Archive for March, 2010

March 29, 2010

The mighty mekong shrinks

Severe drought, dam disputes and poor resource management are all contributing to water shortages in bordering nations

For Thais, Laos and Cambodians, the brownish river that snakes along the borders is called the “Mekong”. Yet, the river is known by other names as well. Trickling down from its source on the eastern Tibetan plateau, it is called the Dza Chu (River of Rocks) or Lancang Jiang (Turbulent River) as it runs through China.

THREAT: The Dachaoshan Dam in Yunnan, China. A dam-building spree in China and parts of Southeast Asia poses the greatest threat to the future of the already beleaguered Mekong River, which is considered one of the world’s great rivers and a key source of water for the region.

As it passes through Southeast Asia, the river is known as the Mekong.

Being a trans-boundary river, the Mekong is facing major problems about the right to use its precious water between countries upstream – China and Burma – as well as downstream countries – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The debate over water consumption reached its peak in February after news broke of a severe water shortage in the upper northern region of Thailand.

In Laos, the ferry service near Luang Prabang was temporarily forced to halt its service as the water level became too low.

In Chiang Khong district in Chiang Rai province, the water level has dropped to 33cm above mean sea level (MSL) since February, against the average summer level of 2.2-metres, according to the Chiang Saen water measurement centre.

Miti Yaprasit, a co-ordinator of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group, said Chiang Rai’s provincial authority sent a letter to the governor of China’s Yunnan province last month, demanding that they release water to ease the water shortage in the lower Mekong region.

The village is only 280km away from Jinghong – one of eight hydro-electric dams China built on Lancang Jiang to produce electricity.

The allegations enraged China, which argued that only 13% of the water in the Mekong River comes from China. China cited the unusual drought as the cause of the water shortage. Northern China is also facing a water shortage in its rivers.

RUNNING DRY: A girl sits on a reservoir on the drought-effected Mekong River in the Thai-Lao border area of Wiang Kaen district in Chiang Rai. Severe drought has hit Southeast Asian countries, parching the region’s major river, the Mekong, whose water level has dropped to only 33cm, the lowest in 50 years.

Recently, the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an international body of the Mekong’s riparian countries, came out to defend China, saying the water shortage was brought on by the unusual drought. The MRC, which is being criticised by anti-dam activists as pro-government, even said that hydro-dams in China would benefit the water flow in the dry season if all dams operated as hydro-dams, which usually generate electricity in the summer months; the peak period of electricity consumption and demand. During the hot season, stored water from reservoirs are run through the generators to produce electricity, after which it flows downstream.

Other experts such as Smith Dharmasaroj, director of the National Disaster Warning Centre (NDWC), and Pramote Maiklad, former senator and former head of dam-building agency Royal Irrigational Department, has also stated that the water shortage in the Mekong has been caused by severe drought, not dams in China.

Perhaps the most impartial opinion might come from Anond Snidvongs, director of the Southeast Asia Start Regional Centre at Chulalongkorn University and also the country’s climate change expert.

“The water shortage in the Mekong River came from severe cold weather in the northern hemisphere. Usually, ice glaciers will melt in summer, replenishing the rivers downstream, including the Mekong that starts in Tibet. Now, the northern hemisphere is being attacked by epic bouts of cold weather that has interrupted the seasonal glacier melting in the summer,” Mr Anond told the media. He is collecting data about ice glaciers melting near the starting point of the Mekong River in Tibet to back up his theory.

Mr Anond admitted that his observation might be contestable. “You cannot single out one problem without taking other causes into account. Dams are just one factor, but we do not have enough information about it,” said Mr Anond about the lack of data on water consumption of the Mekong River.

Indeed, we know very little about this river. There is no committee to govern the use of water of this river. And the only available international committee is the MRC, which has water stations dotted along the river. Yet the MRC did not have the authority to order any nation to stop using water that passed through its land, not to mention that China is the only observing member of the MRC.

But it is not fair to only point fingers at China. Governments of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are planning to develop 11 dams in the Mekong River’s tributaries. The project, too, will affect the amount of water and the ecology of the river.

In Thailand, the government plans to build weirs and floodgates to divert water from the Mekong to farms in northeastern provinces. To the west, Burmese locals are campaigning against the Thai government’s plan to invest in dam projects on the Salaween River in Burma.

Next week, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will hold talks with Chinese officials in the first bilateral discussions on the water shortage in the Mekong River at an MRC meeting in Hua Hin on Friday.

It is expected that downstream regions will ask China to share its water resources managed in eight Chinese dams on the Mekong.

But that request should not target only China. Indeed, governments of downstream Mekong countries are clandestine about their dam and irrigation projects. Farmers in Thailand have been complaining that the state’s irrigation projects are taking away their water supply and changing the ecology of the waterway. It would be a double standard to ask China to be transparent while these countries, especially Thailand, still do otherwise.

