Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vietnam’s environmental sector to get stronger legal support

 December 17, 2012
Vietnam is changing its legal framework to help the environmental services industry grow, according to Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Bui Cach Tuyen.
The current legal system was still fragmented and lacked regulations for environmental services providers, Tuyen said while chairing a workshop for environmental regulators and experts in Ho Chi Minh City.
Due to the lack of regulations, the current system of environmental services providers did not meet demand, said Vu Dinh Nam, from the Vietnam Administration of Environment, so the new framework should include incentives to engage the private sector.
Statistics from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment reveal that the environmental services industry has great potential to thrive as the capacity to treat urban waste water only meets 10 percent of the demand.
Among the six types of environmental services, participants at the regulators’ workshop focused on the low quality of environmental impact assessments (EIA).
A representative from southern Tien Giang Province's Department of Natural Resources and Environment said even though there were 20 consulting companies that provided EIA services, not a single one was capable of satisfying the department's needs.
"Many EIA reports were done on a wholesale cut-and-paste basis, and they deployed a reactive policy, meaning they would rather fix the EIA when requested rather than come up with an error-free version on the first try," he said.

Cambodia's Hun Sen assumes role of environmental champion

Date:  December 18, 2012
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is claiming to have shunned billions of dollars on the table to exploit titanium ore in the south west of the country in order to preserve the country’s forests.
According to Xhinua, speaking during the inauguration of an automotive electronic parts factory Hun Sen said: “According to a feasibility study, titanium ore deposit in Chhiphat district in Koh Kong province is estimated at USD30 billion, but to exploit the mineral, it is required to destroy about 20,000 hectares of forest.”
He said he had refused an exploitation license in order to protect forest and wildlife habitat and to prevent sea water pollution.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More Lao dam deals inked


Villagers stand on the banks of the Mekong in Xayaburi province, Laos, near the building site of a controversial dam. Photograph: International Rivers
Thursday, 25 October 2012
David Boyle and Shane Worrell

Laos has contracted firms to build and operate another significant hydropower plant on the Mekong River system, adding to the existing furore over potential effects on downstream countries such as Cambodia from the controversial Xayaburi dam.

The contracts, reportedly worth $1 billion, are for a series of three dams making up the Xe-Namnoy plant on two tributaries of the Se Kong River, which flows into the Mekong from the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos – just some 100 kilometres from Cambodia.

Because of this close proximity, communities on the Cambodian-Lao border would feel particularly acute downstream affects; however, since no impact assessments of the project had been made public, this was hard to measure, conservation group International Rivers warned yesterday. 

Sang Lee, an employee from the architectural department of South Korean firm SK Engineering & Construction, which has been contracted to build the dams, confirmed yesterday that project details were now being ironed out ahead of construction. 

“As far as I know, they’re trying to arrange finances, and at this stage, they are working on technical documents,” he said. “I’m not so sure about when construction will start.”

Lee asked for further questions to be emailed so they could be answered by someone handling the project. A response was not immediately received.

Tania Lee, Lao program coordinator at International Rivers, said the plant would have potentially severe but unclear impacts on hydrological flow, fishing and food security.

“The major lack of any information is a huge problem, because we don’t know if the environmental impact assessment has been done or a social impact assessment has done,” she said. 

The Laos government’s failure to publicly release such assessments violates the country’s own laws regulating development projects, yet despite this, an international lender was considering granting a loan for the project, she added. 

In total, Lee said, Laos planned to build more than 70 dams on various tributaries of the Mekong and was now constructing eight dams on the Xe Kaman and Xe Kong rivers dams with about 15 planned for the Sekong River Basin and seven on the Nam Ou river in the north. 

The Xe-Namnoy plant will generate an estimated 400 megawatts of electricity from water flowing from a height of 630 metres, according to the website of the firm Team Group, which is providing consulting services for the project.  

As is the case with Xayaburi, Laos is planning on selling significant amounts of the power generated by the dam – 90 per cent – to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, Team Group’s website states. 

EGAT, which has resisted pressure from conservation groups to cancel its power purchase agreement for the 1,285 megawatt Xayaburi dam because of the predicted environmental havoc it will wreak, did not respond to inquires from the Post yesterday. 

An SK Construction spokesman estimated Laos would earn about $30 million annually from fees and taxes, Agence France Presse has reported.   

South Korean state-run firm Korean Western Power will operate the dam until 2045, when control will be handed over to Laos, according to AFP.

