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Mekong Eye News Digest #125: New Lao dams, fish migration, journalists bribed & more

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT – DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT – GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE – RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES   MEKONG DEVELOPMENT  Enormous fish make one of the world’s largest migrations – National Geographic Billions of fish make an annual trek through the rivers of Southeast Asia, supporting millions of people. Yet scientists still don’t know much about them. Some of the […]

By The Mekong Eye

Mekong Region, April 12, 2017

MEKONG DEVELOPMENTDEVELOPMENT CONTEXTGLOBAL PERSPECTIVERESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES  

MEKONG DEVELOPMENT 

Enormous fish make one of the world’s largest migrations – National Geographic
Billions of fish make an annual trek through the rivers of Southeast Asia, supporting millions of people. Yet scientists still don’t know much about them. Some of the world’s greatest animal migrations take place on land, one of the most important treks—and definitely one of the largest, in terms of sheer numbers of animals on the move—occurs out of view, in the murky depths of the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia, where each year billions of fish of all shapes and sizes embark on one of the most incredible animal migrations on the planet. (Also see: Wonder of the Mekong: Billions of fish migrate across Cambodia each year – Nevada Today)

Joint panel discusses prior consultation process for Pakbaeng dam – Vientiane Times
Delegates from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam met yesterday at the second meeting of the Joint Committee Working Group (JCWG) on the procedures for notification, prior consultation and agreement (PNPCA) for the Pakbeng hydropower project. The Pakbaeng hydropower project is one of the five Mekong mainstream dams in northern Laos in the upper reaches of the Mekong River in Pakbaeng district, Oudomxay province.

CAMBODIA

Forest Loss Slows, But National Park Still Suffer, Data Shows – Cambodia Daily
Cambodia lost about 18 percent less forest cover in 2015 than it did the year before, according to the latest figures released by researchers at the University of Maryland in the U.S., though the country’s nominally protected areas continue to be hit hard. In 2015, data the researchers gathered from U.S. satellites showed that Cambodia suffered the fastest acceleration of forest loss in the world between 2001 and 2014 and one of the highest rates of forest loss overall.

LAOS

Lao Villagers Face Eviction From Dam Sites After Refusing ‘Unfair’ Compensation – Radio Free Asia
Residents of three villages in southern Laos are facing forced removal from their homes by the end of March if they fail to move from the sites of planned dams to an area they are calling unsuitable for farming, sources in the Southeast Asian country say. Over 100 families in Champasak province’s Xe-Namnoy, Houaysoy, and Namleng villages have been told to leave to make way for construction of two dams—the Xe-Pian and Xe-Namnoy—being built along the Mekong River.

Water management cooperation to flow Laos, China joint efforts – Vientiane Times
Laos and China have agreed to further enhance cooperation in the field of water resources through a new Data and Information Centre in conjunction with river basin management plans. The centre and the River Basin Master Planning Project are set to formulate planning schemes for comprehensive management and protection involving hydropower generation, flood control, water supply, irrigation and water resources protection focusing on the Nam Ou and Nam Theun-Kading river basins.

Full steam ahead for start of  Laos- China railway – Vientiane Times
Hundreds of trucks carrying machinery and equipment for construction of the Laos-China railway have entered Laos after being delayed at the border, a senior government official has said. A special lane has now been allocated at China’s Mohan and Laos’ Boten border crossing to facilitate the passage of the trucks, the project coordinator in Luang Namtha province, Mr Chanthachone Keolakhone, told Vientiane Times on Friday.

SK E&C Completes Hydroelectric Power Plant and Dam in Laos – Business Korea
SK Engineering & Construction (E&C) held an impounding ceremony to fill water after the completion of the Xepian-Seamnoi Hydroelectric Power Plant and Senam Noi Dam in Laos on March 31. Senam Noi Dam is 74 meters tall, 1.6 kilometers wide and can hold one billion tons of fresh water, which is superior to Xepian and Huweimakchan Dam built together in this project.

