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NEWS DIGEST #240

October 8, 2019

Experts say 70 percent of nation’s coral reefs are damaged - Myanmar Times
The experts said the main culprit in the decline of coral cover is blast fishing and the use of illegal small meshed fishing nets that destroy the coral. There is also the unregulated extraction of coral. 
Provincial official in Laos wants to cancel concession for Chinese coal company - RFA
Officials for the local government in Laos’ Houaphanh province say they want to cancel the survey contract of a Chinese coal company after learning that its operations in the province have caused hardship for villagers who have yet to see any compensation.
AirVisual under 'coordinated attack' in Vietnam amid heavy Hanoi smog - Reuters
Apple, Google, and Facebook block access to AirVisual, the app whose data has helped raise awareness of air quality issues in Vietnam. The app has become a focus of a campaign to discredit the company since its data showed Hanoi has at times recently topped its list of 90 major cities which suffer from air pollution.
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Will climate change spell the end of coal and hydropower in the Mekong? - ASEAN Today
This “new normal” of oscillating between intense drought and severe flooding has shifted the ground on which Mekong governments have built their plans for hydro and coal-fueled development.

Climate Change is causing dire consequences for the Greater Mekong region - Mashable
From shrinking ice caps to drawn out drought seasons, it seems that every country across the globe has experience some sort of impact from the drastic changes in weather patterns. And one of climate change's victims, Southeast Asia's trans-boundary river, the Mekong River is in danger.

CAMBODIA

Climate change to delay Kingdom’s ascent to middle-income economy - Khmer Times
According to the studies, climate change will cause the Kingdom’s economy to grow at just 6.6 percent on average from 2017 to 2025, down from 6.9 to 7 percent if climate change were not a factor. (See also: Without adaptation, climate change seen reducing GDP - Thmey Thmey; Climate change reports released - Phnom Penh Post)

Climate change risk for farmers call for novel policy plans - VOD
According to a 2018 World Bank report, about 77 percent of Cambodians live in rural areas, with almost a third of the labor force directly employed in the agricultural sector. Despite consistent economic growth and development, this large proportion of the population is at great risk to climate change.

Challenges in Cambodia’s microfinance sector - The Diplomat
In August, two local Cambodian organizations, Licadho and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) published Collateral Damage: Land Loss and Abuses in Cambodia’s Microfinance Sector, a report about the dangerous growth of the country’s microfinance sector. It spotlighted an issue that researchers have been warning about for years.

Ecstasy and the environmental impact of illegal drugs - One Green Planet
One ingredient that has been linked to environmental degradation is Safrole oil, used in the production of MDMA and comes from a specific tree found in Cambodia. It’s the roots of tree, Mreah Prew Phnom, that contain the oil. And to get to the oil, trees are being destroyed.

Activist calls for Siamese crocodile preservation in Kong’s Areng area - Phnom Penh Post
Previously, Siamese crocodiles were found throughout Southeast Asia, but they have now become an endangered species in the region. However, Cambodia still has a small number of the species in some areas, but the reptile is now facing threat from hunters, lost of habitat and climate change.

Cambodia: the kingdom of wetlands - Surfbirds
Cambodia is one of the most wetland dependent countries in the world. More than 46 percent of its people live and work on these vital resources and 80 percent of the population rely on them for food. Yet over the past 15 years half of Cambodia’s wetlands have been lost, depriving local communities and devastating wildlife. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust is working with local partners to preserve two of the last remaining wetland areas in the Cambodian lower Mekong Delta. (See also: Disney Conservation Fund gives US$S6 million in grants to support wildlife & the environment - Disney Blog)

LAOS

 Laos to undertake prior consultation for Luang Prabang hydropower project - MRC
The Lao Government will undertake the Mekong River Commission’s prior consultation process for the Luang Prabang hydropower project located between the proposed Pak Beng project on the upstream and the nearly completed downstream Xayaburi project. The run-of-the-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 1,460 MW of electricity. (See also: Laos' Luang Prabang dam reaches key development stage - Vientiane Times/ANN; Hydropower boom in Laos likely to damage food security and increase poverty (opinion) -  Future Directions)

Villagers in Laos resist 50-year land concession to Thai developer - RFA
Residents of seven villages in Laos’ Luang Namtha province are resisting a 7,000-hectare land concession granted to a Thai company that would force them to relocate, and has raised concerns that the proposed industrial zones will cause irreparable damage to the local environment.