Officials at the Lao Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment could not be reached and Mao Hak, Cambodia’s director of river work at the Ministry of Water Resources, declined to comment, because he was not aware of the project.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Boyle at
Shane Worrell at


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mekong dolphins risk deadly entanglement

Thursday, 27 September 2012

 Justine Drennan


An Irrawaddy dolphin swims in the Mekong River. Photograph: Gerard Ryan/WWF/Phnom Penh Post
In a Khmer fable, the dolphin originated from a woman who threw herself into the river, escaping disgrace, according to a new World Wide Fund for Nature report calling for protection of freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong along the Lao border.

The report cautions that if the Mekong is to remain the dolphin refuge it was in fables, Laos must act immediately to extend a ban on gill nets and co-operate with Cambodia to control the use of boats and explosives for fishing in the area.

Only six dolphins remain in the deep pool that spans the southern edge of Laos and Cambodia’s Stung Treng province – down from dozens a few decades ago, the report says. 

The remaining dolphins daily “risk entanglement and death in the many floating walls of nets,” according to Gerry Ryan, the report’s author and Technical Adviser with WWF-Cambodia.

Although Cambodia, probably home to more than 100 dolphins, recently banned gill nets and limited motorised boat travel in protected areas of the Mekong, Laos has moved more slowly, said Touch Seang Tana, chair of the Mekong River Dolphin Conservation and Eco-Tourism Department. 

“They recognise the importance of protection but have different ideas and interests,” he said, citing Laos’s construction of the Xayaburi dam. 

Dr Victor Cowling of WWF-Laos said he did not know if the Lao government would adopt WWF’s recommendations but hoped “they will act once aware how serious the situation is”. 

In addition to collaborating on negotiations with Laos, the Cambodian government and WWF are working together to help balance fishermen’s livelihoods with dolphin protection, Tana said.

These moves include spreading alternative fishing techniques and mediating discussions about a proposed pier at Stung Treng’s Anlung Cheuteal village in light of concerns it would harm dolphins. 

Due to this work and to tourism, protecting dolphins is giving villagers a financial boost, Tana and WWF officials said.

“In Cambodia, visitors to one of the two main dolphin-watching sites have increased nearly 30-fold since 2005,” WWF’s press release notes.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Mekong river dam will kill us : protesters tell PM


A conservation group submitted a petition with more than 9,000 signatures from people opposed to a controversial dam on the Mekong River to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday, demanding the Thai government cease support for the Xayaburi Dam.

Representatives of the Thai People's Network gathered at Government House with posters that said "We, people from the Northeast, will not support PM Yingluck anymore", and the "Dam is killing us".

They called for Yingluck to come out to receive their petition and hear their demands, but she did not appear.

The group, together with a coalition of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) and Save the Mekong, held an exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre last week called 'Disaster on the Mekong: The Push for Xayaburi Dam', which pictures by top photographer Suthep Kritsanavarin.

Each photo shows aspects of life along the Mekong would be lost forever because of the dam.

Laos proposed building the dam on the Mekong at Thahouy district in Xayaburi province, to generate more than 1,000 MW of power to sell to Thailand. Thai construction firm Ch Karnchang is building the dam - the first on the mainstream of the river below China.

According to the International Rivers conservation group, the Xayaburi dam will, if completed, block critical fish migration routes for dozens of species to upper stretches of the Mekong as far as Chiang Saen in northern Thailand - an important spawning ground for the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish.

They said the dam would destroy the river's complex ecosystem, which serves as a significant fish habitat for local and migratory species. The dam would also block sediment flows, affecting agriculture, especially Thai eight provinces and far down to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

Cambodia and Vietnam have called on Vientiane to reconsider the project, saying it is a major threat to millions who depend on the river for food and livelihoods. The Mekong River Commission, which Thailand and Laos are also members of, agrees the dam should be delayed for proper studies of environmental impacts. But ministers in Laos say studies have already been done, and consultants they hired said there were no major negative impacts for the river.

