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NEWS DIGEST #245

November 12, 2019

Stakeholders question fairness of MRC’s impact assessment for Laos’ Luang Prabang dam - RFA
Stakeholders are concerned about the legitimacy of the multinational approval process for Laos’ Luang Prabang hydropower project, after recommendations to lower the environmental impact were raised, but few were accepted during a meeting of the Mekong River Commission last week in Vientiane. (See also: MRC forum tackles hydropower dam proposed by Laos - Khmer Times)

Laos defends latest plans to dam the Mekong - VOA
MRC experts said the plans Laos submitted for the Luang Prabang dam were short on key details on several fronts, from its potential ecological impacts to the effects of lost fish spawning grounds, how the turbines would actually prove "fish friendly," and compensation for hard-hit communities. (See also: Govt promotes environmentally-friendly hydro projects - Vientiane Times)
The lake that feeds the Mekong Basin is facing shortage of fish - NPR
Upriver dams and a devastating drought this year brought the Mekong to its lowest level ever recorded. And the combination has left the Tonle Sap Lake—Southeast Asia's largest—in crisis.
Fanged mouse-deer identified after vanishing for a generation - National Geographic
Lost to the outside world for a generation—and feared extinct—a small deer-like species with tiny fangs has been photographed tiptoeing through a dry lowland forest in southern Vietnam. 
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MEKONG DEVELOPMENT

Stakeholders suggest key priorities for next Mekong basin development strategy - MRC
About 200 people comprising representatives of member countries Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, civil society, academics, private sector and development partners were in Vientiane for the 8th MRC Regional Stakeholder Forum. The two-day meeting was to discuss and collect input to update the Basin Development Strategy 2021-2030 and the strategic plan for 2021-2025 for sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin. (See also: Taking a closer look at the MRC’s prior consultation process, Khmer TimesAvenues to make MRC’s prior consultation process more meaningful should be explored, says a public regional forum - MRC) 

Mekong River Commission says dams are causing sharp shifts in water levels - RFA
The MRC acknowledged that climate change played a role in this year’s widely varying water levels on the Mekong, but said that dam construction was the main culprit in sharp water level increases and decreases, emphasizing a need for data-sharing between countries.

The mighty Mekong at crisis point  - Stimson Center/Capital Cambodia
Something is very wrong in the Mekong and these trends are continuing as mainland Southeast Asia now is fully transitioning, in a premature manner, into its dry season. This year’s dry season, which will run from now until April 2020 will likely be the lowest ever recorded and the region needs to prepare for extreme drought.

Asean and the dammed Mekong (opinion) - Straits Times
Issues surrounding the Mekong river, primarily concerning equitable resource sharing arising out of uncoordinated dam building, go relatively under ASEAN's radar. This despite fierce protests by non-governmental organisations and pressure groups who claim that Mekong dams exacerbate already felt tensions over resources in the Mekong River.

There are lessons for India from China on dams - Hindustan Times
As the Mekong Basin illustrates, giant upstream dams can contribute to river depletion and intensify parched conditions. The spate of dam building in Asian autocracies is exacerbating already-fraught water security disputes.

Mekong – Lancang Business Forum 2019 focuses on agribusiness - Vietnam+
Watcharas Leelawath, Executive Director of the Mekong Institute, the event's co-sponsor, said agriculture and food industry is one of the key economic sectors in the Mekong Sub-region and Vietnam in particular. Several supply chains in agricultural production such as rice, coffee, rubber, pepper and cashew nuts have formed in the region, but farmers’ income remains low.

CAMBODIA

NGO reports massive forest clearing in Prey Lang area - Khmer Times
The Cambodian Youth Network yesterday said hundreds of hectares of forest land in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary have been illegally cleared in Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces.

Power shortages again in dry season, says prime minister - Phnom Penh Post
Speaking at the official launch of the National Strategic Development Plan 2019-2023, Hun Sen said the shortages were due to unprecedented low water levels in the Mekong River leading to hydropower generation dropping below local demand. (See also: Lao grid extended to deliver electricity to Cambodia - Xinhua)

410 MW to be generated from solar PV by 2022 - AKP
Cambodia's 2019 nationwide demand necessitates 2,600 MW of capacity, of which 400 MW is currently imported. The new solar power will be spread over nine projects. 

Gov’t yields US$11 million from carbon credit sales - Phnom Penh Post
Some of the funds from the sale of carbon credits were used for new conservation projects and community development in wildlife sanctuaries and natural protected areas.

Kingdom to spend nearly US$60 billion on development until 2023 - Khmer Times
According to the Planning Ministry, the private sector will contribute 75 percent of the budget, while 25 percent will come from the government.

LAOS

Govt attempts to rebuild flood victims’ lives amid budget constraints - ANN/Vientiane Times
The government has provided limited financial support to affected families so is continuing to ask organisations, businesses and individuals to contribute what they can in the way of monetary donations to help the flood victims. (See also: Australia provides 1.5 billion kip for flood recovery - ANN/Vientiane Times)

MYANMAR

In Myanmar, China’s BRI projects are old wine in a new bottle - The Irrawaddy
China is rebranding and repackaging dormant or delayed projects in Myanmar under the banner of its Belt and Road Initiative, many of whose projects lack transparency and consultation with affected communities, according to the latest policy brief by a Transnational Institute.

