OPINION: What does Chinese ‘reciprocity’ mean for Mekong’s dams?

by Carl Middleton

The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city on Hainan Island, China. The aim of the LMC – a China led multilateral body involving all six Mekong countries – is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. Leaders have repeatedly declared the importance of the Lancang-Mekong River to this cooperation. Reflecting this, on 1-2 November, the LMC will host the “1st Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum” in Kunming, China.

The LMC’s second leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in January 2018 revealed the swift pace of the initiative. This is reflected in the numerous senior-level meetings between governments, the initiation of almost 200 China-funded projects, and the LMC’s deepening institutionalisation through various LMC secretariats and working groups. Yet, while China has hosted people-to-people exchange programs and university scholarships, the LMC’s state-centric approach has afforded little opportunity for public deliberation about its overall policy principles and direction.

Through the LMC, some government officials and scholars from China have proposed that downstream and upstream countries have both rights and responsibilities towards each other. This concept of ‘reciprocity’ is not yet official LMC policy, but suggests a shift in government position compared to China’s earlier unilateral construction of dams on the Lancang River. Overall, the LMC and its proposition of ‘reciprocity’ appears to be an invitation to negotiate basin-wide water cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River.

Much, however, remains uncertain. For example, how will the LMC build upon the existing inter-governmental Mekong River Commission, established in 1995 by the four lower basin countries? How will the LMC address concerns of riverside communities and civil society and ensure their meaningful inclusion? And how will countries ensure the river’s ecological health given the strong push for economic growth and associated water infrastructure projects? This article asks whether the LMC and the concept of ‘reciprocity’ is a promising approach to meet these challenges.

For the full article, please click here.

POLICY BRIEF: Reciprocal Transboundary Cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River: Towards an Inclusive and Ecological Relationship

Publication date:
November 2018

Publication: 
Reciprocal Transboundary Cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River: Towards an Inclusive and Ecological Relationship

Download the policy brief here.

Visit the Water governance and knowledge production on the Lancang-Mekong River project page here.

Author: 
Carl Middleton
 

Summary
It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city in Yunnan Province, China. During this period, the LMC has become increasingly institutionalized. The overarching ambition of the LMC is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. This policy brief assesses emerging principles for transboundary water cooperation under the LMC, in particular the concept of reciprocity that expands upon the UN Water Courses Convention. It also assesses the role of the LMC vis-a-vis the Mekong River Commission in transboundary water governance. The analysis concludes that as the LMC becomes a more consolidated institution, a genuine and equal partnership for the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is needed that could build upon principles of “inclusive reciprocity” between state and non-state actors, and “ecological reciprocity” that recognizes the need for an ecologically healthy Lancang-Mekong River.

Mekong River at Chiang Khong, Northern Thailand (Credit: Carl Middleton)

Mekong River at Chiang Khong, Northern Thailand (Credit: Carl Middleton)

POLICY BRIEF: Analyzing the Impact of Land Cover Changes on Socio-economic Conditions and its Policy Implications in Kayah, Myanmar

This policy brief aims to highlight and analyze the impact of land cover changes to the socio-economic conditions of four villages in Bawlakhe District, Kayah State and its policy implications in Myanmar. The study area lies in the Thanlwin (Salween) River Basin, home to communities of various ethnic groups including the Kayah, Yintale and Shan, as well as being rich in biodiversity. These local communities heavily depend on this watershed area for most parts of their lives, including food, water, security, fuel and income. The main economy of the people in these areas depends on forest production, which is the major economy in Bawlakhe. Moreover, local people depend on subsistence farming, especially shifting cultivation which is practiced in these areas. Their livelihoods are still closely related to the environment and largely contribute to the local economy. This policy brief shares geographical research to describe the role of forest use in support of livelihoods for the communities in the study area.Declining fish stock and catches within the estuary and out at sea have had deep impacts on community livelihoods, ecology and socio-economics within last ten to forty years. Encouraging the reduction and management of the natural and anthropogenic threats might encourage specific ways to improve the fishery status of the estuary.

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POLICY BRIEF: Thanlwin-Nu-Salween Estuary: Threats Challenging Brackish Water Fisheries

The Thanlwin/Salween River originates in China, where it is known as the Nu (angry) River and flows south into Myanmar, then eventually Thailand. It meets with two rivers (namely the Gyine and Attran Rivers) at the point of Mawlamyine and together discharge into the sea (Gulf of Mottama) by two channels (namely the Mawlamyine and Dayebauk Rivers). These four Thanlwin tributaries are experiencing daily tidal intrusion and freshwater discharge, forming estuarine environments and habitats for varieties of fresh, brackish and marine creatures. The term estuary refers to a mixing body of fresh and sea waters. The Mon and Kayin ethnic groups are dominant around the estuary and the riparian communities largely depend on fisheries within the river tributaries as well as those out at sea for their livelihoods and survival.

Declining fish stock and catches within the estuary and out at sea have had deep impacts on community livelihoods, ecology and socio-economics within last ten to forty years. Encouraging the reduction and management of the natural and anthropogenic threats might encourage specific ways to improve the fishery status of the estuary.

