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NEWS DIGEST #276

August 3, 2020

The struggle for the soul of the Mekong River - Bangkok Post
Earlier this month, researchers from prominent Chinese academic and research institutions, including Tsinghua University, produced a study which claimed that during the wet season, China's upstream dam restrictions have a positive impact on the Mekong. This study and its findings make a valuable contribution to the public discourse; however, its authors ignore the importance of the Mekong's natural flow and the resource base produced from that natural flow. (See also: The next US-China battleground: Chinese dams on the Mekong River? - SCMP; Water wars: Mekong River another front in U.S.-China rivalry - VoA; US and Mekong Region: Cooperation for sustainable and inclusive economic growth - Eurasia Review)
 
Thai court allows Cambodian class action against Thai firm - The Diplomat
Cambodian villagers can pursue a case against Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol over land-grabbing more than a decade ago -- a "David vs. Goliath case" that could redefine access to justice for the victims of corporate abuse in Southeast Asia and beyond. (See also - Class-action suit against sugar giant goes ahead - Bangkok Post)
 
BCPG eager to build Asean's largest wind farm in Laos - Bangkok Post
The company announced it will spend US$840 million developing the facility, with a capacity of 600 megawatts, on 400,000 rai in southern Laos. The farm will be located near the Mekong River across Ubon Ratchathani. Electricity will be sold to Vietnam's state-run Electricity Vietnam.
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Vietnam proposes audit on water resources in Mekong River basin - Vietnam+
Vietnam will pursue a cooperative environmental audit in Southeast Asia in the 2020-2021 period, with the aim of auditing the management of water resources in the Mekong River basin in association with realising sustainable development goals.

Severe drought warning for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - UCA News
The Mekong River Commission is calling for stronger regional collaboration to address mounting water shortage problems, noting that the area around the Lao capital Vientiane was suffering from “even wider extreme drought conditions and considerably low rainfall”.

The covert industry that is destroying the world’s rivers - Science Line
The global boom in sand mining threatens millions, a new study of the Mekong River suggests. 
“What we found was that the lowering that’s going on is effectively making the riverbanks more unstable,” says Chris Hackney, a sedimentologist at the University of Hull in England and lead author of a study published in January in Nature Sustainability. This means that “it’s more likely that they’ll collapse, and with that, wash infrastructure, or houses, or villages, farmland, people’s livelihoods, away into the river”.

CAMBODIA

Drought, dams on Mekong River crop Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake to record low levels - RFA
Climate change, drought, and upstream dams have led to record low water levels on the Mekong River, according to experts, who say the shortage is significantly harming Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake and the surrounding fishing communities who rely on it to earn a living.

Demining provides land to 5.7m people - Khmer Times
Some five million people across the country have reportedly gained safe access to agricultural land, livelihood activities and development amid Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority’s Clearing for Results (CfR) Phase IV project.

Will Cambodia’s shift in focus to small-scale farming work? - The Diplomat
Is the COVID-motivated shift enough to support all the laid-off garment industry workers and who will really benefit. A major challenge remains that despite 80 percent of Cambodians living in rural areas, with the majority depending on agriculture, a large proportion of small-scale farmers are near landless.

Royal Group compensates families over project - Khmer Times
The Royal Group of Cambodia yesterday announced it has solved all land issues and compensated 58 families impacted by its 700-megawatt coal-fired power plant project in Koh Kong province.

Environmental group calls for end to development on Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tamok Lake - RFA
Last month’s granting of permission to reclaim public land from the lake marks the eighth time the government has done so, after earlier allowing the filling in of 535 hectares (1,320 acres) for official use and private development, the group Mother Nature noted.

‘Assaulted’ forest activist sued - Phnom Penh Post
Chhorn Phalla has been summoned to a court hearing after a complaint was filed against him. Phalla, a member of the Tampuan indigenous group in Sakmotr Kraom village, said when he mentioned his concern regarding the loss of forests, a group of people whom he previously sued for destroying forest land and encroaching on State land as a network with district authorities attacked him.

ACNCIPO takes Kampong Speu villagers, chief to court - Phnom Penh Post
The environmental watchdog's complaint is against five people for illegally clearing more than 400ha in the Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary in Trapaing Chor commune’s Sre Kin Village in Oral district. (See also: Police injured in land dispute, four detained - Phnom Penh post; Mondulkiri land dispute cases under probe - Phnom Penh Post)

LAOS

The unseen human cost of cheap power (opinion) - Bangkok Post
The survivors of a major dam collapse in Laos two years ago lost all their property, homes, livestock and crops. Thais, who import power from Laos, should think about those survivors and their troubles, "when we look at our electricity bills". (See also: DPM calls for action to prevent poor dam development, disasters - Vientiane Times;  Rethink 'Asia battery' plan (editorial) - Bangkok Post)

Laos builds road and workers’ camp for Luangprabang Dam ahead of formal approval - RFA
A Thai dam developer has begun clearing land for a large-scale Mekong River dam near the ancient Lao capital Luang Prabang before signing a hydropower sale pact required for approval, raising concerns from downstream communities already hit hard by Laos’ aggressive damming of the vital waterway.

Displaced Lao villagers still waiting for compensation - UCA News
Communities forced to relocate for dam projects struggle to eke out a living as activists warn of environmental perils. To make ends meet, many villagers return daily to their old homes some 10 kilometers away to work on plots that have not been flooded by the two dams. Nor have the displaced villagers received adequate compensation for their lost orchards and farmlands, they say.