Where is Lao’s missing human rights activist? - ASEAN Post
Od Sayavong is a vocal advocate on human rights, corruption, and environmental issues in Laos, a country with a track record of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances. (See also: UN experts concerned by disappearance of Lao rights defender - Scoop)

Financial support for investment in Mekong-Lancang - Vientiane Times/ANN
The ‘Belt and Road’ Lancang Mekong Regional Business Cooperation Conference brought together representatives from commercial banks, businesses, the Lao government and Chinese diplomats.

Laos, Korea to partner in clean energy systems - Vientiane Times/ANN
The government’s energy strategy is focused on the development of renewable energy sources such as bio-fuel, small-scale hydropower, solar power, bio-mass, bio-gas and other alternative fuels. 

Laos making strides towards 2030 SDG agenda - Vientiane Times/ANN
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) are continuing discussions on plans to advance coordination and integration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help Laos engage in the 2030 Agenda.

MYANMAR

Thailand and Myanmar agree to push ahead with Dawei Special Economic Zone - Irrawaddy
Myanmar and Thailand have published their nine-point agreement to push through the implementation of the long-delayed US$8-billion (12.23-trillion-kyat) Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region, which is set to be Southeast Asia’s largest industrial complex. (See also: Government working hard to electrify Dawei SEZ as soon as possible - Mizzima)

Charcoal-loaded trucks from Kachin, Shan heading to China daily - Eleven Myanmar
Trafficking has increased because Chinese authorities take no action against charcoal imports although a ban was imposed on farm products and timber smuggling in 2018. 

Thai, Burmese companies begin controversial Mong Kok coal mining project - BNI
Representatives from the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization fear that locals will lose their land and there will be widespread pollution if the project moves forward.

Push to boost cross-border economic ties with Mekong-Lancang countries - Eleven Myanmar “The (framework) signing will be an important step for CLMVT countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand) to work with China under the five-year cross-border economic collaboration plan,” said Myanmar's Commerce Minister.

IFC must listen to local demands on Namtu (opinion) - Myanmar Times
The World Bank's International Finance Corporation is promoting hydropower development in the Namtu basin, despite its own findings that "conflict, social and livelihood risks are high."

Renewed conflict in Myanmar slows China's Belt and Road projects - Nikkei Asian Review
Ethnic strife and national pride are hampering Beijing-championed infrastructure projects. Multiple projects have already been halted, including the key Myitsone dam hydropower project in in Myanmar’s northernmost state of Kachin. But ethnic strife is not to blame. Rather, the dam has run up against nationwide opposition and an International Finance Corp. report strongly advising against damming the upper reaches of Myanmar's major rivers.

China-backed power plant a bane for Myanmar villagers - RFA
Local residents also say runoff from the Shan state plant is polluting local water supplies, and gas emissions are polluting the air.

Myanmar seeks to establish Myanmar-India-China economic corridor - Myanmar Times
As part of efforts to make Myanmar the entry to ASEAN's door, the government will try to establish a Myanmar-India-China economic corridor.

THAILAND

No land, no fish: Mekong community in northeast Thailand struggles against a double-threat - Global Voices
Across the northeast, several forest communities are resisting eviction from land that they claim has been theirs for generations.

Panel votes for chemical ban - Bangkok Post
A four-party committee has unanimously voted for a ban on the use of three toxic farming chemicals, heaping pressure on the National Hazardous Substances Committee, which has resisted an outright ban, to follow suit. (See also: Herbicide ban row deepens - Bangkok Post; Stalling on chemical ban must end (opinion) - Bangkok Post)

Thai marine biologist pleads for dugong conservation plan - AP
A top marine biologist has urged Thailand’s government to speed up conservation plans for the dugong, an imperiled sea mammal, after their death toll for the year in Thai waters has already climbed to a record 21.

New joint bid to end wildlife trafficking - Bangkok Post
The campaign, called "A Good Life is Free of Killing", is a collaboration between the Thai government, WildAid, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

EEC is our only gateway to developed-nation status (opinion) - Bangkok Post
Thailand's most extensive industrial development project this century, the Eastern Economic Corridor, is increasingly under scrutiny by opposition politicians, especially due to its lack of public consultation, but are there better options that could lift the country's competitiveness and turn it into a developed nation without the disruption of rapid technological changes? 

