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NEWS DIGEST #265

May 11, 2020

Special Report: Overcoming threats to the Mekong's forests and people - RECOFTC
Speak to an expert in forest governance in the Mekong region and you will hear some words repeating: Implementation, participation, capacity, equity, monitoring and, of course, finance. They are among the gaps to fill. Ensuring that forests can work for people and for a stable climate depends, for example, not only on having strong laws and policies, but on implementing and enforcing them fairly and effectively.
Food security concerns mount as COVID-19 disruption leaves Myanmar farmers unable to plant - Myanmar Times
Travel restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have led to lower sales for farmers and resulted in significant losses for those who rely on loans. That has strangled their ability to plant this season, leading to a near collapse of Myanmar’s agricultural economy.
Thailand’s national parks may be closed for three months each year - Thai PBS
Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is considering closing the country’s 157 national parks for three months each year, to allow the environment there to regenerate naturally and without human disruption. The idea stems from the reemergence of many wildlife species when all the parks were declared off-limits as part of the COVID-19 lockdown measures.
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Mekong nations face growing threat to food security amid claims China’s dams exacerbate effects of drought - SCMP
Drought, erratic water levels along the 4,300km river are disrupting rice yields and fish catches, raising costs for farmers. Beijing rejects claim Chinese dams are exacerbating drought conditions hitting countries downstream.
Whether through its own dams or the financing and construction of dams in other countries, China is largely in the driver’s seat when it comes to the Mekong.

Traders are stockpiling ivory, rhino horns in SEA - Phnom Penh Post
A Wildlife Justice Commission report said wildlife traders have stockpiled large quantities of ivory in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because of difficulties in transporting it to China due to Covid-19 travel restrictions and border closings.

Air pollution clearing up in Southeast Asia - Phnom Penh Post
Through the COVID-19 crisis, we have had a glimpse of what life can be like with more breathable air. But turning this into a daily reality can only be achieved by enforcing air quality standards and rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way.

New UN initiative to reduce plastic pollution from ASEAN cities - UNESCAP
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand and Da Nang, Viet Nam are among the cities to participate in the ‘Closing the Loop’ project that supports governments to address plastic waste pollution and leakages into the marine environment.  

CAMBODIA

Indigenous people protest over farmland in Keo Seima Sanctuary - VoD
More than 200 indigenous people in Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seima district protested on Tuesday for access to farmland inside a wildlife sanctuary, which the Environment Ministry banned them from last month, citing conservation laws.

Massive forest clearing found in Koh Kong province - Khmer Times
The survay showed a large-scale, systematic and complete removal of mangrove forest at an industrial scale by heavy machinery.

WWF researchers spot herd of wild elephants in Mondulkiri sanctuary - Khmer Times
WWF-Cambodia says researchers had a close encounter with a herd of wild Asian elephants in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province which is a positive sign conservation efforts are working. There are more than 500 wild elephants living in the country.

Timber theft is down overall in Prey Lang but perpetrators persist - Phnom Penh Post
Hoeung Sopheap, a representative of Prey Lang Forest Community Network (PLCN) in Kampong Thom, said, “We call on the relevant ministries to stop using the inter-ministerial fine mechanism and use a stricter law. Violators have been fined, but the logging continued, and the loggers are the same people." (See also: Activists Warn of Illegal Deforestation in Pursat Province - Thmey Thmey)

Spotlight: Celebrating women in conservation - Khmer Times
At the age of 36, Chea Seila has recently been nominated as a pioneer for female conservationists in Cambodia, making her the only woman among six Mekong Conservation Heroes of Cambodia in 2020. A national wetland and livelihood expert, she is currently working on the Lower Mekong Basin Wetland Management and Conservation Project.

Ministry to give mining rights for four coal sites - Phnom Penh Post
The Ministry of Mines and Energy is set to review applications soon for rights to four coal mining concession areas – totalling 794sq km – it opened late in March in the Kingdom’s north.

LAOS

Khammuan promulgates ruling to administer farmland sustainably - Vientiane Times
Khammuan authorities have issued a governor’s decision, which aims to ensure effective administration of agricultural land amid the growing threat of rapid development in the central province.

MYANMAR

Myanmar’s illegal timber trade continues despite COVID-19 - ASEAN Today
Much of the timber logged illegally in Myanmar is transported overland to China, in violation of both countries’ domestic laws. Despite disruptions to overland trade, the illicit industry now continues—driving deforestation, threatening local livelihoods and supporting organized crime.

Myanmar fisheries sector nears collapse as orders tumble - Myanmar Times
Myanmar’s fisheries sector will face its largest loss in history if demand does not pick up very soon, said U Myo Nyunt, secretary of the Myanmar Fisheries Products Processors & Exporters Association. “Exports have collapsed. All international orders have been cancelled and we have not received any new orders from the European Union (EU) since they are all locked down.”

