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NEWS DIGEST #270

June 15, 2020

Mekong loses a hero

As the Bangkok Post and other English-language media reported the passing last week of prominent Thai politician Kraisak Choonhavan, not mentioned was his vast legacy of steadfast environmental, social justice and human rights advocacy, particularly for the Mekong. After hearing the news WWF’s Marc Goichot tweeted, “Your dedication to the cause of the Mekong River and the people who depend on its resources was an inspiration.” He led a valiant effort to try to stop the construction of the Xayaburi Dam and other Mekong mainstream dams. And as National Geographic reported, Choonhavan was a major force behind efforts that ultimately led to China suspending its Mekong rapid-blasting ambitions within Thailand. “So now you have to stand on your feet and use that power again,” Choonhavan once told activists during that struggle. That is going to be a little harder now without him at their side. 
FAO sees Mekong as biggest source of global inland fish catch - Khmer Times
In its latest State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, the FAO said that Mekong Basin accounted for 15.2 percent of the global inland fish catch which was released in Rome recently. According to the report, 50 percent of the global catch came from the Mekong and six other basins. 
Companies fail to address Myanmar jade mine abuses, charity says - Reuters
Caterpillar, Komatsu and Volvo are among those companies facilitating the growth of Myanmar’s poorly regulated jade mining industry, which according to a new report, helps to finance long-running conflicts between the army and armed ethnic groups, while also contributing to land degradation, water pollution and landslides that kill hundreds of people each year.
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

China can be sued for choking Mekong (opinion) - Philippine Star
Beijing’s actions breach the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Deeming that water is for all, the 1997 treaty requires member-states to share and protect surface and groundwater.

Grant calls now open: COVID-19 and water insecurity research in the Mekong Region - SUMERNET
SUMERNET announces 2 calls for 2020: rapid response and COVID-19 emerging research.

Norway to help Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines tackle waste and pollution - ScandAsia
The project is to be carried out by applicants who propose innovative solutions to clean up coastal areas. The first “challenge” will take place at the popular tourist destinations of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Koh Samui in Thailand.

CAMBODIA

Sweden cancels aid to Cambodia, shifting focus to civil society - Khmer Times
On the grounds that the Kingdom in recent years has severely restricted democratic space, human rights, civil society and the media, the Swedish government announced last week it will cease providing development assistance, starting from July 1, and will redirect its focus to human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen says political ally can develop untouched island - Phnom Penh Post
The announcement coming just days after a group of activists were blocked by authorities from demanding the island be kept in its pristine state.

Stop grabbing forest land - Phnom Penh Post
When Forestry Administration officials went to the forest to put up signs banning logging, officials discovered land theft and the creation of ownership certificates for state land.

Vietnamese rubber giant razes indigenous lands as Cambodian government grapples with legacy land issues - EcoBuisness
As the pandemic delayed the ministry’s decision on the land conflict, the firm razed another 45 hectares of indigenous territory, laying waste to two spirit mountains, wetlands, old-growth forest as well as traditional hunting areas and burial grounds of spiritual value to the villagers.

LAOS

Analysts: Rising debt burden could make Laos more reliant on China - VoA
Laos is not likely to make all its debt payments this year, much of them owed to China. What China gets from the bilateral relationship ranges from Vientiane resisting joint ASEAN action in the South China Sea, to a pending rail line that will link China to Laos and, eventually, its neighbors. (See also: China's BRI strategy and Laos - The  Statesman)

Laos plans new coal plant in Sekong Province - RFA
Laos’s first lignite plant, the 1,878 MW Hongsa power plant in Xayaburi province, opened in 2015 amid concerns about negative environmental impacts on farmland, sensitive forests, and the watershed in Laos and nearby Thailand. Health experts say local communities are at risk of cancer, respiratory problems, and birth defects from pollution. Hongsa’s construction entailed a land grab that resulted in thousands of villagers losing land with little compensation. Will the Sekong plant be the same? (See also: The pandemic has everyone ditching coal quicker — except Asia - Japan Times)

MYANMAR

Myanmar engages Swiss firm to scrutinize BRI project - Irrawaddy
The US$8.9 billion Muse-Mandalay Railway project is part of the backbone of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is itself part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s grand Asia-Pacific infrastructure plan.

Myanmar to revamp governance of industrial zones under new law - Myanmar Times
Enacted by the Hluttaw on May 26, the Industrial Zone Law seeks to address the prevalent problem of land speculation and improve environmental governance of more than 60 industrial zones across the country.

IFC to boost funding for off-grid solar power in Myanmar - Myanmar Times
The IFC said it had proposed arranging a loan package of US$80 million to the energy firm, which builds micro power plants and mini-grids in Myanmar.