Na Mo 2 Hydropower to Be Built Soon – Lao News Agency
A US$217-million Nam Mo 2 Hydropower Plant Project will start construction in Mok District, Xieng Khouang Province soon, with the investors having signed a contract with the government on March 30. The Nam Mo 2 hydropower plant has a total capacity generation of 120 MW under the 27 years concession. The construction project will take three years and six months.

MYANMAR

Homegrown Clean Energy an Alternative to Myanmar’s spotty power Grid – Non-Profit Quaterly
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the case of rural Myanmar’s electricity generation, it’s also the mother of improvement. In rural areas where the national power grid does not reach, residents are creating electricity out of what’s available to them: sun and water. Solar and small-scale hydropower are generating electricity for households or villages, and the country is inadvertently bursting onto the highly modern clean-energy scene.

A Chinese-Backed Dam Project Leaves Myanmar in a Bid – The New York Times
For six years, Daw Kaw Bu has waited to return to the village she was forced to leave to make way for a dam that has yet to be built. “I pray to God to let me work on my own land again,” she said on a recent afternoon, sitting outside the wood-shingled home in Aung Myin Tha, where she was resettled in early 2011. She may get her answer soon, when a government-appointed commission makes a recommendation on the fate of the $3.6 billion, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam.

A weak plank in Asia’s infrastructure drive – Daily Times
This week a super tanker steamed towards Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu port to offload the first consignment into an oil supply pipeline with the capacity to supply 260,000 barrels per day from the Indian Ocean to Kunming in southwestern China. Some analysts trumpeted the port call as evidence of Myanmar’s emergence as a new key link in the quest for regional integration.Indeed, Myanmar is in the middle of many grand connective schemes, including China’s One Belt, One Road, Japan’s East-West Economic Corridor, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Free Trade Area.

Are India’s plans in Myanmar a pipeline or a pipe dream – East Asia Forum (Opinion)
The Sittwe deep-sea port in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, which was financed and constructed by India, will soon be launched. The port is one part of the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) in western Myanmar, which aims to connect Mizoram in landlocked northeast India to the Bay of Bengal. Delhi is also planning to form a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) about 60 kilometres upstream of Sittwe. But just 100 kilometres south of the proposed SEZ, China has been involved in developing a SEZ comprising a deep sea port in Kyaukphyu.

Rakhine oil pipe ready to serve China – Asean Economist
After a two-year delay, the Myanmar-China crude oil pipeline is expected to begin operating next month, Nay Pyi Taw announced this week.The governments have reportedly been in discussion over the technicalities of the crude oil pipeline since its soft launch in early 2015.The pipeline is controversial, provoking opposition among the public and non-governmental organisations. (Also see: Myanmar-China crude oil pipeline to commence next month – Bangkok Post)

Security concerns prevent banana- plantation probe – Eleven Myanmar
The government’s attempts to investigate a banana planters’ alleged trespass on protected forests in Kachin State have failed due to security concerns, sources say. The accusations surfaced in March against Myitkyina Township residents, who were accused of illegally dealing land plots in Malaw forest, accounting for 13,120 acres, and 10,600 acres in the Aranama forest.

Asia’s Future Cities: Yangon Lacking Resilience to Face Future Disasters – Channel News Asia
Nothing is normal these days when it comes to Myanmar’s weather. In Yangon, residents talk about a time when they used to wear sweaters or scarves in the colder months, when the early morning was crisp and people would exercise to stay warm. Not anymore. Yet, this rise in temperature is just a small indicator of the unparalleled challenges facing the country’s largest city.

427 mining licenses won’t be renewed as environmental plan drawn up – Eleven Myanmar
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation has announced that 427 mining licences will expire this month. The companies whose licences have run out are based in Lonekhin, Hpakant, Moehnyin, Moghoke, Mongshu and Khamti. Most of the sites were granted their licences as early as 2010. The ministry further said it would not extend the licences and was preparing an environmental management plan.