These claims are disputed by representatives from Cambodia and Vietnam, plus fishing communities and the conservationists who rallied in Bangkok yesterday.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Battle for the Mekong Heats Up

Laos’s Xayaburi dam project faces opposition throughout the region over its ecological impact.
The Mekong, a precious jewel of Southeast Asia, has become a critical battleground between hydropower dam projects and the survival of the world’s greatest freshwater fisheries.
The future of this 4,880 km (3032 miles) long river may well be decided by what happens to the Xayaburi mega-dam project in Laos, the first of a cascade of 11 dam projects on the lower Mekong.
Ame Trandem from the NGO International Rivers explained that, “The Mekong River is the lifeblood of Southeast Asia, feeding and employing millions of people. To move forward with the Xayaburi Dam would be reckless and irresponsible, as the dam would fatally impact the river's ecosystem and fisheries.”
In spite of repeated reports that the Xayaburi dam project had been suspended pending further scientific studies, a recent visit to the dam-site has suggested that the Lao government has not bowed to international pressure. As a World Wildlife Fund analysis recently warned, “Construction work is marching ahead at the Xayaburi dam site in northern Laos and risks making a mockery of the decision last December by Mekong countries to delay building the dam on the Mekong mainstream.”
In December 2011 the four-member nations of the Mekong River Commission – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam –agreed that no dams should be built until further scientific studies of the negative impacts on all the riparian countries had been completed.
Scientists have warned that if the 11 dams are built it could bring on an ecological disaster that harms many of the 877 Mekong fish species. Furthermore, it is the uninhibited flow of the Mekong through the heart of Southeast Asia and the river’s bountiful natural resources that guarantees 65 million people’s food security.
Although Cambodia and Vietnam are determined to stop the dam, everything indicates that the Thai developer Ch. Karnchang and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) are equally determined to build it. In this context, a failure to resolve the dam issue could also trigger a major diplomatic row among the Mekong nations, undermining the credibility of the MRC and disrupting international cooperation along the region’s most important waterway.
“The Xayaburi Dam will trigger an ecological crisis of tremendous proportions. We urge the Prime Ministers of Laos and Thailand to show leadership by cancelling this project,” Shalmali Guttal of Focus on the Global South, a member of the 263 coalition of NGOs from 51 nations said in a statement condemning the damn.
In response to this opposition, Lao Foreign Minister, Thongloun Sisoulithmade announced during last month’s ASEAN FM summit that his country was suspending work on the Xayaburi dam until further studies on its impact could be done. Although opponents of the dam welcomed Vientiane’s announcement, they soon were disappointed.
Soon after the Lao government’s announcements, a number of diplomats, MRC officials, experts, and donors visited Laos to see the site. After the visit some MRC observers then asserted that, “the project is in an advanced preparation stage with exploratory excavation in and around the river completed.”
Similarly, International Rivers concluded in their own unofficial investigation of the dam-site in June, that, “the dredging and widening of river has already taken place.”
Meanwhile back in Bangkok, Ch.Karnchang, the Thai developer of the US$3.8 billion project, said the dam was going ahead with no delays in the original timetable.
Initial construction has evidently started, however. Has the Laotian government then reneged on its international commitments? 
Deputy Minister for Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravonghas denied any violation of the MRC agreements. Instead he contended that all the construction done so far falls under the rubric of “preparatory work,” noting that the construction “does not involve permanent structures” and instead is mostly about building makeshift housing for construction workers.

Source:  August 02, 2012 by Tom Fawthrop

Mekong villagers wary of Xayaburi dam

 A fisherman (L) checks his nets on a small tributary just a short distance from the Mekong River in Kratie province. Photograph: Will Baxter/Phnom Penh Post
Fishermen bring their boats to shore, pack away their traps and hand over the day’s catch to their awaiting families on the banks of the Mekong River in Kratie province’s Chitra Borei district.

“When my husband arrives home each day, we eat some of what he has caught, but the rest we have to sell at the market,” Ry Srey On says from one of the many houses that comprise the Thmar Kre Lue fishing community in Thmar Kre commune.

Like many other Cambodians who depend on the Mekong for their livelihood, the river has been the 35-year-old mother of five’s lifeblood since she was a child.

In recent times, however, Srey On has noticed things changing.

A drop in the number of fish being caught has corresponded with increased chatter about something that might diminish stocks even further: the arrival of hydroelectric dams on the Lower Mekong.

“At the moment, there is less fish, and I am worried that if they build a hydro dam it’s going to block fish even more,” she says.

Although far from Kratie province, the Xayaburi dam in northern Laos is one of 11 proposed hydro dams on the Lower Mekong that has sent both environmental groups and neighbouring governments into a spin over the damage it could cause.

