Media Highlights

The Battle Over the Mekong

Chinese dams threaten one of the world’s most biodiverse rivers, critics say. It’s not just environmentalists who are worried.

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Revised Law to Better Preserve Minerals

The management of the exploration and exploitation of natural resources should be strengthened to preserve valuable assets for younger generations, according to attendants of a conference in Ha Noi last week.

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Mekong conundrum: does dammed mean damned?

The roaring currents of the Mekong have long enchanted travellers, inspired explorers and sustained about 65 million people living off the world’s largest freshwater fisheries. But environmentalists warn that the “Amazon of Asia” – the river with the second-richest biodiversity in the world – is under dire threat from hydropower dams, including the latest to be proposed: the Xayaburi dam in Laos.

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Save the Mekong Call: Cancel Xayaboury Dam on Mekong River’s mainstream, Halt MRC PNPCA Process

In a letter addressed to Mr. Jeremy Bird, CEO of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the Save the Mekong coalition calls on the Mekong region’s governments to cancel the Xayabouri Dam planned for the Mekong River’s mainstream in Xayabouri Province, Lao PDR, …

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VietnamNews: Dam-building threatens Mekong environment

HA NOI — Economic development on the Mekong River is short-sighted and unsustainable, environmentalists heard at a meeting in Ha Noi yesterday.

The meeting, entitled Mekong: Energy – Environment – Livelihood Security, was co-organised by PanNature, a Ha Noi-based non-profit organisation; the Viet Nam Rivers Network, comprising civil society groups, academics and community-based organisations; and the Henry L Stimson Centre, an independent, non-profit, public policy institute.

Delegates heard that the biggest threat to the future of the river, its fauna and flora, was the need to dam the Mekong for hydro-power. The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta in Viet Nam was particularly vulnerable, participants heard.

The 4,800km Mekong flows through six countries – China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam. The Lower Mekong Basin in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam is home to more than 60 million residents from more than 100 different ethnic groups. Most of them are poor farmers and fishermen, whose livelihoods are dependent on the river.

Photo: ThienNhien.Net/PanNature

Representatives from PanNature said the Mekong is home to a diverse array of fish fauna, worth billions of dollars, that provide food security for poor communities in the river’s 795, basin.

Participants heard that economic development and poverty alleviation were threatening the livelihoods of those who made a living from the river.

Participants watched a 15-minute video-clip entitled Mekong – The Tipping Point, that highlighted the dangers of damming the river for hydro-power projects.

Timothy Hamlin, from the Henry L Stimson Centre, said that development in Viet Nam need not threaten human security and regional stability.

About 50 participants from key government agencies, Vietnamese NGOs and research institutions attended the meeting.

Source: Vietnam News

Illegal bush-meat, wildlife trafficking at alarming levels

QUANG NINH — Viet Nam’s ecosystem was seriously threatened by the widespread consumption of wild meat and trafficking of wildlife, experts said at a recent conference.

Urgent action was needed on several fronts to prevent this destruction of the nation’s wildlife and their habitat, they said.

They called for strengthened, more effective public awareness campaigns against hunting and trafficking in wild animals and for the inclusion of this subject in the school curriculum, especially in rural areas.

Tom Osbon of the Viet Nam-based Wildlife Management Office stressed the need to legalise multi-sectoral co-operation in preventing, discovering and punishing forest violations in order to protect wild animals effectively.

“It is also very important to establish special inspectors in localities which record a high number of violations,” he added.

Dr Scott Roberton, head of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said that hunting wild animals for meat and trafficking had been happening in many countries, especially developing ones.

In Viet Nam, hunting and trade in wild animals had been alarming, he said.

A WCS study conducted at 200 restaurants in the central region found they consumed nearly 2 million wild animals per year. Among them, stag and wild boar accounted for around 70 per cent of the consumed meat, followed by turtle, snake, fox and porcupine.