World Bank Financing Arm Under Fire Over Burmese Coal Mine Link – Irrawaddy
The World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, which gives financial assistance to businesses that invest in the developing world, has come under criticism in a new report over its connection to a controversial coal mining operation in Tenasserim Division.

THAILAND

Thailand amends law to give more energy exploration options – Reuters
Thailand’s military-appointed assembly approved an amendment to a petroleum law on Thursday which will give companies more options for exploration and production operations. Currently, oil and gas companies must get a concession to operate in a Thai field. The proposed amendment will add the option of striking production sharing agreements (PSA) or service contracts.

Kingsgate seeks compensation from Thailand over Chatree mine closure –Sunday Morning Herald

Australian miner Kingsgate is seeking compensation from Thailand’s military government over its controversial order to shutdown the company’s gold mine in northern Thailand, forcing the sackings of more than 1000 Thai workers. Kingsgate’s chief executive officer Greg Foulis said after numerous unanswered requests for meetings his company believed it has no option but to “exercise its rights as a protected Australian investor under the Australia-Thailand Free Trade Agreement.”

Natural Resources Policy Just Shifted Wildly in This SE Asia Superpower  – Pierce Points 

It isn’t being detailed in the Western press — but things have changed drastically for energy and mining in one of Southeast Asia’s most important markets.The most visible shifts in Thai natural resources have come in oil and gas. With the country’s energy minister General Anantaporn Kanjanarat setting a timeline Friday for new ownership of the country’s biggest natural gas projects.

Thailand plans to buy Cambodian water – Vietnam Net
Thailand’s listed Eastern Water Resources Development and Management Plc’s subsidiary Universal Utilities Plc. a tap water provider, plans to spend some 200 million baht ($6 million) a year to buy water from the still to be built Stung Nam hydroelectric dam in Koh Kong province to supply the Thai provinces of Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao.

VIETNAM

Ha long golf resort project lands in the rough over environmental concerns – VN Express International
The Vietnamese government has suspended a high-profile golf course & resort project run by developer FLC Group in Ha Long City, Quang Ninh Province, following media reports that the project poses serious mudslide risks, the goverment portal reported. Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung, a former minister of construction, has ordered FLC Group to discontinue work on the project because it has not submitted the necessary environmental impact assessment report, the site said.

A ‘dark shadow’ looms over a key part of Vietnam’s economy – Business Insider
Vietnam’s economy grew at a 5.1% year-over-year clip in the first quarter of 2017, data released by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam (GSO) showed on Wednesday. That was the slowest growth in three years, and weaker than 2016’s full-year growth of 6.21%. While there were a variety of factors that weighed on growth, the big story is the “dark shadow” that looms over the mining industry, the fourth biggest contributor to GDP, according to a note from BMI Research that was sent out to clients on Thursday.

No strong deterrents for illegal sand mining – Vietnam News
Increased awareness of the negative impacts of sand mining has sparked public outrage of late, but it has proceeded apace. The uncontrolled exploitation of sand has harmed the environment badly, hurt the structure and safety of waterway transport, caused land erosion and altered the flow of water. However, it seems that high profits have blinded illegal sand miners to the havoc they are causing, including the collapse of houses on river banks.

Vietnam tries to keep its head above water as scientists warn of sinking Mekong Delta – VN Express International
Vietnam will look into human and natural factors as it seeks to fight the problems threatening to sink the country’s Mekong Delta food basket, according to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The Mekong Delta, fed by alluvial soil from the Mekong River, supplies around 90 percent of Vietnam’s annual rice shipments, and the country stands only behind India and Thailand in terms of global rice exports.

Clean Energy-much potential but lack pricing mechanism – Vietnam Net
EVN and its subsidiaries are rising as one big investor in the field of renewable energy. EVN and its affiliates have been implementing the first preparatory steps to invest in 25 solar power projects with a total capacity of 2,846MW. Among these, parent company EVN will carry out four solar power projects, with a total capacity of 575 MW, including Phuoc Thai (200MW), Song Binh (200MW), Tri An (126MW), and Se San 4 (49MW).

