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  • “Lean, clean and green”? The AIIB’s first weigh-in

    07/12/2016

    Representatives from 57 countries, journalists, industry experts and civil society leaders gathered in Beijing on 25-26 June for the first annual meeting of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

    This was the bank’s first weigh-in, where its first six months of progress since launching in January would be judged by stakeholders and engaged parties. Of keen interest to many were the AIIB’s green credentials.

  • No more coal power plants needed

    07/06/2016

    Last Thursday, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) confirmed that it will construct six new coal-fired power plants by 2025. On many levels, building these new power plants seems not to be a well thought-out plan.

    At the local level, coal-fired power plants would adversely affect communities in these areas. Where such plants have been constructed in southern Thailand, they have polluted waters, reduced fish stocks, damaged crops, and contributed to a high concentration of respiratory disease. Nonetheless, Egat has yet to conduct comprehensive environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in areas which would be affected by these new plants.

  • Aung San Suu Kyi visit is chance to rethink investments

    06/24/2016

    This week’s visit by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Thailand appears to hold out hope for Thai state and private investors to revitalise their plans for key investments in Myanmar. Among these projects, the most prominent are the Dawei special economic zone and a cascade of hydroelectric dams on the Thanlwin River.

  • The road to Dawei is paved with empty promises

    06/23/2016

    Burma’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi will meet with Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to discuss bilateral issues focused on trade and economic cooperation during her visit to Thailand on 23-25 June. Meanwhile, the Thai government has announced yet again plans to put the long-delayed Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project higher on its agenda.

    In 2012, Suu Kyi visited Thailand on her first trip outside of Burma in 24 years. She met with Burmese migrant workers in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon province, which has the largest migrant community in Thailand. At that time, she promised to do her best to improve the country’s economy so that migrant workers would have jobs to return home to in Burma.

  • Mekong River in danger, but MRC is ‘weak’

    05/23/2016

    Dams and water diversion projects along the Mekong River threaten to overwhelm an ecosystem that supports 60 million people and thousands of species, according to a consensus of scientists, NGOs and governments. But amidst this pending crisis, the main mechanism set up to protect the river is becoming all but irrelevant.

    The Mekong now needs more protection than ever, experts say, but the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – an international body that manages Mekong development and water resource use – has been steadily losing power for years, say current and former employees who spoke on condition of anonymity.

  • Drought: Hydropower’s Achilles Heel

    05/19/2016

    Drought: The news has been full of it.

    Fish are disappearing from markets from Zimbabwe to Vietnam because of it. Kenyan barristas are making “camelcinos” because drought has made cow milk scarce. And in India, men from some villages are even finding it hard to get wives because the water shortage makes them look like a bad bet.

    Across Asia, Africa and Latin America, the rains are not falling – they’re failing.

    But drought is no longer just a concern for farmers; it’s increasingly becoming a major humanitarian and political issue, particularly in hydropower-dependent countries.

  • Small is worrying: tributaries, ‘small’ hydro and the Mekong hydropower debate

    04/29/2016

    So, last week I attended a meeting held at Can Tho University entitled ‘Sustainable Uses of Mekong Water Resources’. With Can Tho sitting squarely in the middle of the Mekong Delta, and suffering dreadfully from the current drought, the debate was highly emotional. And often very loud.

    Participants acknowledged El Niño and climate change as two variables responsible for the absence of rain. But most of the ire was directed at mainstream dams north of the delta.Mainstream dams. South of the China border, none of these are complete, and just two are under construction. The Laotian dams were certainly focussed upon, but most of the concern was with the Chinese dams. Recently, China has released a considerable quantum of water from their dams, with the stated aim of assisting their drought-stricken neighbours to the south. The reasons for these releases were treated with scepticism.

  • The Mekong River winding through the flooded forest in Cambodia.

    Asia’s Troubled Water

    04/23/2016

    Asia’s water woes are worsening. Already the world’s driest continent in per capita terms, Asia now faces a severe drought that has parched a vast region extending from southern Vietnam to central India. This has exacerbated political tensions, because it has highlighted the impact of China’s dam-building policy on the environment and on water flows to the dozen countries located downstream.

  • Community rights clause not fooling anyone

    04/06/2016

    The right of citizens and communities to protect the environment against harmful development projects is now back in the draft constitution, thanks to fierce pressure by civil society nationwide. So people can relax now, right? Not a chance.

    Face it. The military regime is in it for the long haul. Their diktats are the ultimate rules of the land. The community rights clause in the draft will be of no help because it has also been heavily diluted, turning active citizens and communities into state vassals.

    Since the beginning of this year, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has issued a series of orders under the special powers of Section 44 in the interim charter to eliminate legal obstruction and fast-track mega projects. First it was an order to bypass land-zoning laws to speed up the government’s project to create special economic zones in 10 border provinces, which also faces fierce opposition from locals. That was in January.

  • The Mekong River winding through the flooded forest in Cambodia.

    China’s its own worst enemy in regional relations

    04/01/2016

    China’s pattern of regional conduct has come increasingly into focus in recent times. Its behaviour is much less about maintaining the ‘status quo’, and much more about revising the established dynamics and contours in the region to its preferences. This revisionism is likely to become the primary source of tensions and potential conflict in Southeast Asia.

    A view of the dam at the Jinghong Hydropower Station on the Lancang River, the Chinese section of the Mekong River, in Jinghong city, Yunnan province, 20 May 2013. (Photo: AAP).

    Nowhere are China’s revisionist aims more evident than in the South China Sea and the upper reaches of the Mekong River, which straddles southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

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