The study estimated the demand of wild animal consumption nationwide at nearly 4,500 tonnes per year.

The Forest Protection Department discovered 1,042 violations of wild animal protection laws last year, a decrease of 400 cases over 2008, the conference heard.

Dr Nguyen Viet Dung, deputy head of the Centre for People and Nature Reconciliation, said that the real number was much higher.

Roberton added that Viet Nam was also an important link in the international wild animal trafficking chain.

Last year, authorities found more than six tonnes of elephant tusks trafficked from Africa to Hai Phong City.

And, in 2008, more than 20 tonnes of pangolins (anteaters) and their scales were seized in Viet Nam as they were being trafficked from Indonesia to China.

The Mong Cai Border Gate was one of places where wild animal trafficking is frequent.

Over the last two years, authorities have discovered 57 cases of trafficking in wild animals involving more than 7,612 individuals including monkeys and Tibetan bears and elephant tusks.

Source: Vietnam News

Socio- economic development, urbanisation pressures Vietnam’s rivers of life

Socio-economic development and urbanisation exert more and more pressure on Vietmam’s river systems every day, as national stakeholders too fail to co-ordinate their conservation efforts, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

As urbanisation increases and industrial parks are being built almost everywhere, the rivers condition has become an increasingly public concern, as well as topics of many environment conferences.

There was a claim saying that conferences attended by scientists are not attended by government officials, who do not have a single clue what transpired at the conferences, for them to make policy change to conserve the nation’s rivers.

According to the Vietnam news agency’s report, the government agencies, to some extent, have made many attempts to prevent the damage to rivers by industrial factories.

However, their effectiveness is limited because at the same time there are investment assessments for more industrial projects underway along the river.

The agencies do not know how to proceed with big pollution cases such as when the monosodium glutamate producer Vedan polluted the Thi Vai River.

“Rivers are vital to the environment and human life” was the message from a conference on the health of rivers and the work to protect river basins held in late October at southern Dong Nai Province’s Cat Tien National Park.

More than 65 attendants, including environmentalists, scientists, low-ranking Government officials and NGOs agreed that it was necessary to establish a national action plan for protecting the country’s river networks.

But they could not reach a workable consensus on what to do.

“I agree with the framework we together set up today, but my question is that who will fund us to carry out the work, including funds for research,” said Ky Quang Vinh, director of Can Tho City’s natural resources and environment monitoring and survey centre.

Dao Viet Nga, director of the Viet Nam River Network (VRN), said the stakeholders were still struggling to connect with each other and share information when action was needed on particular water pollution cases.

Nga recommended opening the VRN network in the south since it only had members in the north.

The acting alone matter was illustrated by Nguyen Son Phong of the Southern Institution for Irrigation Planning, who said:”The VRN was set up in 2005 but we know nothing about its existence and its function.”

The institution is a governmental agency working on the protection of the Dong Nai River basin – the country’s largest river basin, assigned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment since 2003.

Dr Le Phat Quoi of HCM City National University’s Institute for Natural Resources and Environment said it was crucial for the public and Government to value scientific research for action to be taken.

Quoi said: “The first step is to create a firm base with accurate scientific evidence and a plan, the next is to call for participation of public and related agencies and then suggest changes in constitution and policy for environmental matters.”

PanNature, an international NGO (*) working in Viet Nam, said though Vietnamese laws complied with the world in recognising the principle that polluters had to pay for their pollution, Government agencies had troubles fining polluters since there were no precedents in the country.

PanNature released a statements on December 18 as it introduced a paper titled “Right to sue for compensation of environmental pollution: legal base and procedures”, which was developed by Ha Noi University of Law’s Dr Vu Thu Hanh and Dr Tran Anh Tuan.

The paper used the Vedan and Thi Vai River case as its case study as it is considered to be the best illustration of a need for legal actions against a polluter.

The researchers aimed to provide details on how the authorities could penalise the company.

