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NEWS DIGEST #253

January 20, 2020

Land of Cats - WWF
A remarkable one fifth of the world’s 36 cat species are found in a single landscape straddling Thailand and Myanmar, but they are under increasing threat of extinction, according to this new report from WWF that outlines an eight-point action plan to save them. (See also: Land of Cats’ a biodiversity powerhouse, but for how long - Asia Times; Leopard population in Cambodia almost wiped out, says WWF - Khmer Times; Tiger footage spurs hope for Thai big cat population - Phuket News)
Unsustainable sand mining threatening lives in Cambodia - phys.org
New research published in Nature Sustainability confirms that excessive sand mining along the Mekong is responsible for increased rates of bank erosion that local communities have been reporting in recent years. 
Understanding China's BRI in Laos - Business Times
Absence of strategizing sustainable domestic development benefits of Chinese megaprojects on the part of the Lao government is only exacerbating widening socio-economic inequalities on the ground.
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Thailand to file complaint relating to China's dams on the Mekong River - Chiang Rai Times
Thailand's water-resources chief responds to local farmers complaints that dams in China were choking the waterway on which millions depend for their livelihoods.

China's Mekong River are costing locals their livelihoods - ABC
Dams have been built along the Mekong River to generate renewable energy, but they are also generating big problem for locals downstream, as fluctuating water levels are destroying migratory fish patterns in places where fish are the main source of income and protein. (See also: China blamed for affecting Mekong River water levels (audio) - ABC)

Mekong communities struggle as China tests dam equipment (video) - Al Jazeera
Water levels on the Mekong River, which flows through China and five other countries, have dipped sharply after China began testing equipment in one of the river's upper dams.
The water levels there are expected to drop by as much as 25 centimetres.

Are dams killing the Mekong river? (video) - DW
Man-made construction activity in the form of dams is slowly choking the river and some 80 new dams are planned choking the flow of water with its life-giving nutrients.

Dams threaten Asia's most successful river cruise destination - River Cruise Passenger
At least one local cruise line has cancelled Mekong voyages. The river’s normally brown waters have turned aquamarine – like sea water – and sandbars are emerging.

CAMBODIA

‘No fish’: How dams and climate change are choking Asia’s great lake - LA Times
Across the Tonle Sap, a vast shallow lake in the heart of this Southeast Asian nation, fishermen are experiencing the least productive season in memory. Years of dam-building and droughts intensified by climate change have upset one of the world’s richest freshwater fisheries, carrying potentially severe consequences for millions who rely on the lake for survival.

Police clash with villagers over land encroachment - Khmer Times
Preah Sihanouk provincial officials yesterday clashed with a group of villagers armed with sticks and machetes as the officials were trying to dismantle illegally built homes in the Ream National Park. (See also: Protesters demand speedy land dispute resolution at ministry - Phnom Penh Post)

WWF calls for more action to protect endangered animals - Khmer Times
World Wildlife Fund Cambodia has urged Kratie provincial authorities to take firm action against fishing, forestry, and forest land encroachment crimes in order to protect and preserve rare species of wild animals that are currently under threat.

Monk, forest chief proclaims his love for wildlife, decries poachers - Phnom Penh Post
The Venerable Bun Saluth, head of the Sorng Rukhavorn community forest, expressed concern over the ongoing killing of wildlife in Cambodia.

LAOS

Lao dam impact on dolphin migration highlighted - Khmer Times
Sub-national officials and communities in the province are concerned about the impact of Laos’ Don Sahong hydropower dam on the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin population in the downstream Mekong River.

Another dam on the Mekong - The Interpreter 
In the face of environmental destruction and threats to livelihoods, a new dam project is being pushed through in Laos.

Laos to export 20,000 MW of electricity by 2030 - ANN/Vientiane Times
The integration of power transmission lines with neighbouring countries is an important step for electricity exports from second to third countries, and Laos is the first country in Asean to initiate such a step.

Laos urged to think beyond being a land bridge country - Vientiane Times
Over the next five years, Laos will without doubt be a land bridge within the Mekong region, but a senior economists warns that in order to ensure the profitability of these investments Laos needs concrete measures in place, adding that Singapore is a good example of how a small country can benefit from being a transit hub.

Environment Protection Fund gives boost to natural resource management - ANN/Vientiane Times
The government project will focus on protected areas and enhanced protection measures to preserve upper-forested watersheds in the six target provinces.