Environmental groups call for reconsideration of thermal power plant – Vietnam Net
Under the national plan, 15 power plants would be built in the areas along Hau River, from Can Tho City to Hau Giang province and the seaport between Soc Trang and Tra Vinh provinces. There would also be thermal power plants in Long An province (Long An I and Long An II with capacity of 1200 MW for each) and one plant in Bac Lieu (1200 MW). If all the projects are implemented, Mekong Delta will become a region with a high density of thermal power plants by 2030.

Anger burns on Vietnam’s poisoned coast a year after spill – Reuters
“The big fish are all dead,” complained 50 year-old Mai Xuan Hoa, picking small fish from a net as he tried to rebuild his livelihood a year after Vietnam’s worst environmental disaster. Sea life began washing up on April 6, 2016 near a steel plant being developed by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp. Within weeks, more than 200 km (125 miles) of coast had been sullied by the accidental release of chemicals including cyanide, phenols and iron hydroxide.

US$127.5 million anti-drought mega project underway in Ninh Thuan – Vietnam Net
The USD127.5m Tan My Reservoir is Ninh Thuan’s biggest irrigation project to date. The reservoirs will provide water to nearly 4,400 hectares of cultivated land in Ninh Son and Bac Ai districts, 12,800 hectares of land in Ninh Hai District, 630 hectares of aquaculture farms and over 100,000 households. The project includes a reservoir on Cai River and five weirs that will be built 13km downstream.

Foreign paper factory admits to pollution in Mekong Delta – Vietnam Net
Chung Waifu, the company’s General Director, has sent a report to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s inspection team about the pollution, including during a trial run of its waste treatment plant on March 7, the province’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment has said. In it, the company admits to causing noise, dust and a bad odour affecting nearby households. The pollution was caused by coal dust from a coal warehouse.

 

DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT

Clean Energy Is Dirt Cheap – Unless You Live in Southeast Asia – Huffington Post
Everywhere you look headlines scream clean energy progress in Asia. Whether it’s 4 cent solar in India or China’s world record solar Installations the clean energy train seems to have left the station. Everywhere that is except Southeast Asia. According to the IEA Southeast Asia has quietly increased its share of coal in the overall energy mix (by 7%) while clean energy development has been stagnant causing clean energy’s portion of the pie to actually decline (by 1%).

Ecological hotspot under geopolitical fire – Asia Times
Despite seemingly positive negotiations with Vietnam early this year, China has been challenging its Southeast Asian neighbor through new moves in the South China Sea. These include the construction of Chinese military facilities on man-made islands in contested waters. While the security implications of the military build-up have been widely noted, less examined has been the damage caused to the marine environment, including vital coral reefs and other features.

CAMBODIA

Report shows Laos different timber tactics – The Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia and Laos share a border and a problem: vast swathes of their forests have been cut down, loaded on trucks and driven east to Vietnam and often sent onwards to China. In a bid to stop the long-documented depletion of their natural resources, both countries last year announced export bans to their eastern neighbour.

Kith Meng Firm Offers Bribe to Delete Article –  Cambodia daily
A representative of a Royal Group subsidiary whose trucks were seized by authorities last week for allegedly attempting to smuggle timber to Vietnam denied any wrongdoing on Monday and offered to pay reporters to remove an article about the seizure from The Cambodia Daily website. On Sunday, government officials said authorities in Tbong Khmum province had seized a pair of timber-loaded trucks two days earlier that were preparing to enter Vietnam, in breach of a ban in January last year on all timber exports to the country.

Protected birds come under threat – Khmer Times
A protected bird species has come under renewed threat after land-grabbers invaded Preah Vihear province’s Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary and destroyed their habitat. The lesser adjutant is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Protection of its nests started in 2002. Nest numbers have fallen since newcomers grabbed land to claim ownership.

