Thursday, November 21, 2013
Guest Blog by Eugene Simonov, Coordinator, Rivers without Boundaries
International Rivers, November 20, 2013
[Please see a petition on the same topic at http://bit.ly/1c7yFAg]
The Mongolian Law "to prohibit mineral exploration and mining operations
at headwaters of rivers, water protection zones and forested areas" –
known by the population as the "Law with Long Name" – was drafted and
promoted by representatives of local communities severely affected by
gold mining. This unique legislation is now threatened by amendments
proposed by the Ministry of Mining and many defenders of the law have
Mongolia faces rapid industrialization fueled by foreign investment in
mineral extraction. This threatens Mongolia's pristine environment and
nomadic traditions. One of the activists trying to prevent the
destruction of Mongolian nature is Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, founder of the
United Movements for Mongolian Rivers and Lakes (UMMRL). In 2007
Munkhbayar was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for having
successfully pressured 35 of 37 mining operations working in Mongolia's
Onggi River Basin. However, new companies have received new licenses to
develop the same protected areas. Soon it became obvious to river
activists that they cannot win all local battles against destruction
unless special national legislation is passed to protect the most
The Law with Long Name was designed to protect up to 25% of Mongolian
natural ecosystems from destruction by mining, which are essential
safeguards as the country undergoes a mining boom. Legislation protects
the most vulnerable areas associated with water resources. The Law also
aims to reduce conflict between miners and indigenous communities of
The Parliament was slow to review the draft and the law was on the brink
of being scrapped, but UMMRL organized a hunger strike in front of the
Parliament House which triggered the law's adoption in July 2009. Then
the UMMRL cooperated with the government and helped to delineate actual
protection zones and negotiate them with local populations.
The Law was adopted but not implemented because of government
inefficiency and huge opposition by international mining companies and
foreign diplomacy. Clashes between herder communities and mining
companies continued. In May 2011 to demand law implementation, UMMRL
organized an occupation of the Ulan Baatar Central Square by nomadic
camp (see Wake up, Mongolians!). In October 2011 the Supreme Court heard
the case "Mukhbayar vs. Government of Mongolia" and ordered the
government to enforce a ban on mining in river and forest areas. After
that the government finally started real implementation of the law. The
first batch of licenses were revoked, protection zones approved,
environmental damage from mining evaluated, etc. The law became the
"greatest achievement of the Mongolian government in environmental
protection" as reported by Mongolian officials in many international
However, by summer 2013 the Government undertook several unwise
decisions that made foreign investments decrease causing Mongolia's
annual economic growth to fall from 17 to 11%. Gold reserves also were
running out. Gold miners promised to replenish the reserves if the Law
with Long Name was weakened. The Government of Mongolia has proposed to
change implementation rules for the law so that the old licensees in the
protected areas can continue mining and prospecting. The Mongolian
Parliament now has to decide whether to change the Implementation Rules
for this law, and by doing so cancel protection of rivers and forest
from irresponsible mining. This could immediately result in the opening
of more than 1,300 sites to mining and prospective operations and lead
to the drastic reduction in legally protected river valleys by more than
20,000 square kilometers. The basin of the Selenge River – a main
tributary of Lake Baikal – would once again become an arena for rampant
placer gold mining.
This past summer the Mongolian environmental movement submitted many
requests to top officials to discuss proposed changes, but there was no
reply. On the morning of September 16, 2013 before the Special session
of Parliament that gathered to change the law, Munkhbayar brought a
petition to the Parliament House. There he and his friends were arrested
for carrying guns (which was done to demonstrate that they have a
"serious cause" – a type of action that most of us do not find
appropriate). Since then eight people have been detained and will likely
be sentenced for "threatening public stability" and serve many years in
jail. The remaining activists are being continuously harassed by police.
The media received an order not to publish anything protecting the law,
and government media has continuously accused the environmental movement
of being unpatriotic.
Due to clear public opposition the law has not been overturned! With
your help, it can stay undamaged. Please sign the petition of the United
Movements for Mongolian Rivers and Lakes (UMMRL) to the Mongolian
parliament today at http://bit.ly/1c7yFAg!
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Investments will mostly involve dam projects as partners seek to expand
beyond home markets
South China Morning Post, Thursday, 14 November, 2013
By Toh Han Shih
China Three Gorges and Energias de Portugal (EDP) plan to jointly invest
US$2 billion in Africa by 2020.
Both companies would equally share the investment, which would mostly be
in dams that Three Gorges would help build, the Portuguese utility
firm's board member Joao Marques da Cruz said at the Africa Investment
Summit in Hong Kong this week.