“Methodology to fulfil a case of pollution is not just compensation of damages to people and environment, but it must show a scientific and legal base to fine the polluters,” PanNature said.

Tran Van Tu, deputy chairman of Can Tho City’s Association of Technology and Science Unions, said it might be late but scientists were still responsible for saving the rivers.

Dr Duong Van Ni of Can Tho University said that if Government leaders were not informed of scientists’ findings, their research was useless.

The VRN on November 12 set up its southern office in HCM City aiming to create a more co-ordinated national team of scientists and researchers for river conservation but they still need to involve all stakeholders if they are to make a difference.

Source: DanTri International

* Note from PanNature: PanNature is actually a Vietnamese organization, not an international NGO as stated in the article.

The vital safeguarding of Vietnam’s tigers

How many tigers does Vietnam have? It’s a matter that is troubling the experts and there is no definitive answer says Dr Scott Roberton from the Wildlife Conservation Society on November 24.

Dr. Roberton confirmed that according to a recent survey by Education for Nature – Vietnam and the Environmental Police department, Vietnam has 97 tigers in captivity, but numbers of tigers in the wild, are thought to be anywhere between 20 and 100.

He said that while it is relatively easy to breed tigers in captivity, if not regulated, it can harm wild tiger populations.

“Is breeding tigers always good for wild tiger conservation? The answer is ‘no’. Increasing the number of tigers in captivity is only good if it is supporting the conservation of wild tigers.”

He stressed:  “It is more difficult to release captive tigers to the wild than it is to simply protect existing wild tiger populations and let them naturally increase.”

Trinh Le Nguyen, director of People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), said that according to the WWF, ten years ago Vietnam had 100 wild tigers.

According to Nguyen, the current number of tigers in Vietnam may be less than 100 because “Tigers require a large area of forest to live andcan travel up to 100km a day, but forests in Vietnam are being narrowed”.

Nguyen warned that wildlife smuggling cases discovered in Vietnam account for only 20 percent of total cases. The local press also report only 10 percent of cases calculated by the Vietnam Forest Protection Agency.

An investigation in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong showed illegal hunting of wild animals remains popular. At least 175 professional hunters are working in the two districts of Cat Tien and Da The in the forests of Lam Dong.

According to the study, hunters mainly work in protected areas like the Bi Doup National Park, Nui Ba Mountain and the Cat Tien National Park. Hunters of Don Duong, Dam Rong and Lam Ha work in Dak Lak and Dak Nong provinces. They also go to Ninh Thuan and Binh Phuoc to hunt wild animals.

Hunters say they use many tools in hunting, including self-made shot guns, an AR115, an M16 or even a bow.

A hunter in Don Duong district said his group normally has between four and six hunters. After up to five days laying traps, they check the traps and often collect up to 40 kilos of wild animals in a pine forest in Ninh Thuan province.

Another hunter in Dam Rong district said his group works at night to avoid forest rangers.

Source: Trung Thanh, VietnamNet

23,000 Signatures Sent to Region’s Leaders

On 19th October 2009, at the ASEAN People’s Forum, the Save the Mekong coalition sends to the Prime Ministers of Cambodia, Lao, Thailand and Vietnam a 23,110 signature petition urging the Mekong region’s leaders to abandon plans for hydropower development on the Mekong River’s mainstream and to work together to protect the river and pursue less damaging electricity options.

The petition is signed by 15,282 people from within the Mekong region, including 352 people from China, 30 from Burma, 616 from Laos, 7,797 from Thailand, 2,682 from Cambodia and 3,805 from Vietnam. Many of these signatories live alongside the Mekong River. The remaining 7,828 signatures came from people from fifty countries around the world.

The governments of Cambodia, Lao and Thailand are currently considering plans by Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese companies to build eleven dams on the Mekong River’s mainstream. These plans are inconsistent with the ASEAN charter, including commitments to protect the environment, to use natural resources sustainably, and to preserve cultural heritage. They are also inconsistent with ASEAN’s commitment to sustainable development and attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), especially MDG1 on eradicating extreme hunger and poverty and MDG7 to ensure environmental sustainability.