MYANMAR

Vicky Bowman, the diplomat who caught the Burma bug – Mizzima (Interview)
In 2013, Vicky moved back to Myanmar to head the newly created Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. The Centre has since produced reviews of critical sectors in Myanmar’s economy—tourism, oil and gas, and ICT—has advocated for legal and regulatory changes to bring business practice in line with international human rights standards. It also provides a neutral venue for networking and discussion.

China’s climate aid flows into Myanmar – China Dialogue
Than Bayar Khon village sits nested in the foothills of the Bago Yoma forest in central Myanmar. The low mountains, once heavily forested with teak and valuable tropical timbers, are now rapidly balding. Despite being only a few kilometres from the major highway connecting the port city of Yangon with the capital Naypyidaw, the three hundred fifty families living in the village had no access to electricity until recently and relied on gathering charcoal and firewood from the forest for cooking.

Developing climate change resilience in Myanmar – Mizzima
Sixty-one-year-old Daw Myint Shwe has had to move her house in Thingangyin village in Ayeyarwady Region four times. “When the waves start lapping at the base of my house, it has to be moved. I move it a hundred feet or so back at a time. I can’t afford to build a new home so I just move it bit by bit. This year, three families had to move their houses – the year before it was twenty.”

China remains Myanmar’s largest foreign investor – Mizzima
According to data released by the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA), China remains Myanmar’s largest foreign investor with 163 projects valued at US$18.5 billion as of February this year. Singapore stands in second place with investments of $16.65bn spread throughout 230 projects, while Thailand is third with $10.6bn invested in 100 projects, according to today’s Global New Light of Myanmar.

Standing on the coastline – Myanmar Times (Opinion)
With the country’s liberalisation gaining momentum, the time has come for the Myanmar government to step up its efforts to manage and regulate its maritime industries and increasing economic activities in its waters. For those pondering what there is to gain economically from Myanmar’s ocean, the answer is simple. There is marine fishery, which is a lifeline for many coastal communities in the country and which serves as a significant contributor to the country’s export economy.

THAILAND

Forests too precious for housing – Bangkok Post (Opinion)
Mahachai is known as the biggest community of migrant workers from Myanmar. Mahachai is known as the biggest community of migrant workers from Myanmar. The government wants to regulate and control these migrant labourers.It has proposed providing settlements for them where they would like to live in clusters so they can be contained as a precaution against risks.

 

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

Large hydropower dams have no place in the Green Climate Fund – Climate Change News (Opinion)
The UN’s flagship climate finance initiative should be driving innovation, not wasting money on old technology saddled with resilience and human rights concerns

Trump: Hydro a “great, great form of power” – HydroWorld
A White House town hall meeting held earlier today provide what are perhaps the first clues as to hydroelectric power’s place in President Donald Trump’s energy future. “You know, hydropower is a great, great form of power,” the president said. “But we don’t even talk about it anymore because the permits are virtually impossible. [Hydropower] is one of the best things you can do, but we don’t even talk about it anymore.”

 

RESOURCES & PRESS RELEASES

RESOURCE:  Guidelines on Public Participation in EIA in the Mekong region – Pact Thailand/MPE via Mekong Eye
Following a period of development over the last 18 months by the Regional Technical Working Group on Environmental Impact Assessment, the first edition of the Guidelines on Public Participation in EIA in the Mekong Region have now been completed. This first edition is intended as a living resource and it is hoped that it will inspire the continued strengthening of EIA policies and practices in each country and across the region

PAPER: Submission to Australian DFAT – Foreign Policy White Paper – Scientists for the Mekong 
Scientists for the Mekong’s  Dr Lilliana Corredor  asks ethical questions to  Australia’s DFAT’s funding in Laos for hydropower dam development through submission  to Foreign Policy Minister Julie Bishop.

PODCAST: The Viet Ecology Foundation uploaded podcast about Mekong River Ecocide – Viet Ecology Foundation

VIDEO: Why billions of fish are luring scientists to this river? – National Geography

BLOG: Is your shrimp salad causing inequality in Asia? – Oxfam America

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