"We are facing a partnership between China, Europe and Africa. The
primary destination of our common investment is Africa," said da Cruz.
The Portuguese government sold 21.35 per cent of EDP to Three Gorges for
€2.69 billion (HK$28 billion) in May last year, making the Chinese firm
the largest shareholder in the formerly state-owned company.
This was the largest privatisation in Portuguese history and one of the
biggest mergers and acquisitions in Europe last year, said Joao Soares
da Silva, a managing partner of Morais Leitao, Galvao Teles, Soares da
Silva & Associados, a Portuguese law firm that represented EDP in the deal.
The Portuguese government sold the stake to Three Gorges as part of the
European Union's conditions to resolve the country's debt problem, said
Adam Cheng, counsel of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a US law
firm that acted for the Chinese state-owned company.
As part of the deal, both firms had entered a strategic agreement to
invest in existing and future projects throughout the world, said da Silva.
Three Gorges would start to invest in Latin America and Africa, where
EDP already has a presence, while the Portuguese firm would invest for
the first time in Asia, including China.
One motivation for Three Gorges' investment in EDP was its ambition to
expand internationally, said Cheng. "Although Three Gorges is famous for
the Three Gorges Dam, it is a local company. It wants to marry a partner
with international experience," he said.
Da Cruz said a good partner with financial muscle was important to EDP.
"After the transaction, EDP got €1.8 billion of loans from Chinese
banks, which is obviously good," he said.
As part of the agreement, major Chinese banks including Industrial and
Commercial Bank of China and Bank of China would enter Portugal for the
first time, said da Silva.
Three Gorges also agreed to invest €2 billion until 2015 in EDP's
renewable energy projects, he added.
Under the deal, the Portuguese firm sold 49 per cent of its renewable
energy unit, EDP Renovaveis, plus debt to Three Gorges' Hong Kong
subsidiary, CWEI (Hongkong), for €368 million in June, said EDP's website.
Renovaveis was the third-largest renewable energy company in the world
with presence in 11 countries, said da Silva.
This is International Rivers' mailing list on China's global footprint, and particularly Chinese investment in international dam projects.
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Ethiopiaï¿½s Indigenous Excluded from Rapid Growth
By Ed McKenna
OMO VALLEY, Ethiopia, Nov 11 2013 (IPS) - As the construction of a major
transmission line to export electricity generated from one of Ethiopiaï¿½s
major hydropower projects gets underway, there are growing concerns that
pastoralist communities living in the region are under threat.
The Gibe III dam, which will generate 1,800 megawatts (MW), is being
built in southeast Ethiopia on the Omo River at a cost of 1.7 billion
dollars. It is expected to earn the government over 400 million dollars
annually from power exports. On completion in 2015 it will be the
worldï¿½s fourth-largest dam.
"We are being told to stop moving with our cattle, to stop wearing our
traditional dress and to sell our cattle. Cattle and movement is
everything to the Mursi.ï¿½ -- Mursi elder
But the dam is expected to debilitate the lives and livelihoods of
hundreds of thousands of indigenous communities in Ethiopiaï¿½s Lower Omo
Valley and those living around Kenyaï¿½s Lake Turkana who depend on the
The Bodi, Daasanach, Kara, Mursi, Kwegu and Nyangatom ethnic communities
who live along the Omo River depend on its annual flooding to practice
flood-retreat cultivation for their survival and livelihoods.
But the semi-nomadic Mursi ethnic community are being resettled as part
of the Ethiopian governmentï¿½s villagisation programme to make room for a
large sugar plantation, which will turn roaming pastoralists into
sedentary farmers. The hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals
currently being dug to divert the Omo Riverï¿½s waters to feed these large
plantations will make it impossible for the indigenous communities to
live as they have always done.
ï¿½We are being told that our land is private property. We are very
worried about our survival as we are being forced to move where there is
no water, grass or crops,ï¿½ a Mursi community member told IPS.
The Omo Valley is set to become a powerhouse of large commercial farming
irrigated by the Gibe III dam. To date 445,000 hectares have been
allocated to Malaysian, Indian and other foreign companies to grow
sugar, biofuels, cereals and other crops.
ï¿½The Gibe III will worsen poverty for the most vulnerable. The
government already has trouble managing hunger and poverty [among] its
citizenry. By taking over land and water resources in the Omo Valley, it
is creating a new class of ï¿½internal refugeesï¿½ who will no longer be
self-sufficient,ï¿½ Lori Pottinger from environmental NGO International
Rivers told IPS.