About the author

Writer: Anchalee Kongrut
Position: Writer
March 29, 2010

Mekong summit in Thailand

Security tightened for Mekong summit

Authorities are tightening security for the coming Mekong summit in Hua Hin, employing more than 5,000 security staff in a bid to avoid a repeat of last year’s Asean summit which was derailed by protests.

Water Resources Department chief Kasemsun Chinnavaso said yesterday the tightened security measures were aimed at ensuring the two-day summit of leaders of the Mekong region went smoothly.

“We have been concerned over the security issue,” Mr Kasemsun said. “Meetings should not be disrupted as a result of violence; that would damage the country. However, security will not be as tight as it was during the Asean summit last April.”

Thailand had to abruptly cancel the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Pattaya last year after red shirt protesters stormed the venue.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his counterparts from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam will hold talks for two days starting on Sunday. The summit, organised by the Mekong River Commission, will be preceded by meetings of senior officials starting on Friday. Senior officials from Burma and China will also attend the meeting as observers.

Only Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are members of the commission.

Cabinet today will announce the enforcement of the Internal Security Act in Hua Hin to ensure the meeting’s security.

The Mekong River’s unusually low water level is high on the meeting’s agenda. Other issues include food security and development plans for countries along the river.

Areas along the lower Mekong have been suffering from worsening drought.

Locals in Ubon Ratchathani, one of seven Thai provinces located on the Mekong River’s banks, are facing severe water shortages as tap water has run out.

People in Park Sang village in Na Tan district have had to use unclean water from a pond, village chief Kritsana Vilamas said yesterday, adding the pond was expected to dry up in a few days.

Mr Kritsana said they had to spend 200 baht a day buying clean water from mobile vendors, making their life even harder.

All 32 districts in Nakhon Ratchasima have been affected by drought. The situation has led to an epidemic of mealybugs, which have destroyed more than 20,000 rai of farmland.

Off-season rice farming, considered a contributing factor to water shortage, has increased in the province from nearly 20,000 to 40,000 rai this year. Authorities are concerned the situation would worsen if rainfall is sparse next month.

March 29, 2010

Groups seek Asean support for refugees

Groups seek Asean support for refugees

JAKARTA :Human rights advocates in Southeast Asia are calling on the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights to do more to protect the region’s refugees.

About 40 human rights organisations will forward a request today to the AICHR in Jakarta so that the issue can be taken up at its first meeting in Hanoi on April 8-9 on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

The advocates agreed the first AICHR meeting in Vietnam should improve protection for the rights of refugees as the movement of people across borders had become one of the most important issues facing the region.

The issue was highlighted by the forced repatriation of Lao Hmong from Thailand’s Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun last December, the treatment of the Rohingya boat people, and Burma’s continued suppression of its ethnic minority groups, especially the Karen.

Thailand is presently home to 368,800 refugees. The majority of refugees in Southeast Asia come from Burma, a member of the Asean grouping.

Cambodia and the Philippines are the only two Asean countries to have ratified the United Nations convention on the recognition of refugees.

Khin Ohnmar, the coordinator of Burma Partnership, a network of Burmese and regional civil society groups, said the worst human rights violations were taking place in Burma, where military officers were using rape “as a weapon of war” to get rid of hundreds of ethnic minority women. Some were gang raped, she said.

Over the past 13 years, 3,300 villages in Karen state in eastern Burma opposite Thailand have been burnt and destroyed by the Burmese army. The dispossessed have been forced to live in the jungle, flee to the Thai-Burmese border or cross into Thailand, she said.

“This is a very common situation inside Burma,” she said.

The families of Filipino journalists slaughtered in the Nov 23, 2009, massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, are also seeking help from the AICHR.

Fifty-seven people were killed, including the family members of a politician, journalists, lawyers, aides and motorists who were witnesses or identified as part of the convoy, when they were ambushed by a gang believed to have been headed by a political rival. “They want the AICHR to intervene and press the Philippine government to ensure justice is given to the victims as well as to provide them with compensation,” said their lawyer, Harry Roque Jr.

“Justice must be done for all. That’s why I want the AICHR to help us,” said Noemi Parcon, the wife of slain journalist Joel Parcon.

“Our Philippine government has never shown any responsibility for what happened to us.”

About the author

Writer: Anucha Charoenpo
Position: Reporter
March 29, 2010

US Criticizes China, Burma, North Korean Rights Records

The United States criticized China’s human rights record Thursday, raising concerns about restrictions that Beijing has imposed on citizens who question its policies.

The 2009 Human Rights Report issued by the U.S. State Department Thursday said the detention and harassment of human rights activists in China increased last year, and that public interest lawyers faced harassment and disbarment.

This annual rights review detailed reports of Tibetans suffering torture and forced labor after being repatriated from Nepal.  It also noted the severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang region.

The State Department called North Korea’s human rights record “deplorable,” noting cases of extra-judicial killings, disappearances and arbitrary detention.

It raised similar concerns about extra-judicial killings in Burma, where the State Department said government forces also allowed disappearances, rape and torture.

The report criticized Cambodia’s human rights record, accusing its security forces of acting with impunity.