EIA and SIA begin in Kyaukphyu SEZ and Kyaukphyu deep seaport port - Myanmar Eleven
Seventy percent of project will be owned by China, 30 percent by Myanmar. Myanmar's share will be distributed to the government and public companies including "ethnics".

Displaced by clashes over amber, villagers in Myanmar’s Kachin State risk death to secretly mine it  - The Irrawaddy
Some 5,000 IDPs like Ah-Ser risk arrest by the Tatmadaw to mine amber in the area. Sometimes, soldiers use sniffer dogs to search for and arrest illegal miners.

Cabinet to adopt development guideline for Dawei SEZ link - Bangkok Post
The Thai government seeks to start working on the long-awaited link that will connect the Dawei Special Economic Zone in Myanmar with its own Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). It also wants to establish new SEZ on the Thai side of the boarder crossing. (See also: Dawei SEZ draws investor interest, but lacks infrastructure - Myanmar Times)

THAILAND

People’s power: Anti-dam movements in Southeast Asia - The Diplomat
Communities in Thailand and beyond are learning to organize to demand that dam construction consider their rights.

Photo Essay: Life on a Marine Borderline in Thailand - Mekong Eye/EJN
Tourism and restrictions on land use and marine resources have altered the livelihoods of sea gypsy communities in Thailand and impacted the environments where they’ve settled.

Thailand wants to ban these three pesticides. The US government says no - The Guardiam
In a nod to the world's major agricultural chemical suppliers, the Trump administration pressures Thailand not to ban three pesticides that scientific research has shown to be particularly dangerous to children and other vulnerable populations. (See also: Chemical ban opponents led by misinformation (opinion) - Bangkok Post; Farmers despair over chemical ban - Bangkok Post)

Disasters to hit rice output - Bangkok Post
Alternating drought conditions and flooding in northeastern Thailand are expected to cut paddy production in the region in the 2019-20 crop year by 488,000 tonnes. (See also: Thailand asks farmers not to grow off-season rice on drought worries - Reuters)

Statement for Responsibility of Financiers of the Xayaburi Hydropower Project - Fair Finance Thailand
Thirty-two groups make demands of five Thai banks, all signatories of sustainable banking guideline and now funding the Xayaburi Dam in Laos, asking among other things to "declare a commitment not to fund any hydropower development project in the Lower Mekong Mainstem for at least ten years, as proposed by stakeholders during the MRC Prior Consultation Process." 

Earning their corn - Bangkok Post
Agricultural refuse is usually disposed of by burning in an open area, but this has caused a miasma of smog and dust that has reached epidemic levels the last two years, so a community power project now plans to use waste from processed corn to generate electricity.

Former national park chief surrenders to answer murder charge - Bangkok Post
Mr. Chaiwat Limlikhit-akson, former chief of Kaeng Krachan national park, and three other suspects reported to investigators on Monday, on charges of murdering Pholachi "Billy" Rakchongcharoen. At the time of his disappearance, Phoalachi was in Mr. Chaiwat's custody. Phoalachi had been working with Karen communities on legal complaints against national park officials over the destruction and burning of houses and farms of families living in the park in a series of forest evictions. (See also: Thailand seeks arrest of ex-national park chief in activist's killing - Reuters)

VIETNAM

No scientific evidence Mekong Delta will go under:  PM - Vietnam Express
Referring to a paper released last month by US-based Climate Central, Nguyen Xuan Phuc said, "That information is just a study that has not been appraised yet and no state agency has come to such a conclusion." (See also: Rising sea levels threaten to flood Southern Vietnam by 2100 - VOA)

Work begins on US$142 mln irrigation system in Mekong delta - Vietnam+
The infrastructure would be combined with a coastal dam to combat climate change, rising sea levels and flooding, as well as help to develop road transport.

Mekong Delta needs to be innovative to overcome climate change: experts - Vietnam News
The Mekong Delta region needs to be more innovative in production to grow sustainably in the context of climate change and environmental and integration challenges. Investments in agriculture in the Mekong Delta remains very low, and the sector faces many challenges like scarcity of land and water, natural disasters, failure to use technology, poor infrastructure, low labour productivity, and a lack of links between stakeholders. 

It's time to seriously think about climate resilience (opinion) - Vietnam News
Just like thousands of families in central Vietnam 20 years ago, running was the best policy. But what about those who have to stay, whose livelihoods depend heavily on paddy fields in the Mekong Delta or neon streets in HCM City?

Water plant releases raw sewage after water crisis - Vietnam News
The Da River water plant was found to have flushed thousands of cubic metres of raw wastewater used to cleanse their tanks into the environment, days after it was involved in a major polluted water scandal.

REGIONAL CONTEXT

Include Tibetan plateau in UN discussions: Climate researchers - India Times
According to the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan plateau has seen an increase in temperature of approximately 0.3 degrees Celsius in every decade.This means that over the past 50 years the temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius, which is three times the global average.

Organic farming in Southeast Asia - ASEAN Post
The area of organic agricultural land in Asia is almost 6.1 million hectares or 0.4 percent of the total agricultural sector in the region. 

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