Water shortages in upper Myanmar - Myanmar Times
"In summer we can't use the hand-dug wells, so we have to rely on artesian wells. Now the pump broke we have to find water elsewhere. We know it's important to wash our hands to prevent COVID-19, but we have no water to wash with," said the 35-year-old Daw Mar Oo.

China pushes BRI projects as Myanmar rolls out COVID-19 economic relief plan - The Irrawaddy
The projects discussed included New Yangon City, Kyaukphyu Deep-Sea Port and Industrial Zone and the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone.

New study a call to action for Myanmar’s mangroves - AEC Morning News
A new study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) has found that mangrove deforestation in Myanmar is taking place at a faster rate than previously estimated. Published online in Environmental Research Letters on March 3, the study found that between 1996 – 2016 more than 60 per cent of all mangroves in Myanmar had been permanently or temporarily converted to other uses, including the growing of rice, oil palm, and rubber, as well as for urbanisation.

THAILAND

Sugarcane leaves a bitter aftertaste - Bangkok Post
Two of the country's major environmental problems -- PM2.5 ultrafine dust and toxic contamination -- stem largely from sugarcane farming, which ironically receives a big chunk of state subsidies.

Experts hail 'golden year' for wildlife - Bangkok Post
Mr. Thon said he believed the absence of tourists from marine parks and reduced level of bleaching will contribute in a very significant way to the restoration of the country's marine resources.

Justice vowed after forest protection officer killed - Bangkok Post
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha vowed to go after those who shot dead a forest protection officer at Sap Langka Wildlife Sanctuary in Lop Buri's Lam Sonthi district. The sanctuary houses many protected animals including fishing cats, leopards, pangolins, civet, serows, slow lorises and paradoxurus, which may attract poachers. (See also: Park ranger killed in clash with hunters - Bangkok Post)

Plastic panic - Bangkok Post
Some aspects of the lockdown aren't as environmentally friendly as the photos of sea animals may lead some of us to believe after all. (See also: Plastic use soaring in pandemic - Bangkok Post)

Navy defends forest use plan - Bangkok Post
Local communities rely on the forest to live. It should be reserved for environmental reasons and community use, but the Thai Navy is helping to facilitate making more land available for Thailand's Eastern Economic Corridor project. 

VIETNAM

Mekong Delta fishers in distress as fish die en masse - Vietnam Express
Fishing communities on the Mekong Delta’s Tien River are blaming salinity intrusion for their fish dying in abnormal numbers, inflicting heavy losses.

No appropriate solutions implemented to improve pollution - Vietnam+
An increase in the number of industrial zones has been polluting Vietnam’s environment, and there are no appropriate solutions in place, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) warned in its draft 2019 report on environment protection released earlier this week.

Six million children back in school without sufficient water, soap - Vietnam Express
Providing better water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools not only reduces the spread of hygiene-related diseases like Covid-19; not only reduces the risk of parasite infections; it also helps to curb the number of schools days missed every year due to diarrhea.

PM calls for thrifty power use as shortfall looms - Vietnam Express
The country now mainly depends on coal-fired power and hydropower. But major dams have kept running out of water due to lack of rainfall attributed to climate change, while many thermal power projects have been behind the schedule. (See also: Vietnam's access-to-electricity index reaches highest level so far - Star Online/Vietnam News)

Biodiversity needs proper protection measures - Vietnam+
Prof. Nguyen Ngoc Lung, head of the Research Institute for Sustainable Forest Management and Forest Certification, said biodiversity has been rapidly degraded in all three forms of ecosystems, species and genetic sources in both quality and quantity.

REGIONAL CONTEX

Germany to overhaul foreign aid policy - DW
Germany plans a shakeup of its foreign aid, limiting its "partner" list to 60 nations and dropping Burundi and Myanmar. Minister Gerd Müller says knock-out criteria will be corruption, rights abuses and poor governance.

Climate change increases risk of fisheries conflict - Science Daily
A team of experts examined how climate change is affecting the ocean environment and found that the changing conditions will likely result in increased fisheries-related conflicts and create new challenges in the management of global fisheries. Low-lying countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam could lose a lot of maritime territory as sea level rises. The outer edge of their claim could move closer to their coastline.

Superbugs in livestock might kill more than the Covid-19, alerts NGO - ScandAsia
The main zones are dangerously close to Thailand: the northeast of India, the northeast of China and the Red River delta in Vietnam. 

COVID-19: Why saving our forests can help stop the next pandemic - CNA
Pandemic risk is linked to habitat loss and exploitation of wildlife. Spillover of zoonotic viruses is more common than we realise and is happening at a rate that is faster than ever.


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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