“Xayaburi and Pöyry: What Lies Behind”

“Xayaburi and Pöyry: What Lies Behind” (41 mins. in English, August 2013).

Watch it on Youtube: http://youtu.be/vSKZTYIY-ho

The documentary film provides critical perspectives on the decision-making, scientific studies and planning of the Xayaburi dam being built in Lao PDR. It highlights the role of the Finnish company Pöyry who did the study used by Laos to justify the project.

Xayaburi is the first dam being built on the main stream of the Lower Mekong River. Since its inception, the dam has proved controversial for many social and ecological reasons but most importantly for its potential effects on the wild capture fisheries of the Mekong River that thousands of people depend upon for food, trade and livelihoods.

Pöyry was hired by Laos in May 2011 to evaluate the project’s compliance with the requirements of the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

Pöyry downplayed the project’s environmental and social impacts. Although identifying that over 40 additional studies were still needed to understand the project’s impacts, Pöyry recommended that construction continue. In November 2012, Pöyry was appointed the Lao government’s chief engineer for the project.

The film interviews a range of local people and fishers, the region’s leading scientists, civil society representatives, and the media to explore the dubious politics, bad science and conflict of interest behind engineering the Xayaburi dam.

Script, camera and direction: Rajesh Daniel
Editor: Plengvut Plengplang
Produced by: Siemenpuu Foundation

DVD cover_Xayaburi film

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My new book … is out

Governing the Mekong: Engaging in the Politics of Knowledge

Editors: Rajesh Daniel, Louis Lebel, Kanokwan Manorom

Governing the Mekong_CoverThis book is an edited volume of case studies exploring the knowledge-engagement efforts on water governance in the Mekong region. It is the fourth volume in the M-POWER book series.

Publisher: SIRD, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (June 2013)

Download book flyer Governing Mekong Flyer_with TOC.

Stop the Noise of TV Ads: In All BTS Stations and Inside Trains

The petition to BTS to stop noisy TV ads is out. As of 1st April, there are 137 supporters.

http://www.change.org/petitions/bangkok-mass-transit-system-btsc-stop-the-noise-of-tv-ads-in-all-bts-stations-and-inside-trains

Petitioning Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC)

Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC): Stop the Noise of TV Ads – In All BTS Stations and Inside Trains

bangkok_bts_station

Petition by Ayoungman Wholikesavacadu Thailand

The constant and loud noise of TV ads is disturbing, and poses long-term health risks to daily commuters, and in particular, young school-going children

To:
Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC), Bangkok Mass Transit System Public Company Limited
Stop the Noise of TV Ads: In All BTS Stations and Inside Trains

Sincerely,
[Your name]

My next documentary film … started production

Xayaburi Dam: What Lies Behind

June 2012

20-25 mins. (DVD) with English language narration and subtitles

Final film scheduled for release: April 2013

Synopsis

The US$3.5 billion (107 billion baht) Xayaburi Dam along the Lower Mekong, if built, would irreversibly change the ecology of the Mekong River, and threaten the fisheries and food security of millions of people in the Mekong region and beyond.

The first of a planned series of mainstream dams on the Mekong River, the dam is a joint development between the Government of Laos (GoL) and Thailand’s construction company Ch. Karnchang. Thailand’s Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has agreed to purchase 1,220 MW of electricity at a cost of 2.159 Baht per kilowatt-hour.

The Finnish Pöyry PLC  (Publicly Listed Company) and its subsidiary Poyry Energy AG, one of the leading international consultant firms is involved as a consultant hired to do the impact assessment. Poyry has portrayed itself as a pioneer of green and sustainable economy with a slogan “Preparing the Plant”.

Although the social and ecological impacts of the dam could be huge and extending all the way to the Vietnam delta, the information and decision-making process appears less than transparent and the centralized energy-planning model is a point of controversy. Even before discussions went underway, Laos had started extensive construction work in preparation for building the dam.

For instance, the Pöyry study gave the green light for the project. But the Mekong River Commission (MRC) panel of experts declared in their Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) that the dam would disrupt the flow and likely affect fish habitats and life cycles. More than 200 species are found in this part of the river and the catch is estimated at 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes per year.

