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NEWS DIGEST #252

January 13, 2020

The 97km that frustrate China's mastery of the Mekong - Bangkok Post/AFP
Ninety-seven kilometres of rocks in Thai waters stand between Beijing and dominance over the Mekong, a mighty river that feeds millions as it threads south from the Tibetan plateau through five countries before emptying into the South China Sea.
Mekong River edible seaweed attract tourists and locals - Thai PBS
Mekong River seaweed emerges when the water level drops substantially, but this year is unusual because large patches of seaweed are visible as the water is unusually low and clear.
Killing gods: The last hope for the world’s rarest reptile - Mongabay
After decades of dams, overhunting and pollution the a giant Yangzi softshell turtle is down to three known individuals. Can a mating pair be brought together in Vietnam before it is too late?
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

'The colour is blue’: Strange changes to Mekong River as hydropower dams and climate change make their mark - CNA
Now man holds reign. And there is something wrong with the Mekong. The ‘Mother of Water’ as this great river is known throughout the regions it passes, is sick. 

Mekong communities struggle as China tests dam equipment - Aljazeera
Water levels have fluctuated sharply with testing, but some are encouraged that China gave warning of its plan.

The Mekong: the good, bad and ugly sides to the ‘Danube of the East’ - SCMP
Drought, rising sea levels and a rush to build dams are threatening the livelihoods of those who rely on the river to survive.

Dams lead to extinction (opinion) - Bangkok Post
Among the potentially adverse environmental impacts associated with Mekong dam projects, as indicated by science-based studies, is the substantial drop in fish populations, but Chansaveng Buongnong, chief of Laos' Department of Energy Policy and Planning, recently assured the media that the Luang Prabang dam project will not affect the river's ecosystem.

Overcoming barriers to fighting wildlife crime - Asia Times
A cross-border cooperation workshop recently took place in Shan State, Myanmar in which members from the Provincial Wildlife Enforcement Networks (P-WENs), consisting of five provinces in the Golden Triangle area of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar gathered to assess progress and new strategies. 

CAMBODIA

The costs of China’s Belt and Road through a Cambodian lens - The Atlantic 
China has driven investment to new places, a trip to Cambodia reveals how that growth has also brought risks for Beijing and Cambodians alike. (Se also: Chinese investment in Cambodia comes at a political price (video) - VOA)

High water mark - SEA Globe
In Cambodia today, with extreme weather being a yearly reality and an environmental tipping point drawing ever closer, the situation is showing few signs of improvement.

Bunong complain of logging at Phnom Preah mountain - Phnom Penh Post
The Bunong ethnic community in Mondulkiri province’s Me Pai village, Pou Chrei commune, in Pech Chreada district alleged that an estimated 100ha of protected forest at the foot of the Phnom Preah mountain had been illegally logged with help from local authorities. (See also: Activist urges investigation of sanctuary encroachment - Phnom Penh Post; Four in Mondulkiri court for logging - Khmer Times)

Saving the environment with eco-ambassador Aing Sereyrath - Khmer Times
Sereyrath is one of the six Cambodian Mekong Conservation Heroes in 2019, otherwise also known as a co-founder and project coordinator for the Young Eco Ambassadors.

Cambodian protester dies in custody - RFA
A Cambodian rights group is calling for an investigation into the death of a jailed land-rights protester, saying that witness accounts of events leading to the man’s death contradict official denials of abuse by police.

Dolphin death rate spikes - Phenom Penh Post
Six dolphins were reported to have died on the Mekong in Cambodia last year – the highest number when compared to previous years. In 2017, only two Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River died while 10 were born. 2018 saw five dolphins die and nine born.

LAOS

Lao villagers displaced by dams struggle to survive in resettlement sites - RFA
Hundreds of Lao families displaced by Chinese-backed dam projects and now living in resettlement villages are facing hardships due to poor housing and a lack of work, with many still waiting for compensation promised for fields and orchards lost when they were forced to move.

Don Sahong hydropower dam in Laos connects to Cambodian grid - Reuters
Nearly 200 megawatts of electricity from Dan Sahong Dam in Laos was linked to Cambodia’s national grid last week after the dam finished tests on four electricity generators. (See also: Laos links 195MW power to Cambodia - Khmer Times)

Power usage in Laos predicted to soar to 1,800MW in 2020-25 - ANN/Vientiane Times
The Ministry of Energy and Mines has predicted that the demand for electricity in Laos will increase to 1,800MW during the period 2020-2025, up from supply of 1,222MW at present.

Lao workers to undergo training in China for railway operation - Xinhua
As many as 600 Lao workers will undergo training in China in preparation for operation of the China-Laos railway, which is scheduled to commence service in December 2021, the rail operator has announced.

The end for Lao’s elephants? - ASEAN Post
As of last year, however, both the government of Lao and conservation groups believe the robust Asian elephant population the country once boasted of has now dwindled to about 800 where 400 are wild elephants and 400 are in captivity; and even these shrinking populations are under constant threat.

Tigers have likely been driven extinct in Laos - Sustainability Times
Indochinese tigers have fallen on hard times, having seen their habitats throughout their former ranges drastically reduced over the decades. Rampant poaching has also taken their toll on the majestic predators. Tigers have recently been declared extinct in Cambodia and neighboring Vietnam. Now the same fate has apparently befallen them in Laos as well.

