardised by the special economic zone (SEZ) which has accelerated the need for resources for outside investors. In 2015, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha included Tak among the 10 SEZs slated for development.

ERC suspends power purchase deals –Bangkok Post

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has suspended approvals for power purchase agreements (PPAs) of 11 wind farm projects located on Sor Por Kor land, mostly in Nakhon Ratchasima and Chaiyaphum provinces. ERC commissioner Viraphol Jirapraditkul said the 11 wind farm developers have a combined power-generating capacity of 700 megawatts and are awaiting PPA approval. (See also: Wind farm dust-up to blow over –Bangkok Post, Solutions available to start wind projects –Bangkok Post Editorial)

Megaprojects swell to B2.2tn –Bangkok Post

The government’s raft of big-ticket infrastructure projects has grown to 2.2 trillion baht in value after the Transport Ministry added 28 projects worth a combined 800 billion. After taking the 28 projects into account, 240-billion-baht worth of public investment in large-scale infrastructure is expected to be disbursed and injected into the economy this year.

Tainted water saga has roots in poor policy –Bangkok Post (opinion)

For the past 15 years, the villagers of tambon Nam Pu, Ratchaburi’s Muang district, have complained about toxic wastewater from an industrial waste treatment plant that has contaminated their water sources. Little has been done to ease their plight. The contamination appears to have worsened over the years and has now affected the groundwater aquifer.



Vietnam moves to ensure water resource security amid climate change –VietNamNet Bridge

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) has promulgated an action plan with the aim of promoting cooperation, sharing and monitoring trans-boundary water resources from now to 2020.

Mekong set for tougher drought -Viet Nam News

Mekong Delta provinces have taken measures to counteract drought and salinisation as weather forecasts say that the region could face shortages of water in 2017. the Mekong River is expected to be 15 to 30 per cent lower than the average flow of several years, equivalent to the dry season of 2014–15.

Rare Public Outcry Prompts Vietnam to Hit Investment Brakes –Bloomberg Quint

Rattled by the outpouring of public anger over the Formosa incident, Vietnam’s Communist leaders are rethinking the strategy of courting foreign investment at almost any cost. Now they are vowing to reject environmentally harmful investment and introduce regular factory inspections to ensure companies comply with the law. (See also: Vietnamese Commune Targeted by Protestors Over Formosa Spill Payments –RFA)

Vietnam’s coastal zones boast rich resources –VietNamNet Bridge

About 35 minerals with varying reserves, including fuel, metals, construction materials, precious and semi-precious gemstones, and liquid minerals have been discovered in the Vietnam’s coastal zones. These zones also contain mineral sands and heavy minerals with rare elements like titanium, zirconium and cerium, and 60,000 hectares of salt fields.

IUCN launches wetlands project –VietNamNet Bridge

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) launched a regional project to enhance the resilience of wetlands in Lower Mekong countries on the occasion of World Wetlands Day (February 2).  The project builds climate resilience by harnessing the benefits of wetlands in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Việt Nam.


DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT                                             

Should the Trump Administration Cut USAID to Expand MCC? –Center for Global Development (Blog)

There are a lot of uncertainties about the direction US development policy will take under President Trump. One looming question is whether the administration will pursue significant structural changes to the landscape of US foreign assistance agencies. One proposal—put forth several years ago calls for scaling back or phasing out the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and elevating the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as the lead foreign assistance agency.

The inconvenient truth about foreign aid –Open Democracy

Why should an old and poorly-performing industry carry on, burdened with even more tasks, and provided with yet more money? To answer that question we have to look at the drivers and navigation systems at work upstream in the system where the captains of the aid industry confer. These drivers get little serious probing, but the knowledge we do have points to an inconvenient truth: the main systems of development aid chiefly serve the donors. The aid system colludes in redistributing wealth from poorer to richer. Under an aura of beneficence, aid is harnessed to self-interest.



Firms urged to invest in Myanmar –Bangkok Post

The Thai private sector is being urged to set up industrial estates or special economic zones (SEZs) in Myanmar as the neighbouring country emerges as a magnet for foreign investment. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said that Thai investors should pay more attention to Myanmar as a destination for investment, as the country is making large strides on its labour competitiveness and rich raw materials.

New Investment Law Rules to be Announced in March –The Irrawaddy

Burma’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) will announce new regulations for the national investment law in early March. The business community anticipates that the new regulations will include information on which industries to invest in, on the amount of government incentives, and on how the government will provide oversight.