The SEA panel specifically recommended that a “10-year deferral be placed for mainstream hydropower development … to ensure that the necessary conditions to strengthen understanding of the natural systems as well as management and regulatory processes are conducted effectively”.

The film aims to:

1) give a human face for the project and its impacts so that people in different countries  could relate to it and understand its importance

2) enable people to be heard that are normally less visible and/or underrepresented in the decision making

3) examine the international global linkages (Laos-Thailand-Finland) and the role and responsibilities of international actors such as consultant companies.

The film will highlight five critical questions and issues:

1)    How transparent is the decision-making over the dam? What kinds of information are used to justify (consultants reports) and what is being missed (perspectives of fishers and others dependent on the river).

2)    Is this dam necessary for electricity; whom does the hydropower benefit? Do Thailand’s existing energy plans mostly serve the interests of the state-owned electricity utility, energy companies, and the construction industry, rather than the needs of the regions’ electricity consumers?

3)    What is the role and responsibilities of international actors/global linkages such as consultant companies in the region? For example: Pöyry is a company of significant national importance to Finland and it has portrayed itself as the pioneer of green and sustainable economy. How does this image match with its role in the Mekong dam projects (Xayaburi also Nam Ngum 2 and Yali)?

4)    How sound is the energy planning of EGAT (Thailand) and Laos? Is EGAT’s energy planning part of the problem as it heavily promotes the development of new large-scale electricity generation plants, such as fossil-fuel fired power stations and hydropower dams, increasingly locking Thailand and the region into a “centralized electricity supply model”.

5)    The impacts of the dam on the Mekong fisheries and the importance of capture fish to the people in the region.

Rajesh Daniel

March 2012

Bangkok

Thailand’s floods … aftermath

The floods are over. We have lived through Thailand’s worst floods in almost half a century. All of Oct and Nov we waited tensely for the floods to descend on our home on Bangkok. We bought and stocked up on provisions, moved things to the 2nd floor, sealed the house and moved to Rawin’s grandparents on 22 Oct. A few days later, the floods peaked and hit the outlying areas of Bangkok. In Nov, our house and surrounding areas were considered at risk.

After weeks of tense waiting, by mid-November, the waters finally came around and flooded the nearby roads and some of the streets of our house in Bangkok. It was perversely a relief to know that the waters were finally all around us. Our house remained dry. We have been more fortunate than most people in central Thailand and Bangkok. We are totally grateful for this.

Now the floodwaters have finally decreased in many areas and people have been returning to their homes and fields to assess and repair the damage and try to return their lives to some semblance of normalcy.

Now, a look at what happened. Granted Bangkok and most of the central Thailand provinces that form a large floodplain do receive northern run-offs every year. As an ecological activist pointed out recently in a detailed presentation in Chiang Mai, floods happen every year. A number of provinces in the lower north and central Thailand suffer damage to crops, orchards and rice fields as well as homes and property. On occasion, some people are also swept away by fast-flowing rivers and lives are lost. And every year, the government doles out compensation to farmers and families. And life goes on … until the next year’s floods.

So in 2011 what was different? At least three major factors. One, the sheer volume of water was a lot higher than in the previous years. Two, this was because of a lot more rain: the 2nd monsoon rains usually lasts for several weeks in July/Aug but this year continued all throughout Sept aided by a couple of tropical storms. Last, the large volume of water did not all come from the rains, but 4 dams in the lower northern region stored then released their “excess storage” water around the same time that the northern run-off was reaching the central plains.

In a rare moment of political candour, the Agriculture Minister admitted that he had ordered the dams in the lower north to store water despite being in “excess” of capacity for irrigating rice fields in the central plains. When the rains did not stop, the 4 dams were forced to release a large volume of water suddenly and very late in Sept, rather than releasing smaller volumes starting from Aug, making the entire situation far worse than it could have been.