The potential trans-boundary effects of the $3.5 billion 1,285-megawatt dam – which would send 95 per cent of its power to Thailand – have not been studied, and environmental groups say fish migration and sediment flow will be blocked.

And if reports are accurate, construction of the dam, though denied by the Lao government, has already begun.

A few doors down from Srey On, the fishing community’s chief, Chhim Sokea, says villagers are also concerned that proposed dams such as Xayaburi and the much closer – and potentially bigger – Sambor dam could damage their way of life.

“Each day, I take my boat out on the Mekong and set fishing traps and nets. Once I’ve caught something, I bring it back to my wife to sell,” Sokea says.

“We rely on fish for our livelihood, certainly,” he adds, referring to the 100 families who live in the village.

“We have no alternative to fishing,” he says. “If we cannot fish, we cannot live. I hope the government does not build Sambor, though I’m less concerned about Xayaburi, because it’s far away.”

Fish from the Mekong makes up more than 80 per cent of Cambodia’s protein intake and generates about $1 billion in produce each year.

According to Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, these numbers could be seriously diminished if hydro dams are approved.

“Migratory fish make up a dominant proportion of annual fish production,” she says, adding that as many as 100 species could be blocked by the dams.

“Effects will be felt by millions of people who live along the river . . . because so many people fish and rely on agriculture. And if Xayaburi is approved, it is likely the others will also be approved,” she says.

On Phdao island, in nearby Sambor district’s Kampong Cham commune, about 2,000 families farm to supplement their fishing. 

According to 42-year-old Sous Vy, a fisherman’s wife, they can’t survive on one without the other.

What’s more, she believes construction of dams along the Mekong will affect both agriculture and fishing.

“Construction across the river blocks the flow of water and fish and even causes flood during rainy season,” she says. “I’ve seen this coming. I’ve attended workshops and done research into the living standards of residents living near hydro dams in Thailand. From what I see, they have health problems and food shortages.”

The four member states of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos – are bound by the 1995 Mekong Agreement, under which they must work together to preserve the river from environmental damage.

In 2010, the MRC conducted a strategic environmental assessment on the proposed dams and concluded that the dams would transform more than half of the Lower Mekong into a series of stagnant reservoirs and sections of rapidly fluctuating water.

According to Gordon Congdon, freshwater conservation manager for WWF-Cambodia, in Xayaburi’s case, such breaks in connection would affect fish migration into Cambodia.

“The proposed fish passages at Xayaburi have been deemed inadequate by scientists and will reduce fish passage up and down the Mekong,” he says.

“This will reduce the quantity of fish available throughout the Mekong system, including in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.”

The MRC’s findings estimated Cambodia would be the worst hit – with fisheries losing more than 40 per cent of stock or $500 million per year, affecting the livelihoods and food security of millions, and sediment being blocked, which would increase the need for farmers to use fertiliser, thus increasing their costs.

The MRC recommended a regional moratorium on all proposed Mekong mainstream dams for at least 10 years while further studies were carried out, and has urged Xayaburi to be postponed two times since.

Members agreed that a joint study on the trans-boundary impacts of the project was needed before construction could be carried out.

Two reports on the dam have been carried out – one by a Swiss arm of Finnish consulting and engineering firm Pöyry and the other by French dam-building company Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR) – both were commissioned by Laos and both were criticised for not meeting the requests of the other MRC countries.

Laos has yet to agree to another one, but has agreed to a different study, partly funded by Japan, that will assess the impacts of all the dams.

More controversy has plagued the Xayaburi project since the developer behind the project, Thai firm Ch. Karnchang, announced in April it had signed the construction deal for the project – replete with a starting date a month earlier.

NGOs have since threatened to sue the Thailand for allowing the project, protesters have marched in the streets, Cambodia and Vietnam have written letters to Laos demanding it suspend the project and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has vowed to intervene and halt construction.

Laos maintains that construction never began, but environmental groups including International Rivers, which claims an entire Lao village has been relocated to make way for construction, says things are quite the opposite.

According to Trandem, another structure is being built near Xayaburi to stop water from reaching the main dam site.

“This will be finished by May 2013,” she says. “That is construction. You would only build it to build a hydroelectric dam. There are already plans to build the spillway [by October next year].”

The Lao government and Ch. Karnchang could not be reached for comment.

Phnom Penh Post, Thursday, 09 August 2012 Shane Worrell and Khouth Sophak Chakrya