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POLICY BRIEF: Ethnobotanical Survey in Kun Lone, Lashio District: Documenting Traditional Medicine

Kun Lone township, situated in Lashio District, Northern Shan State, Myanmar is home to various ethnic groups, namely the Kokant, Wa, Kachin, Larr hue, Bamar, and Shan. It is also home to various medicinal plants that are essential for traditional medicine practices. In developing countries, traditional medicine is perceived to be an important part of human health care (WHO, 2002). In Myanmar, health care has even been provided to the people with potent therapies of traditional medicines at Yangon Traditional Medicine Hospital, Mandalay traditional medicine hospital and Monywa Traditional Medicine hospital. Myanmar traditional medicine practitioners aim to give health care services to people in accordance with their traditions. This policy brief documents traditional ethnomedicine use and practices in Kun Lone township and suggests ways that traditional medicine can continue to provide health care benefits for the future.

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REPORT: Water Governance and Access to Water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar

REPORT: Water Governance and Access to Water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar

By Carl Middleton, Naruemon Thabchumpon, Van Bawi Lian and Orapan Pratomlek

 

Hakha town is the capital of Chin State, Myanmar, located in the mountainous Northwest of the country. In recent years, the town’s population has faced growing water insecurity, which has created great hardship for the local population. Meanwhile, a major landslide in the town in July 2015 compounded these challenges, resulting in the resettlement of over 4000 people.

The purpose of the research presented in this report is to understand the underlying factors and dynamics that have produced water insecurity in Hakha town to generate policy recommendations towards attaining sustainable access to water for all.  

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POLICY BRIEF: Natural Resource Use and Access and Local Livelihoods Along the Thanlwin River Basin

Watershed resources in the Shan state of Myanmar provide the base for livelihood security among rural populations, providing food, shelter, and medicine to regions where markets, clinics, and schools are scarce. Taungya, or shifting cultivation, utilizes the landscape as an agricultural mosaic of forest and upland fields.


The Thanlwin River, also known as the Salween, provides fish, crustaceans, and riverbank vegetables as food for village members; gold for currency; water for drinking and household needs; and power for micro-hydro generators.

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POLICY BRIEF: Gender and Hydropower: Women’s Rights in the Development Discourse

This policy brief provides recommendations for hydropower developments, focusing particularly on the nexus of gender and hydropower development. In recent years, Myanmar has been moving towards market economy development with a tendency to extract natural resources in order to fuel economic growth. Hydropower is an example of how the government is meeting the demands of economic growth through electricity that benefits some at the expense of others. Gender is just one aspect among many that has been undermined in this process. It is recognized in Myanmar that women are important bearers of culture in society, often with a close relationship with the environment, but they have little recognition in society and have little decision making power when it comes to natural resource management

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POLICY BRIEF: “Rights and Rites:” Approaching the Issue of Justice for the Salween River

The Salween River is valuable for the livelihoods and culture of millions of ethnic people living along it. Hatgyi Dam is one of the five dams that is planned to be built in Karen State, Myanmar. Situated in an armed conflict area, the dam is not only challenging the livelihoods and culture of the local people but is also being seriously affected by decades of violent conflict resulting in human rights violations and mass displacement of civilians. There are questions of community involvement in the decision-making processes regarding the dam project, and therefore a constructive response is needed for justice in water governance on the Salween River. Drawing from recent research on the Hatgyi Dam, this policy brief applies the concepts of "Rights" and "Rites" to examine community expectations and decision-making processes towards the project. The “Rights-Based Approach” is a formalized and legalistic approach normally recognized by the state, while the “Rites-Based Approach” is a locally defined natural resource management approach which is centered around cultural norms and local knowledge. The objective is to show how both approaches of “Rights and Rites" could help contribute towards inclusive decision-making and address concerns about injustice. The issue of justice is not yet fully considered in the current development policy agenda for water governance in Myanmar, and decision-making over the Salween dams to date has been highly centralized without community participation. Within the opportunities provided by Myanmar’s current political context, "Rights" and "Rites" approaches towards water governance policy in Myanmar could contribute positively towards inclusive decision-making in order to address the issue of justice in water governance for the Salween River.

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POLICY BRIEF: Myanmar and China Dams: The Need for Strong Environmental Impact Assessment

A comparative study on China’s and Myanmar’s approaches to environmental impact assessments (EIA) to hydropower projects shows that the Chinese EIA is weaker than the Myanmar EIA based on Myanmar’s EIA procedural rules of 2015 and other environmental laws and standards. These findings partially explain the not very successful Chinese investment in hydropower projects in Myanmar, which are argued to have important and often negative implications for both countries.

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POLICY BRIEF: Large Hydropower Projects in Ethnic Areas in Myanmar: Placing Community Participation and Gender Central to Decision-Making

POLICY BRIEF: Large Hydropower Projects in Ethnic Areas in Myanmar: Placing Community Participation and Gender Central to Decision-Making

Until recent times, due to a lack of transparency, accountability and community participation, large scale hydropower dams in resource rich, ethnic areas rarely benefited the local people, instead having negative impacts on their livelihoods and the environment. Existing studies have indicated that dam projects in ethnic areas are associated with human rights violations and increasing the risk of triggering conflict in such sensitive areas. In most cases, disadvantaged groups such as women and children are usually the ones mostly affected. Given the historical and traditional lack of women’s participation in public affairs, especially in ethnic areas, women’s voices are rarely heard and mostly excluded from the development process that directly affects their lives.