Top global financiers, including the World Bank and the African
Development Bank (AfDB), have committed 1.2 billion dollars to a 1,070
km high-voltage line that will run from Wolayta-Sodo in Ethiopia to
Suswa, 100 km northwest of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The transmission
line, powered by Ethiopiaï¿½s Gibe III, will connect the countryï¿½s
electrical grid with Kenya and will have a capacity to carry 2,000 MW
between the two countries.
According to the AfDB, it will promote renewable power generation,
regional cooperation, and will ensure access to reliable and affordable
energy to around 870,000 households by 2018.
Although the latest U.N. Development Programme Human Development report
ranks Ethiopia 173rd out of 187 countries, Ethiopia, Africaï¿½s
second-most populous country, is one of the continentï¿½s fastest-growing
According to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopiaï¿½s economy is
set to maintain a growth rate of 11 percent in 2014. Fully exploiting
its massive water resources to generate a hydropower potential of up to
45,000 MW in order to sell surplus electricity to its neighbours is
central to Ethiopiaï¿½s Growth and Transformation plan, a five-year plan
to develop the countryï¿½s economy.
The Horn of Africa nation currently generates 2,000 MW from six
hydroelectric dams and invests more of its resources in hydropower than
any other country in Africa ï¿½ one third of its total GNP of about 77
According to a World Bank report published in 2010, only 17 percent of
Ethiopiaï¿½s 84.7 million people had access to electricity at the time of
the report. By 2018, 100 percent of the population will have access to
power, according to state power provider Ethiopian Electric Power
ï¿½We are helping mitigate climate risk of fossil fuel consumption and
also reduce rampant deforestation rates in Ethiopia. Hydropower will
benefit our development,ï¿½ Miheret Debebe, chief executive officer of
EEPCO, told IPS.
The Ethiopian government insists that the welfare of pastoralist
communities being resettled is a priority and that they will benefit
from developments in the Omo Valley. ï¿½We are working hard to safeguard
them and help them to adapt to the changing conditions,ï¿½ government
spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told IPS.
However, there are concerns that ethnic groups like the Mursi are not
being consulted about their changing future. ï¿½If we resist resettlement
we will be arrested,ï¿½ a Mursi elder told IPS.
ï¿½We fear for the future. Our way of life is under threat. We are being
told to stop moving with our cattle, to stop wearing our traditional
dress and to sell our cattle. Cattle and movement is everything to the
The importance of ensuring that benefits from Ethiopiaï¿½s national
development projects do not come at a price of endangering the lives of
hundreds of thousands pastoralists is critical said Ben Braga, president
of the World Water Council. Braga decried governments that failed to
compensate communities like the Mursi as displacement of surrounding
communities is always an inevitable consequence of major dams that need
plenty of advanced planning to avoid emergencies.
ï¿½How can we compensate these people so that the majority of the country
can benefit from electricity? There is a need for better compensatory
mechanisms to ensure that benefits are shared and that all stakeholders
are included in consultations prior to construction,ï¿½ he told IPS.
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Hydropower projects are fuelling armed conflict, an environmental expert says. The Burma Rivers Network (BRN) has called on the government to halt hydropower projects on the Thanlwin River in eastern Myanmar, saying the projects threaten not only environmental and social security but also the peace process.
The claim was made at an October 29 press conference in Yangon involving organisations like Karen Rivers Watch, Shan Sapawa, Marenni Civil Society Network, Mon Youth Progressive Organisation and Love Salween (Thanlwin) Group, which have been monitoring the impact of planned dams for 10 years.
At least 50 clashes between armed ethnic groups and the army have broken out because of hydropower projects, and thousands of refugees have fled since the current government came to power, the network said.
“These conflicts have broken out despite the ceasefires. It is very clear that the Thanlwin dams are fuelling war. If President U Thein Sein really wants peace, he should stop the dams immediately,” said Sai Khur Hseng, an environmental researcher from Shan Sapawa.
In March, the army launched an offensive against the Shan State Army-North to force its troops out of bases along the Thanlwin near dam sites in Nong Pha and Man Tong, leading to the displacement of 2000 villagers in Tangyan township, he said.
“The army’s border guard force attacked the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army in May to drive them from the Hatgyi dam site. The villagers fled to refugee camps on the Thai border,” said a spokesperson for Karen Rivers Watch.
In February, the Ministry of Electric Power issued a statement to parliament about future projects. Officials said feasibility studies had been completed for three projects on the Thanlwin. In August, an official told The Myanmar Times, “The survey is complete for three projects as we are going to build six dams on the river. We are going to sign agreements for the construction of dams and hydropower plants with foreign companies within three months. The construction period can be for four to 10 years depending on the dam size.”