The faces of the disappeared –Bangkok Post

Of the dozens of human rights defenders killed in Thailand in the past decades, many are unknown. This exhibit of portraits within portraits seeks to change that. The subjects of photographer Luke Duggleby’s exhibition fought for land rights, against corruption or environmentally destructive projects that threatened their community and livelihood. They were silenced as a result.



Renewable energy is key to economic growth in emerging Asia market –Chief Investment Officer

Despite the market turmoil surrounding Brexit, the attraction of growth prospects of Emerging Asia (Southeast Asia, China and India) should continue to expand, spurred on by an emphasis on renewable energy projects. The reason: continued domestic consumption, spurred on by developing alternative energy sources.

Confronting Global Security in an Era of Water Instabilities –Foreign Policy Journal

Political instability complicated by water security threats compromises America’s ability to navigate global security challenges. This could be achieved in part through the introduction or reinforcement of global standards for multi-party water management and allocation. The challenge of water security in unstable regions should also be integrated into broader narratives about harsh living conditions, a strategy that places the issue within the ambit of the development community.

China-backed bank swings behind coal-powered generators –The Australian

The Turnbull government has had a significant win for the ­future of investment in modern coal-fired power stations in Asia and Australian exports by ­getting the $100 billion Asian ­Infrastructure Investment Bank to drop its ban on financing coal-powered electricity generators.

Threats to South-East Asia’s treasures –Eleven Myanmar

South-East Asia includes at least six of the world’s 25 “biodiversity hotspots” – areas of the world with an exceptional concentration of species, which are also under serious threat. The region contains 20% of the planet’s vertebrate and plant species and the world’s third-largest tropical forest.



ANNOUNCEMENT: Regional Stakeholder Forum on the Council Study and the Pak Beng Hydropower Project –Mekong River Commission

The Regional Stakeholder Forum on the Council Study and the Pak Beng Hydropower Project aims to share information on the progress and expected outputs of the two key works of the MRC: the Council Study and the Pak Beng prior consultation process; to jointly review and provide comments and recommendations on the design of the council study assessment method, tools and indicators; and to share information, exchange and document views on the proposed Pak Beng hydropower. The forum is 22-23 February in Luang Prabang. Register before 10 February.

BOOK: Water Governance Dynamics in The Mekong Region –Gerakbudaya

Scholars, practitioners and ex-officials have probed water resources decision-making, prodded policy actors on their positions, and proposed ways for more inclusive, deliberative and adaptive water governance. It is far from obvious that the promises of democratization and improved public accountability are inevitable. The need for multi-disciplinary scholarship and constructive contestation remains.

VIDEO: Community Water Management –Oxfam via Mekong Citizen

Why is community water management important for people living in the Mekong region? You can find out more in the four-minute video that Oxfam’s Inclusion Project brought 50 participants from communities, civil societies and governments from Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar to share and learn the best practice on community water management in Cambodia.

ARTICLE: Protected zones offer refuge for Cambodia’s endangered ibises –Bird Life

In a process that has been six years in the making, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, has approved plans to divide Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary’s 250,000 hectares of land into four different zones, with added protection for areas that are significant to globally threatened species. Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Cambodia’s largest protected areas, and is among the first to be zoned in accordance to The Law on Nature Protection.

PAPER: Transboundary Threats in the Mekong Basin: Protecting a Crucial Fishery –The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University

The paper looks at the impacts that dams in the upper Mekong River basin have on the critically important fishery in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap. Altman explores how development of dams, in combination with a failure of regional governance, has threatened the ecological sustainability of the lake and its watershed, and the livelihoods of people in the region. She identifies strategies to enhance the resilience of the Tonle Sap fishery and improve the lives of people who are connected to this unique ecosystem.

NEWS: NGOs Submit Further Comments on the Draft Myanmar Investment Rules –Myanmar Center for Responsible Business

MCRB together with EarthRights International, Oxfam International, and the International Commission of Jurists, has submitted written comments on the ‘second tranche’ of the Draft Rules for the Myanmar Investment Law.

BRIEF: The road to Mekong: the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project –Observer Research Foundation

As India places the Mekong sub-region among its priorities under the country’s ‘Act East’ policy, the ongoing India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway project could prove to be a game changer. This paper focuses on the project’s procedural, financial and bureaucratic aspects and provides recommendations to ensure its effective and timely implementation.



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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