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POLICY BRIEF: Water Governance and Access to Water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar: Towards Addressing Water Insecurity [Chin language]

Hakha-pic.jpg

Publication date:
July 2017

Publication:
CSDS Policy Brief

Author:
Carl Middleton, Naruemon Thabchumpon, Van Bawi Lian, and Orapan Pratomlek

Please see the Chin language policy brief here.
Please see the English language policy brief here.

Summary
Hakha cu Kawlram nitlak chaklei fing le tlang an tamnak Chin ramkulh khualipi a si. A liamcia kum tlawmpal ah Hakha khuachung khuasa an hung karh ciammam i dinti ah harnak a tong. Cu lio ah 2015 Chiapa thla dongh ah mincimhnak hun ton a si i minung a thong lengkai hmundang ah ṭhial hau in an um. Hi kan dothlatnak nih a langhter mi cu zeitluk in dah ti harnak hi taksa nunnak le zatlang khuasaknak aa pehtlaih: Khuapi pakhat a si i, minung an hung karh tik ah zeitin in dah inn hmun an samh ti le khua an ser ning, tihram ngeih mi hna pawngkam vialte thinghau le thinghlam nak nih ti a chuak tawn mi le hman tawn mi a tlawmter, cun ti pekning le sersiam ning kong ah tangka hman awk pek lonak hna nih ti kong ah i zat lonak le harnak a chuahpi. 
Khuaram kan sersiam pah i ti kong biapi chiahnak nih ti harnak in i runven khawh a si, tiva horkuang sersiam ning, atu lio tawlrel cuahmah mi sipin ti peknak le hman ning kong ah laihlum khuasa hna le ti a hmang mi hna he i fonh in tiharnak in i runvennak timhtuahnak ngeihchih a herh. Cun, a biapi deuh rih mi cu ṭuanvo ngeitu le mizapi karlak ah i zumhnak, i bochannak le i ngamhtlaknak hna nih Hakha khuachung khuasa hna caah ti pek ning le ti hmuh ning ah hngatchan tlak le rinhchantlak a siter lai. 

OPINION: Reasons for Water Scarcity in Hakha [In Chin language]

OPINION: Reasons for Water Scarcity in Hakha [In Chin language]

Hakha cu Kawlram nitlak chaklei fing le tlang an tamnak Chin ramkulh khualipi a si. A liamcia kum tlawmpal ah Hakha khuachung khuasa an hung karh ciammam i dinti ah harnak a tong. Cu lio ah 2015 Chiapa thla dongh ah mincimhnak hun ton a si i minung a thong lengkai hmundang ah ṭhial hau in um. Hi kan dothlatnak nih a langhter mi cu zeitluk in dah ti harnak hi taksa nunnak le zatlang khuasaknak aa pehtlaih: Khuapi pakhat a si i, minung an hung karh tik ah zeitin in dah inn hmun an samh ti le khua an ser ning, tihram ngeih mi hna pawngkam vialte thinghau le thinghlam nak nih ti a chuak tawn mi le hman tawn mi a tlawmter, cun ti pekning le sersiam ning kong ah tangka hman awk pek lonak hna nih ti kong ah i zat lonak le harnak a chuahpi. Khuaram kan sersiam pah i ti kong biapi chiahnak nih ti harnak in i runven khawh a si, tiva horkuang sersiam ning, atu lio tawlrel cuahmah mi sipin ti peknak le hman ning kong ah laihlum khuasa hna le ti a hmang mi hna he i fonh in tiharnak in i runvennak timhtuahnak ngeihchih a herh. Cun, a biapi deuh rih mi cu ṭuanvo ngeitu le mizapi karlak ah i zumhnak, i bochannak le i ngamhtlaknak hna nih Hakha khuachung khuasa hna caah ti pek ning le ti hmuh ning ah hngatchan tlak le rinhchantlak a siter lai.

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POLICY BRIEF: Water Governance and Access to Water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar: Towards Addressing Water Insecurity

Hakha town is the capital of Chin State, Myanmar, located in the mountainous Northwest of the country. In recent years, the town’s population has faced growing water insecurity. Meanwhile, a major landslide in June 2015 compounded these challenges, when thousands of people had to be resettled. In this policy brief, we present our research that reveals how water insecurity is the product of both physical and social processes that are often inter-related, including: rising water demand due to a growing population without systematic town planning; deforestation of the surrounding watershed which has reduced water supply; and underinvestment in water supply infrastructure. Water security can be improved through improved town planning, watershed management, and creative approaches to urban water governance that would combine existing community-led water supply practices with plans now underway for a municipal system. Also important is greater transparency on existing plans, and public participation within them, to ensure equitable and reliable water access for all of Hakha’s residents.

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