The projects in Shan State include Kwanlon, with a capacity of 1400 megawatts, Naungpha (1000MW), Manntaung (200MW) and Mainton (7110MW). Other dams include Ywarthit (4000MW) in Kayah State and Hatgyi (1360MW) in Kayin State.
The Thanlwin River is an international waterway common to China, Myanmar and Thailand. China plans to build 27 dams on the upper reaches of the river. Myanmar’s plans will affect the whole river basin, said Witoon Permponsacharoen from Mekong Energy and Ecology Network.
The Myanmar government plans to sell electricity produced from the hydropower projects on the basis of agreements with five Chinese companies, one Thai company and three Myanmar companies. The ministry says Myanmar will get 15 percent of the electricity from the projects and the right to buy a further 25pc.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
DRC dam: key for reviving the nation
An ensemble of hydropower installations on the Congo river, Inga is projected to cost around $80bn – making it the biggest such project in the world.
If it ever actually gets built, that is.
People have talked about tapping the Congo river for nearly a century. Two existing dams – Inga I and II – have been running for 40 and 30 years respectively, and have underperformed due to lack of upkeep. After four decades of talk, the Inga project seems to onlookers to be all potential and no progress. A conference in London a decade ago made the same excited predictions we're hearing now, but there was little follow-on.
But the momentum behind Inga III, a critical new piece of the puzzle, is now gathering pace. The South Africa treaty gives it a credible off-taker in Eskom (the DRC mining industry is another). Feasibility studies have been carried out and a bidding process, which started in 2010 with the prequalification of six consortiums, has whittled the number of bidders down to three (Sinohydro and Three Gorges Corporation, Actividades de Construcion y Servicios, Eurofinsa and AEE from Spain, and Daewoo-Posco from South Korea).
Inga III, along with renovation work on Inga I and II and the construction of a further four to six dams and related infrastructures, will culminate in a 40,000 MW hydro system whose output will be double that of China's Three Gorges Dam. The energy would be cheap by any standards, let alone green ones (less than $0.02-0.03/kWh, compared to $0.40–1.00/kWh for solar and $0.10–0.15/kWh for wind) and would save 100m tons of fossil fuel burning every year.
If successful, it would also help the World Bank show it is serious about getting out of fossil fuel lending. The institution wants to leave dirty fuels behind. It recently agreed to restrict financing of coal-fired power to countries with no feasible alternatives. But greening is hard to do. In 2010, $6bn of the $10bn lent by the World Bank to energy still went to fossil fuel projects. Hydro provides a good way of getting out of coal while still pushing the kind of game-changing energy projects that Africa needs. In addition to Inga, the bank is getting behind the Batoka Gorge and Mphanda Nkuwa dams on the Zambezi.
But hydro mega projects in a place like DRC are hard to cost and plan. Financing of Inga I and II was revised up 80 per cent, from $226.7m to $460.2m. Some wonder at the wisdom of shoehorning $80bn into a highly centralised project in a country whose government ranks 160 out of 176 in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index.
Critics say large hydro projects are strategically flawed in a sparsely populated region like southern Africa; they would rather see the money spent on smaller, off-grid solutions that get energy straight to the poorest, instead of feeding Eskom and the mining industry.
But the World Bank is staying put. Eskom and the DRC mining sector are crucial participants if private money is to be crowded in. Aid, in the form of concessional debt, can only contribute around 10-25 percent of the cost.
"This project will not happen without private sector financing," says Meike van Ginneken, the World Bank's sector manager for energy in west and central Africa. "Even all the donors combined would never be able to finance it, let alone the government of the DRC. So you will have to make it a bankable project and in order to do that, one of the key factors is to have credible off-takers."
The viability of Inga took a hit when BHP Billiton last year shelved plans to build a smelter in the region. Van Ginneken adds that revenues from the Inga project will support the government budget and therefore public spending, although governance is clearly a work in progress.
The strength of commercial interest in Inga suggests it is not the kind of white elephant project that public sector actors tend to get seduced by. It would certainly be a game-changer for the region in terms of development. Inga III is "definitely of interest in the long term [for South Africa]," says Anton Eberhard, an energy expert from the University of Cape Town. "Its price is likely to be competitive compared to other non-coal options such as nuclear, gas or other imports".
The DRC mining industry remains, for all its faults, the only real engine of growth for a country with little other revenue sources at present. A burst of cheap power could help the country extract its cobalt, tantalum, diamond and copper reserves.
Little wonder the DRC government wants to get going. It says building will start by 2015. Just don't set your watch by it.
Adam Green is senior reporter at This is Africa, an FT publication, where a version of this post was published on Monday.