On Laos, the report said the government infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, and violated people’s right to free speech, assembly and press.

Corruption among Thailand’s police force came under attack in the report.  The State Department also criticized Thailand’s security personnel for using excessive force against criminal suspects.

The report said Vietnam’s rights record remains problematic, as opposition movements were prohibited and press freedoms restricted.

The State Department gave rare praise to Indonesia’s government, which it said generally respected citizens’ human rights last year.  The report said some problems persist, however, including killings by security forces, harsh prison conditions and corruption in the judicial system.

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March 29, 2010


Long-standing issues hound growth outlook


THE PHILIPPINES will join the rest of Asia in a sustained recovery this year and next, but weak revenue collections and anemic investments will make it lag behind most of its Southeast Asian peers, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said yesterday.

In its annual publication, titled: “Macroeconomic Management Beyond the Crisis,” the Manila-based lender raised its growth forecast for the Philippines to 3.8% this year from the 3.3% outlook issued in December 2009. The Philippines grew 0.9% last year. ADB cited improved prospects for consumer spending, public investment, exports, remittances and business process outsourcing as basis for the upgrade.

The report said the 45 economies in so-called “developing Asia,” which spans Central Asia to the Pacific, will grow 7.5% this year and 7.3% in 2011 from 5.2% in 2009.

Compared with the rest of Southeast Asia, however, the growth estimate for the Philippines was the lowest next to Brunei, whose economy the ADB forecasts to grow 1.1% this year.

Forecasts for the other Southeast Asian economies this year are: Indonesia, 5.5%; Malaysia, 5.3%; Singapore, 6.3%; Thailand, 4%; Vietnam, 6.5%; Cambodia, 4.5%; Laos, 7%; and Myanmar, 5.2%.

Southeast Asia is projected to expand by 5.1% this year, an upgrade from the 4.5% projection made in December, it said.

For 2011, the ADB projected Philippine growth at a faster 4.6%, anchored on increased state spending for post-storm infrastructure reconstruction and a lift in consumer confidence.

Still, that estimate makes the country lag behind its neighbors, except for Brunei and Thailand.

Last week, the World Bank also released economic projections for the region that showed the Philippines will likely lag behind its peers. The Washington-based lender sees East Asia growing 8.7% this year and 8% in 2011, with the Philippines expanding 3.5% and 3.8%, respectively.

ADB country director Neeraj K. Jain said the estimates were below the long-term growth potential of the Philippines, which he said should be above 5%. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 5.5% in 2004-2008, he noted.

There are two critical areas that the country has to focus on to realize its growth potential, Mr. Jain said: enhance revenue collection to provide more internal funds to support development thrusts and lure more investments through a better business climate.

“Revenue generation of the country over the past decade accounted for 17% of GDP. Currently… revenues account for only about 13% of GDP which means that we have 4% output lag… that could have been used in public spending for education, health and infrastructure,” he said.

Investments, in proportion to GDP, are currently aroun


Cached page:

NAM NEWS NETWORK Mar 29th, 2010

VIENTIANE, March 29 (NNN-KPL) — While the world was now at the tail end of the global financial crisis and endemic unemployment persisted in many countries, the Lao PDR suffered from a tight skilled labour market, across a whole range of economic sectors nationwide.

This was the result of a recent study, commissioned by the Asian Development Bank, unveiled during the Labour Market Assessment Workshop, organised by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in Vientiane Capital.

This study also stated that the hardest hit industry was the furniture sector which was short of 3,000 workers. The researchers said that another sector, construction, had to match the increase in demand for workers from a slew of related industries, building, infrastructure, mining, hydropower, machine repair and vehicle maintenance.

Speaking during the opening ceremony of this workshop, Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Lytou Bouapao said, “The objective of the Labour Market Assessment was to identify those sectors with the greatest skill deficits so that steps to address skill shortages could be targeted to sectors where they would have the greatest impact on the economy.”

Eight hundred and seventeen companies, located in eight provinces of Laos, took part in this study. The researchers classified the companies into four categories: 136 companies with more than 100 employees (17 per cent), 297 companies with 10 to 100 employees (36 per cent) and 384 companies with fewer than 10 employees (47 per cent).

The industries involved in this study were energy (mining and hydropower), garment, construction, tourism, agriculture, wood processing, furniture, wholesale and retail, machinery, manufacturing and food processing.

The study noted that a critical weakness in the Lao PDR, in connection to industrial expansion was the absence of up-to-date labour market information, so that it acted as a constraint to economic planning and to the effective operation of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system.

“An effective labour market information system should be readily available so that the country?s TVET could be positioned to train Laotians in skills that were relevant to the needs of a Laotian economy, that was growing at a rapid clip,” said Education Specialist in the ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, Mr. Norman LaRocque.

This study, funded by the Japanese government, is part of the effort to strengthen the country’s TVET, and this country proposed to give USD 23 million for this project. .

Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Lytou Bouapao and Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Mr. Bounkhong Lasoukanh co-chaired this workshop, attended by 100 participants, from the government and its development partners. — NNN-KPL

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