Myanmar cautioned about costly borrowing from China - Union Journal
Aung Thu Nyein, director of interactions at the Institute for Strategy and Policy–Myanmar, stated the loans provided by China under the BRI are making debt scenario even worse.

For forest communities without a legal footing, new guideline is a starting template - Mongabay
According to ClientEarth, the legal toolkit was modeled after community forests in Nepal, the Philippines and Tanzania, where they analyzed local laws and worked with local authorities and experts over the past year. (See also: How much rainforest is being destroyed? - Mongabay)

Campaign to raise environmental awareness - Myanmar Times
The European Union is about to launch their “Doh Gabar” (Our Earth) campaign, a six-week multimedia digital exhibition featuring the creative works of Myanmar visual artists, celebrities and eco-champions.

THAILAND

Banking on the sea - UN Environment
By December 2019, crews from 45 trawlers were participating in the release programme in Thailand’s Surat Thani Province alone – with over 4,000 berried female crabs returned to the sea to spawn.

Criminal law misused in public policies (opinion) - Bangkok Post
If Thailand wants to preserve its fast-dwindling forests, it pays to ponder if it's insane to repeat the same policy that has failed for decades, yet still expect it to succeed.

Elephants' migration to village brings new stress - Bangkok Post
But some are hopeful that the crisis might jumpstart a reflection on the unregulated and often brutal nature of animal tourism — a large, lucrative contributor to Thailand's economy.

Gen. Prawit investigates Loei drought, pushes large-scale groundwater innovation for farmers - Bangkok Post
The government is also promoting the agricultural sector to use groundwater in parallel with surface water. As a result, farmers are expected to have enough water for cultivation all year-round.

Post-virus shift can boost renewables (opinion) - Bangkok Post
Covid-19 seems to be accelerating the adoption of several pre-pandemic trends like digitalisation and robotics. Perhaps ASEAN can look to decarbonisation as another.

VIETNAM

Air quality in Hanoi during the pandemic - devpolicyblog.org
The clean air was a positive side effect for Hanoians, whose city was ranked the seventh most polluted city in the world in 2019. The ambient air pollution potentially costs Vietnam more than 52,000 deaths every year, creating an annual loss of up to US$13.2 billion, about 5 percent of national GDP.

Giant offshore wind turbines could help Vietnam tackle immense climate change challenges - CNA
Vietnam could become a future global leader in offshore wind energy generation, after recent analysis showed the country has vast potential along its 3,000 kilometre coastline.

Germany helps Vietnam tap into biomass potential - Vietnam+
Jörg Rüger, First Secretary for the Environment at the German Embassy in Vietnam, said wind and solar power have showed strong growth potential in Vietnam but biomass energy is yet to receive suitable exploitation.

Vietnam has poor environmental scorecard - Vietnam+
A global environmental performance ranking places Vietnam in 141st place out of 180 economies, citing its air pollution and modest biodiversity protection. Vietnam scored 33.4 points out of 100 in the biennial Environmental Performance Index compiled by scientists at American universities Yale and Columbia.

Can Vietnam stop its trade in endangered wild animals? - RFA
An index created by the international charity World Animal Protection ranks 50 countries around the world. Vietnam got an “F,” ranking behind India, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, Indonesia, and Japan.

REGIONAL CONTEX

Sea-level rise likely to swallow many coastal mangrove forests - Yale 360
Large sections of tropical mangroves could vanish by 2050. For example, the Mekong Delta of Vietnam is subsiding at a rate of 6 to 20 mm/year and the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta by 1 to 7 mm/year. At the same time, sediment supply to the coast has declined as a result of damming of rivers and mining and export of sediment, further increasing the vulnerability of mangroves to sea-level rise.

Climate finance helps people adapt to change - World Bank
There is growing awareness of the need to invest in adaptation,” says Binh Thang Cao, who co-leads the World Bank’s Mekong Delta Climate Resilience and Livelihoods Project. “People have learned that climate change is not a joke. The earlier we deal with it, the better.”

China raises protection for pangolins by removing scales from medicine list - The Guardian
Campaigners hope the move will help end global trade in the scaly anteater, identified as a possible host for Covid-19. Most of the whole pangolins are being trafficked from Laos, Thailand and India. 

Survey backs calls to end illegal wildlife markets - VoA
Researchers surveyed 5,000 people in Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, and about 90 percent were “very likely” or “likely” to support government efforts in shutting illegal and unregulated markets trading in wildlife. Less than 45 percent, however, trusted governments to follow through on what they regard as a very important issue. Fewer still trusted fellow citizens when it came to dealing with the outbreak of diseases such as COVID-19.


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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