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NEWS DIGEST #273

July 13, 2020

Myanmar leader triggers debate with ‘illegal’ reference to dead jade scavengers - RFA
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi raised eyebrows when she referred to recent victims of a jade mine landslide that killed at least 172 people as  “illegal” in an online chat in which she lamented the lack of proper jobs in the country. (See also: Efforts to fix Myanmar’s deadly jade mine issue face obstacles - The Irrawaddy; Sacrificed on the altar': Myanmar jade mine disaster fed by COVID-era desperation - CNA)
Cambodia’s land dispute tied to official complicity - RFA
“They are grabbing land and causing problems [for us] to resolve [the disputes]—they are all senior government officials,” said the Environment Minister, adding that several of the cases were further complicated because residents lacked land titles. (See also: Further measures issued to stop land encroachment - RFA)
Voices from the mountains - Bangkok Post
Old forests turn into rice fields, rice fields into young forests, and young forests mature into old forests. Such is the way of life for rotation farmers. Three ethnic leaders from northern Thailand share a lifelong quest to preserve nature and their traditional ways of life.
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Japan, Mekong nations vow cooperation on health care, economy - The Mainichi
The countries agreed to restart economic activity together in a post-COVID-19 world by "establishing resilient and sustainable regional supply chains" and advancing free trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. (See also: Japan to give Mekong countries US$115 mln for Covid-19 fight, sustainable development - Vietnam Express)

Snaring may spawn diseases - Phnom Penh Post
A new WWF report entitled Silence of the Snares: Southeast Asia’s Snaring Crisis estimates that 12.3 million snares threaten wildlife survival in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Kind words not enough - Bangkok Post
It is now time for China to back its kind words about enduring friendship with action and enable a mechanism for co-management of the river. Such cooperation could ensure prosperity and sustainability for all.

Thailand offers suggestions for Mekong River protection, dam construction impact mitigation - Pattaya Mail
At the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Joint Committee’s meeting, Thailand offered eight suggestions, hoping to push the Laos into upgrading measures to alleviate the impacts on downstream countries of dam construction on the Mekong River.

CAMBODIA

Illegal fishing still a threat to Irrawaddy dolphins - Khmer Times
Kratie provincial governor Var Thorn in a press conference last month said the Irrawaddy dolphin population in the province is significantly low, with their number recorded at 80.

Solutions to conserving wetlands - Khmer Times
More than 50 government officials, civil society organisations and stakeholders held a meeting yesterday to discuss, share experiences and find solutions for the protection and conservation of Mekong River wetlands to be more effective and sustainable.

European banks implicated in Cambodia’s microcredit scandal - Brussels Times
The unfolding microcredit scandal in Cambodia involves two well-respected European banks, BRED in France and Triodos Bank in the Netherlands. Their partner in Cambodia has become a ferocious predator, seizing the land and homes of poor farmers who are up to their eyeballs in debt and can’t make their payments.

The Asia Development Bank extends a US$250 million loan to Cambodia - Cambodianess
The credit will go toward strengthening the country's healthcare system, increasing social assistance to the poor and vulnerable, and providing economic stimulus to businesses including small and medium-sized enterprises.

Ministry bans wild orchid trade - Khmer Times
Trade of wild orchid flowers, typically found in the Kingdom’s protected areas, has officially been banned following last week’s announcement by the Ministry of Environment.

LAOS

SK E&C Rreaches compensation deal with Laos over deadly dam collapse - Korea Bizwire
SK Engineering & Construction Co. has reached a deal with authorities in Laos to compensate victims of a deadly hydroelectric dam collapse in the Southeast Asian country. The total compensation and rehabilitation costs would amount to more than 828 billion kip (US$92 million). (See also: New homes built for Lao flood survivors two years after dam collapse - RFA)

Xayaboury partners with farmers to promote agricultural development - Vientiane Times
Xayaboury provincial authorities recently issued an agreement notice for a sustainable agriculture development fund to gather the necessary financial resources to drive growth in farming production.

Govt proposes amendment of water resources, environmental laws - Vientiane Times
The main aim of the land management strategy is to ensure that 70 percent of Laos’ land area is forested. The land management strategy authorises the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to be in charge of all types of land management, including land that surrounds water resources.

MYANMAR

IFC finances Myanmar off-grid solar programme - Power Engineering
The grant funding will allow for further development of supply chains for quality lighting products in rural Myanmar, from companies to retailers and then onto consumers.

Timber smuggling continues in Sagaing despite ban, virus - Myanmar Times
U Aung Tun Win, director of the Forestry department, said 7232 tonnes of timber were seized from October 2019 to June this year, almost the same as the 7747 tonnes in the same period the previous year.

Tiger, pangolin farming in Myanmar risks ‘boosting China demand’, conservationists warn - SCMP
In June, Myanmar’s Forest Department quietly gave the green light to private zoos to apply for licences to breed 90 species, more than 20 of which are endangered or critically endangered.

River erosion-related displacement increases this year in Magway Region - Global New Light in Myanmar
Although only about 200 households were displaced by the river bank erosion in 2019, about 300 families were displaced from 1 April till 9 July 2020. "We have to mortgage our possessions to be able to buy the land. We have also lost the farmland because of the river bank erosion. We have to start our lives again, building houses and religious buildings,” said an affected farmer.