Japan, Thailand to research ocean plastic waste - NHK
The project will use drones to analyze the amount of plastic and how it is released into the ocean. 

5 more dead elephants located by drone at Khao Yai park waterfall - The Thaiger
The five additional elephant bodies were located near the Haew Narok waterfall close to the same location where six others were found on Saturday. (See also: Thailand elephant deaths: Drone spots five more victims - BBC)

VIETNAM

Drought, saltwater intrusion loom in Vietnam's Mekong Delta - VietnamNet
The Mekong Delta plans to grow this year’s winter spring rice crop early since drought and saltwater intrusion are forecast to be severe in the dry season starting at the end of this year. (See also: Low, late floods worsen saline intrusion in Mekong Delta - Vietnam+; Urban areas in Mekong Delta face serious flooding - Vietnam+; Long term plan needed to respond to climate change - Vietnam News)

Coming to terms with clean air disappearing into thin air - Vietnam Express
These days, heavy smog has forced millions of people in Hanoi and HCMC to never hit the streets without masks on their faces, even if they are cheap ones that will never protect them from dust. (See also: Parents despair for their little ones as air quality plummets - Vietnam Express; HCM City admits efforts to combat air pollution not fruitful - Vietnam News)

Vietnam dumps almost all urban wastewater untreated into the environment - Vietnam Express
Vietnam treats just 13 percent of its urban wastewater, says a report published by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. 

Gibbons hold on in last remaining Vietnam stronghold - phys.org
Community-led forest patrols—focusing in particular on gibbons—are helping to ensure that illegal logging, hunting and agricultural encroachment are kept to a minimum.

The Vietnamese government must be held to account as its citizens increasingly suffer from climate change  - Organization for World Peace
The potential for conflict in Vietnam and the rest of South-East Asia as a consequence of climate change is a realistic prospect. Whilst the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has increased considerably over the past 10 years, a large proportion of these cases is now attributed to the adverse effects of climate change, particularly in the Mekong Delta. 

Vietnam’s biggest foreign-invested smart city project kicked off in Hanoi - Hanoi Times
Leading Vietnamese developer BRG Group and Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corp. will spend 450 billion yen (US$4.21 billion) to develop a smart city on the outskirts of Hanoi. (See also: Vietnam developer and Sumitomo join to build US$4bn smart city - Nikkei Asian Review; Groundbreaking ceremony for first smart city project in Hanoi - Vietnam+)

Vietnam solar supporters plan a 'Million Green Homes' - VOA
Despite the "homes" in the project name, it is aimed at any small electricity consumers, especially those that can't afford the cost of converting to solar power on their own, such as farms, small businesses, offices, and public buildings, such as hospitals and schools. (See also: ADB finances Vietnam’s first large-scale floating solar plant - PV Tech)
 

REGIONAL CONTEXT

China's Belt and Road Initiative will pose serious threat to South-East Asian wildlife, conservationists warn - ABC
"When there is more development, there is more threat to wildlife, especially from people who want to commit a crime. It makes it easier for poachers to transport in and out," says Kunlabon Ponlawa, a Thai forest ranger. (See also: China’s Belt and Road paves over rules and rights - Asia Times)

ASEAN environmental ministers to examine haze issue - VOA
A month after Indonesian forest fires endanger health, force school closures and health warnings, ASEAN experts aim to address annual problem during meeting in Siem Reap. (See also: Southeast Asia struggles to tackle haze despite long-term dangers - Aljazeera)

More species than you think are part of wildlife trade. These may be next - National Geographic
More than 5,500 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are bought and sold on the worldwide animal market, a volume that is around 50 percent higher than earlier estimates, says a study published in Science.

Groundwater pumping could ‘devastate' river systems - phys.org
Some farming techniques showed promise in reducing groundwater use, such as parts of the Mekong Delta in southeast Asia, where coconut palms are replacing water-intense rice fields in several pilot projects.

Can Southeast Asia ditch coal? - The Diplomat
Rising anti-coal movements, shifting finances and the growth of renewable energy could help end the region’s reliance on coal.

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