Starting date for Sanakham dam picked, giving prior consultation more flexibility - MRC
A Joint Committee Working Group (JCWG) of the Mekong River Commission yesterday agreed on a starting date of a six-month prior consultation process for the Sanakham dam that Laos had proposed to build on the Mekong mainstream. Picking July 30 as the kick-off date, the Group left the ending date open to create more flexibility in consulting stakeholders. 

‘Tesla of Thailand’ mulls hydropower plants to balance EV risks - Bloomberg
The Thai utility is assessing the viability of developing two dam-based hydropower projects in Laos, according to Deputy Chief Executive Officer Amorn Sapthaweekul. The study will take two years, and the projects would generate power for distribution in Laos as well as export to other countries.

Poverty rate in Laos down to 18.3 percent - Vientiane Times
According to the Lao Statistics Bureau, the survey has been conducted every five years since 1992-1993. It sampled 636 villages and 10,176 households with interviews taking place over 12 months from June 2018 to June 2019.

MYANMAR

Large hydropower projects to continue in Myanmar: Govt - Myanmar Times
Myanmar's deputy water and energy minister says that development of projects like Myitsone should recommence so that Myanmar can distribute adequate electricity to the people and that negotiations should continue between the government and local residents to ensure as little impact on livelihoods and the environment as possible.

Myanmar MPs Approve ADB Loan for Mekong Corridor Highway - The Irrawaddy
The US$483.8 million loan from the Asian Development Bank is for an expressway that is a part of the international East West Economic Corridor, with plans to link Vietnam’s port of Da Nang and Thilawa port in Yangon, passing through Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

Myanmar’s Union Govt splits up huge China-backed New Yangon City project - The Irrawaddy
The US$1.5-billion planning project has been unbundled to make it possible for companies other than just the China Communications Construction Company to take part. (See also: Myanmar breaks up Yangon new city for tender - Myanmar Times)

Myanmar approves US$171m ADB loan for rural electrification - The Irrawaddy
The loan will be used for the electrification of 400,300 households in 2,815 villages in Karen State and Ayeyarwady, Magwe and east Bago regions to access the national grid. (See also: Myanmar Parliament approves US$180-million ADB loan request for Yangon water supply - The Irrawaddy)

The new Myanmar casino town posing as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (opinion) - ASEAN Today
As the project moves ahead, it has drawn intense criticism for its lack of transparency and apparent disregard for the law, including from local ethnic Karen groups. 

Suu Kyi courts Japan investment with new economic zone - Nikkei Asian Review
The government plans to develop a seaport and industrial park on the coast of Mon State on the Indian Ocean. A planned highway linking Thailand and Vietnam will pass through Mon State.

THAILAND

Cold water poured on rail projects - Bangkok Post
The State Railway of Thailand has said, citing findings from a market sounding exercise in a feasibility study, that two routes 'not worth the cash.' (See also: Cabinet exodus shakes faith in EEC - Bangkok Post; EEC’s ‘smart city’ capital takes shape in Si Racha - Nation Thailand)

'Missing water' in dams spark fears - Bangkok Post
The cabinet is concerned about the water situation because many dams nationwide share the same problem of less water inflow and this may lead to a critical drought problem next year.

New tiger sightings in Thailand raise conservation hopes - Reuters
There are estimated to about 160 Indochinese tigers left in the wild in Thailand. They are also found in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and southwestern China. The total population may only be around 350.

VIETNAM

Mekong Delta province unveils US$820-m plan to combat climate change - Vietnam Express
The money will be used to build, upgrade and renovate irrigation systems to prevent salinity, conserve freshwater and combat drought.

Mekong Delta faces increasing erosion along rivers, canals - Vietnam News
Cần Thơ has suffered 28 landslides this year, 13 more than in the same period last year and the overall scale of erosion and losses are also larger this year.

The loneliness of a whistleblower in Vietnam - Vietnam Express
As Pham Tan Luc kept reporting wrongdoings by China’s Jiangsu Provincial Transportation Engineering Group Co., Ltd, the contractor for a VND1.3-trillion (US$56-million) section of the expressway that runs 10.6 km through Binh Trung Commune; he never had anyone by his side.

Vietnam considers scrapping half of coal power plant pipeline in favour of gas and renewables - Eco-Business
Speaking at an internal consultation earlier this month, the Vietnam Energy Institute revealed the eighth Power Development Plan (PDP8), set to take effect early next year, would stipulate a rapid expansion of renewables and natural gas in the country, suggesting the government could cancel seven planned coal projects and postpone six others until after 2030 or 2035.

Vietnam yet to optimize renewable as shortages loom - Vietnam Express
Vietnam is struggling to fully utilize the potential of renewable energy because of policy roadblocks even though power shortages are expected in upcoming years. (See also: Mekong Delta province embraces rooftop solar - Vietnam+)

REGIONAL CONTEXT

ASEAN loses a third of mangroves in last 40 years - Phnom Penh Post
The ASEAN region lost about 33 percent of its mangrove forests between 1980 and 2020, a decrease of more than 63,000 sq km, says the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity.

Unctad: Trade policy can curb Covid-linked plastics pollution - Business Mirror
Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” Coke-Hamilton said. “The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.

Asean environmental diplomacy – fire, smoke and haze - Manila Times
Not all states could be held responsible for Asean’s annual transboundary haze problem, which can be easily tracked by remote-sensing satellites to serve as evidence against any effort to compel them to provide non-voluntary assistance to the polluting state or states.


The Mekong Eye's weekly News Digest curates news, commentary and resources on development, its environmental and social impacts, and the context affecting the Mekong region. We reach more than 5,000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists. Submit stories, press releases, resources or feedback to: editor@mekongeye.com
 
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