THAILAND

Report claims air pollution “kills thousands”, costs billions annually - Thaiger
New data released by environmental groups makes claims that air pollution in Bangkok alone has caused some 6,800 deaths and an economic loss of 81.4 billion baht so far this year.

Protests at Chana industrial estate project public hearing - Thai PBS
Critics observe that the project has been suspicious from the beginning, because it apparently was approved by the Cabinet before public hearings were held or an environment impact assessment study (EIA), which is yet to be carried out. (See also: Activist group renews SEZ fight in South - Bangkok Post; Huge police presence in Songkhla’s Jana district ahead of public hearing - Thai PBS)

‘Slave monkey’ scandal forces rethink of coconut trade - Bangkok Post
The US$400-million industry, which relies on monkeys at some plantations, is facing possible boycotts in the US, Europe and Australia after the People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as Peta, alleged that monkeys are being abused and “treated like coconut picking machines” for Thai growers and producers. (See also: PETA warns of class action lawsuit if coconut labelling system promise not kept - Thai PBS)

Victory for determination (opinion) - Bangkok Post
The panel, chaired by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, recently announced that 3,148 kilometres of coastline in Thailand would be a "coastal erosion protection zone" and seawall constructions would be forbidden unless developers followed environmental checklists.

Push for total Thai ban on wildlife trade - Bangkok Post
Thailand should close its gate to wildlife traders and lead other countries by example to follow the World Health Organization (WHO) "One Health" approach that involves simultaneously protecting people, wild animals and ecosystems.

Could the COVID crisis provide an opportunity for Thailand’s captive elephants? - The Revelator
The pandemic has revealed the truth about Thailand’s unsustainable and exploitative elephant tourism sector — and a chance to rethink the relationship between humans and elephants. Science has already demonstrated that rewilding captive elephants is possible and that it has positive outcomes. (See also: Elephant’s death prompts plea to “say no” to plastic bags - Thaiger)

VIETNAM

Vietnam is seeking a return to nuclear power - Vietnam Insider
A draft power plan by the Ministry of Industry and Trade envisages building nuclear power plants with a capacity of 1,000 MW by 2040 and 5,000 MW by 2045.

Finland supports project to assist urgent water resolution for Mekong delta - ScandAsia
It addresses the most urgent needs and important issues of the Mekong River Delta provinces, particularly the drought and saline intrusion. This project will be implemented by a local non-government organisation namely “Center for Environment and Community Assets Development (CECAD)” from 2020 – 2022. The project covers Mekong River Delta provinces with focusing its pilot in Tien Giang province.

Erosion devours 12 Mekong Delta homes - Vietnam Express
The Mekong Delta province has 46 riverine and six coastal areas termed "severe" erosion hotspots, its agriculture department warned last year.
 
Vietnam’s environmental challenges risk EU free trade - Eurasia Review
Since negotiations started in 2012, Vietnam has come a long way to meet the Agreement’s requirements. But significant environmental challenges remain.

Dust, noise from thermal power plant invokes relocation drive - Vietnam Express
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said dust and noise produced by coal-fired plants at Vinh Tan Electricity Center affect villagers of Tuy Phong District, according to a survey by Vietnam Environment Administration.

The next steps for Vietnam’s booming solar sector - Asia and the Pacific Policy Society
Despite the challenges caused by COVID-19, Vietnam’s tentative target of increasing solar PV capacity to 12 gigawatts by 2030 remains highly achievable. Indeed, there may be room for the government to commit to even more ambitious goals. 

REGIONAL CONTEX

Exploring the Impacts of mining on planetary health - EOS
One of the first papers published in the special collection exemplifies this: Phenrat [2020] reports on a successful community citizen science study on spontaneously combusting coal-mine waste heaps in Myanmar that underpinned development of a risk management plan to protect individuals and communities.

Human rights issues alleged in renewable energy sector report - Khmer Times
The first human rights benchmark of renewable energy companies reveals serious weaknesses in industry efforts to protect workers and communities, creating risks in a sector vital to countering the climate crisis, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC). (See also: Climate fund targets U$2.5 bln in clean energy investment for SE Asia - Reuters)

Watch China’s unconventional levers of power in world affairs -  The Diplomat
Among unconventional assets used to pressure Southeast Asian neighbors, Chinese dams control the flow of water in the Mekong River, strongly impacting downriver countries Myanmar, Laos, Thailand Cambodia, and Vietnam and influencing their postures toward China. Beijing’s strong ties with armed separatist groups inside Myanmar provide a major source of leverage in regard to that country.

China leverages Tibetan Plateau’s water wealth - India Blooms
If China does not abandon its current approach in favor of institutionalized cooperation with co-basin states, the prospects for a rules-based order in Asia could perish forever, while the likelihood of downstream countries facing a drier future would increase.

Japan vows to slash financing of coal power in developing world - Financial Times
Although the country will still support the export of coal power turbines under some conditions, Mr Koizumi said that in practice they would be difficult to meet.


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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