At the ASEAN People’s Forum, civil society groups will call for a new ASEAN Strategic Pillar on Environment that commits the member states to place international best practices on environmental sustainability at the center of decision-making. Proposals to build dams on the Mekong River’s mainstream epitomize an out-dated and unsustainable mode of development that violates affected people’s rights and fails to ensure equitable and sustainable development. Yet, with revised energy policies in place, ASEAN could leapfrog the 1950s-era of big dams and start growing sustainable, modern economies without losing the benefits that healthy rivers bring.

The Mekong River is the world’s most productive inland freshwater fishery. Wild fish and other aquatic resources harvested from the Mekong are worth up to US$9.4 billion per year taking into account secondary industries. The fisheries contribute significantly to the region’s economy and secure the incomes and livelihoods of millions of local fishers throughout the region, which include many of the region’s poorest people.

Building mainstream dams would block the migratory fisheries that constitute around seventy percent of the total commercial catch, consequently jeopardizing regional food security, nutrition and health and seriously setting back other initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty and meeting development targets. Experience around the world demonstrates that there is no way to mitigate the fisheries impacts of such large dams.

On 18 June 2009, representatives from the Save the Mekong coalition met with H.E. Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Prime Minister of Thailand, who agreed that ASEAN has a role to play as a forum to discuss issues related to plans for dam development and impacts.

Despite the limited space for public debate, the Save the Mekong petition aims to make heard the people’s voices for protecting the Mekong as a giant food chain and cultural lifeline for millions of people.

Download the letter to H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung, The Prime Minister of Vietnam [English] and [Vietnamese]

Source: Save the Mekong

Economic growth depletes resources

Experts have decried the excessive focus on economic development that has severely depleted the nation’s natural resource base, and called for urgent measures to redress the problem.

Ways to balance the country’s socio-economic development with preservation and efficient use of natural resources topped the agenda of a two-day conference that ended Wednesday in HCM City.

The conference on Environmental Policy in the Context of Development in Viet Nam was organised by PanNature (People and Nature Reconciliation), a Vietnamese non-profit organisation established by Vietnamese environmental professionals with support from the Ford Foundation.

Nguyen Ngoc Tran, former deputy head of the National Assembly’s External Relations Committee, said many localities had paid more attention to economic development than environmental issues. As a result, environmental pollution had seriously increased, becoming a big challenge during the development process.

Degraded ecosystems

Pham Quang Tu, director of the Institute for Development Consultancy, agreed with Tran, saying that the lack of a master plan and supervisory mechanism for natural resources exploitation had contributed to the degrading of the country’s ecosystems.

“Besides, the law on environmental protection contains many loopholes and unreasonable regulations while penalties are not heavy enough to prevent people from violating the rules,” Tu added.

Participants at the meeting agreed that in the context of globalisation, the nation’s legal system on social-economic development and environmental protection must be more comprehensive to ensure sustainable development.

Calling for investment was a top priority for developing the country, but it should not mean that the country was willing to sacrifice the environment, they said.

Tran said: “To develop sustainably, we must pay special attention to protecting the environment; and use and maintain natural resources reasonably, otherwise it would have serious consequences for our next generations.”

He suggested that relevant agencies from the central to grassroot levels co-ordinate with each other in planning investment projects and monitoring compliance of environmental protection regulations by enterprises.

Authorities should encourage the development of clean production projects to reduce adverse impacts on the environment, Tran said. He also emphasised the role of the mass media in raising awareness of the people, the community and senior administrators about the need for environmental protection.

Regarding plans by some localities to put “low-value” forests to other uses, Nguyen Chi Thanh, former director of the Southern Forest Planning and Investigation Sub-institute, recommended that they carefully conduct a cost-benefit analysis before making such decisions.

Source: Vietnam News

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