ADB unveils new financial support for Laos - ANN/Vientiane Times
According to the ADB Country Operations Business Plan for 2020-2022, the Manila-based international financial institution has indicative concessional loans of US$322 million available for Laos to finance development projects from now until 2022.

MYANMAR

Chinese president's upcoming visit seen as bid to gain Myanmar leaders' commitment on BRI project - Irrawaddy 
Chinese president to visit Myanmar next week in what many see as a signal of the importance of the country to China’s Indian Ocean strategy.

Climate migrations in Myanmar - Mizzima
"We live in a part of the world that will be hit incredibly hard by climate change. The disruptions to agriculture and food security will be enormous. People will simply not be able to live as they are, where they are," says Myanmar historian Thant Myint-U.

Conservationists to conduct census of migratory birds in Myanmar wetlands - Myanmar Times
Conservationists are set to conduct a census this week of migratory birds taking refuge in the country’s wetlands to escape the biting winter in their natural habitats. Winter birds inhabiting in Myanmar’s wetland areas migrated through Central Asia Flyway and East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Every rural region in Yangon have power access this year - Eleven Myanmar
All population living in rural Yangon regions are to have electricity access by the end of the year. Nationwide, the energy ministry has set goals of electrifying 55 per cent of the country by the end of 2021, above 75 per cent between 2025-2026 and 100 per cent in 2030.

Giant Myanmar Irrawaddy dolphin died of old age - Irrawaddy
Activists and residents disagree about whether an Irrawaddy dolphin found dead in Mandalay Region this week was killed by electrofishing. (See also: Electro-fishing linked to death of rare Irrawaddy dolphin - New Straits Times)

THAILAND

Salty water in Bangkok is new 'reality' as sea pushes farther inland - Reuters
Thai authorities are trucking drinking water to parts of Bangkok and urging residents to shower less as a worsening drought and rising sea levels have increased salinity, a growing risk faced by many Asian cities. (See also: Seawater from Bangkok taps amid worst drought in 40 years - Asian News IT; Farms go dry as Bangkok battles seawater - Bangkok Post; Two major dams to release more water to dilute salt in Bangkok tap water - Bangkok Post)

A gloomy outlook for Thailand in 2020 - The Diplomat
2019 was a controversial  year for Thailand, especially with the elections in March, but 2020 is shaping up to be even larger one. With drought affecting much of the country and the Mekong River at record lows. Both of which have the the potential to become regional flashpoints.

Govt calls on farmers to stop growing rice in off-season - TNA
So far, 18 of Thailand's 76 provinces have been declared drought-affected zones and 54 others have been declared "at risk" of lacking sufficient water for consumption and agriculture. (See also: B3bn fund to combat water crisis - Bangkok Post)

Run-of-river dam met with reservation - Bangkok Post
Thais fear the impact of the Luang Prabang dam project in Laos, but fail to realize they are to meet their power demands. 

VIETNAM

Vietnam utility dares Mekong devastation - Asia Sentinel 
There is good economic rationale why the dam planned at Luang Prabang in Laos, or others for the Mekong main stream, may not be completed. 

Vietnam calls for fair, sustainable use of Mekong River resources - Vietnam Express
"We believe that along with the legitimate interests in utilizing the water resources of the Mekong River for development, countries need to have a mutual responsibility in using the water source and resources fairly and sustainably, ensuring the balanced interests for all countries, for the prosperity and sustainable development of the region," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said last week.

Vietnam aims to ensure water security by 2030 - Vietnam News
By 2050, 60 per cent of farming areas in Vietam will be equipped with water-saving irrigation systems, according to the country's Water Management Strategy, critical for the Mekong Delta, Vietnam's rice bowl and home to 21 million people, has been suffering from severe drought and saline intrusion in recent years.

Air pollution could rip 5 pct off Vietnam GDP - Vietnam Express
Hazardous air quality may cause damages worth 5 per cent to Vietnam’s GDP as foreign investors lower funding, heard the Vietnam Business Forum. (See also: Air pollution, plastic waste fight among top 2019 environmental events - Vietnam Express; Vietnam faces growing threat to energy security, environment - Vietnam Express)

Wild turtles under threat of extinction in Vietnam - Phnom Penh Post
Many species of rare turtles are in danger of extinction due to illegal trading in Vietnam. In the Mekong Delta region, turtles are being sold as pets and for their meat, with many people thinking that owning a turtle – or eating one – brings good luck.

Vietnam's coal purchases set to escalate - Vietnam Express
Vietnam will import 12 million tons of coal this year, 30 million tons in 2025 and 50 million tons in 2030 to fuel thermal power plants. (See also: Vinacomin forecasts more demand for coal - Vietnam News)

REGIONAL CONTEX

Vast river diversion plan afoot in western China - China Dialogue
These schemes would feed China’s north not just from the Yangtze but from transnational rivers, including the Yarlung Tsangpo, the Nu and the Lancang/Mekong.

SE Asia slowly but surely sinking into the sea - Asia Times
Region’s coastal areas are more vulnerable to climate change driven rising sea levels than previously predicted, with parts of Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok to slip underwater by 2050. Meanwhile, millions of people in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, the country’s fertile rice farming region, could be forced to flee coastal areas.

China can boost Asean’s smart-city dreams but, first, it needs to earn some trust in Southeast Asia - SCMP
The rise of anti-China sentiment in Asean over South China Sea tensions and unpopular Mekong dam projects could be hindering cooperation.

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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