MYANMAR

China and Myanmar ink dozens of infrastructure and trade deals - Frontier Myanmar 
China and Myanmar inked dozens of mammoth infrastructure and trade deals after a meeting Saturday between President Xi Jinping and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Not included was the Myitsone hydropower dam, a US$3.6bn Chinese mega-project in Myanmar’s northern Kachin state that was frozen in 2011 by the country’s previous government, after widespread opposition. (See also: China and Myanmar sign off on Belt and Road projects - Financial Times)

Myanmar ethnic groups rue ‘disrespectful’ investment - Bangkok Post
For thousands of villagers living in northern Myanmar, close to the Chinese border, it's been 10 years since they were kicked off their land for the US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam, an unfinished project backed by Beijing that dogs relations between the two neighbors. (See also: Myanmar CSOs urge Xi Jinping to terminate Myitsone Dam project - The Irrawaddy; 52 CSOs, 14 organizations send open letters to the Chinese President - Eleven Myanmar; Myanmar Church concerned over China-backed dam - Vatican News)

Water a worry for Myanmar’s farmers - Myanmar Times
A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman says building more dams will not help the situation as there are already enough and that the problem is solely due to the climate.

Myanmar authorities stop 17 illegal gold mines along Ayeyarwady River - Myanmar Times
The illegal mines in the area cause erosion and collapse of riverbanks, damage the natural environment and pollute the water due to the acid used in mining activities.

THAILAND

Farming community becomes chemical free in Northern Thailand - Chiang Rai Times
A major maize plantation in northern Thailand that previously used farm chemicals to raise yields has become chemical free. Government officials, journalists, university students and farmers from other provinces now come to learn how it was done. (See also: Thailand’s “agriculture 4.0” – a dream come true? - Thai PBS)

Thailand’s grand welfare experiment - Policy Forum 
Despite a monthly allowance being paid to more than 14 million people across the country, the number of poor people in Thailand has increased by more than 1.3 million in 1 year.

Inequality has been rising in Thailand since 2015 as the kingdom becomes officially an aged society in 2021 - Thai Examiner
While Thailand’s economic planners talk of economic reform and taming the strong baht, figures published last week by the National Economic and Social Development Board point to a massive transformation in terms of demographics that will take place in Thailand in the next twenty years.

Central Thailand farmers ignore orders to stop burning off their sugar cane - The Thaiger 
Local sugarcane growers in Nakhon Sawan, central Thailand, are burning their fields at night despite authorities’ ban on the practice. It appears little to nothing is being done to curb the practice which is one of the main causes, if not the main cause, of the smoke and haze problems in various parts of the country throughout the year. (See also: 'Dust tax' proposal to curb PM2.5 gains pace - Bangkok Post; Phuket health chief issues advisory over haze, air quality - Phuket News; Salty tap water and dirty air – Bangkok’s environmental woes continue - Thaiger)

Provinces ordered to 'dig for water' - Bangkok Post
All 76 provinces across the country have been ordered to begin digging for water as part of urgent state measures to fight a drought which has already parched 18 provinces. (See also: Some solutions to Bangkok's water crisis - Bangkok Post)

First baby leatherback turtle hatches today in Phang-nga - Thai PBS
Officials in Thailand’s Khao Lampee-Haad Thai Muang National Park, in the southern province of Phang-nga, were overjoyed Sunday when this year’s first baby leatherback turtle hatched and emerged from its nest onto the beach.
 
10 ways Thailand is moving to a greener future - Thaiger
“Green” is not usually the word that comes to mind when speaking of Thailand, especially when you are speaking through a PM2.5 face mask. But with recent attempts to improve the environment and tackle waste, here are some positive changes to shift your attention from air pollution and help you feel good about the decision to live, invest, or retire in the Land of Smiles.

VIETNAM

Mekong Delta takes measures to cope with saltwater intrusion - Vietnam News
Saltwater intrusion has occurred on a large scale in the Mekong Delta, forcing local authorities to take measures to protect agricultural production and ensure water supply for household use, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. (See also: Ben Tre declares emergency as saltwater intrusion reaches alarming levels - Siagoneer; Saltwater encroaches deep into Mekong Delta - Vietnam+)

Vietnam’s deadly land clash leaves questions unanswered - The Diplomat
The recent violent land dispute spotlights serious issues that remain to be addressed, especially surrounding the extensive military-type operation in the middle of the night, an internet shut down prior to the attack and news suppression thereafter. (See also: Anger in Vietnam over deadly 'land grab' raid - BBC; Vietnam's battalions of 'cyber-armies' silencing online dissent - Al Jazeera)

Air pollution costs Vietnam at least US$10.8 billion each year - Vietnam+
Estimated losses, based on financial support towards lowering the mortality risk posed by air pollution, were equal to 4.45 - 5.64 percent of GDP. Roughly 50,000 Vietnamese die per year due to air pollution, three times the number of those who succumbed to traffic accidents.

Vietnam will reduce tariffs for solar power - Vietnam Insider
The Ministry of Industry and Trade has proposed a new feed-in tariff 32 percent lower than the earlier incentive rate, which could slow the growth of Vietnam's rapidly expanding solar power energy sector. 

REGIONAL CONTEX

Moving to the system scale can improve hydropower - Forbes
The Mekong represents a key test case as it is home to perhaps the highest profile conflicts over hydropower development today.

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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