Then when the flood situation worsened, there came the complete and gross mismanagement of the disaster relief operations mainly featuring misleading information (and cover-up of the extent of flooding) and administrative quarrels and cock-ups.

Infighting among bureaucracies, and between the ruling Pheu Thai Party government’s Ministers and the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (headed by an elected Governor from the opposition Democrat Party) – Petty quarrels continued on whether a letter had reached the relevant minister’s office or not, or about borders and administrative jurisdictions.

The lack of up-to-date information on the volume and timing of the flood waters and what often seemed to be a “people will cope with it as best as they can” attitude – Sometimes communities were assured they were completely safe, then suddenly given orders to “evacuate within 2-3 hours”.

Misleading official proclamations (more often soundbites) that only made situations worse – For instance the Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Surasawadi (who gave us the infamous Night Safari and the Salween timber logging scandals) telling a press conference not to worry, he will use 1,000 speedboats to propel the floods into the sea through the Chao Phraya River.

But then at least he was around albeit either being really useless or at best providing tragi-comic relief. But some other politicians went completely missing from the action not giving a rat’s arse whether the rest of the country was drowning or not. Most notable was deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung (he later popped up along with a secret decree to sneak the fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra back to Thailand), who disappeared from the public eye for almost the entire month of October when the flood disaster was at its peak.

Flood relief was not always reaching everywhere and everyone on time, leaving large areas of people waiting and waiting – Many supply trucks were hastily covered in banners and signs by opportunistic politicians more interested in advertising their names and getting political mileage out of relief efforts.

Among these watery ruins, bickering and political delinquency, the newly elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ran around in boats and helicopters, giving out relief packages, holding meetings and trying to secure some vestige of leadership but often giving the impression of someone not fully able to cope.

But there were also some very good things. The Thai media has been doing a great job, especially television, taking up the slack and providing updated information and analysis. Many TV reporters went everywhere, working from 6 am to midnight, getting interviews, doing analysis back at the studio, providing maps and data, taking calls from people who were stranded without food or water, and TV channels even rushing their own relief supplies to many areas. Many newspaper reporters wrote heart-wrenching stories about farmers and communities, and a few even about their own experiences in evacuating from their flooded home.

And of course, many newspaper cartoonists had a great time.

For once, the Thai army was a big help to people rather than relying on its usual method of staging coups or shooting civilians. The army’s large cadre of young soldiers often waded neck-deep in waters pulling and pushing boatloads of people, distributing supplies using trucks and helicopters and providing technical know-how in building sandbag barriers.

Then there were the hundreds of people helping each other, friends and neighbours and students and many others who took boats and distributed food and water or volunteered to put up sandbags or repair flood barriers through the night.

So what happens now? The clean-up after the flood waters has begun.

And the clean-up in terms of governance and accountability? Well, a few things that could take place (in a perfect world probably) where decision-makers would show or take accountability for their mistakes, lessons would be learned, and preparations put in for the next potential natural disaster.

At least one official, the Agriculture Minister, would be asked to resign. Or even better, is it possible to charge him with criminal negligence causing several billion baht damage to crops, industry and property, and culpable homicide for the loss of more than 500 lives in the floods? The many politicians who went missing in what was arguably one of the worst flooding disasters in Thailand’s recent history would have to explain where they were and why they did not help, and be penalised for their truancy.

A complete stock-taking of dam operations would begin, especially their water storage and release plans, and how these decisions are now made given that the period and duration of the monsoon rains are not as predictable as before.

Another stock-taking would begin of the infrastructure development, both past and planned, especially construction of large industrial estates that are situated right in the flood plain channels and that have drained wetlands and swamps, and blocked canals and natural river run-offs.

Also a closer look at what works and doesn’t (and why) in disaster prevention and mitigation, and how these can be improved.

None of this has happened so far.

No one is holding their breath.

Ricardo Carrerre

My good friend Ricardo Carrere, Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement (WRM), passed away on 16 Aug 2011. It’s a big shock and I’m very saddened by this loss.

I have worked with him on forest campaigns especially about industrial tree plantations. He invited me to collaborate on a WRM film “Green Invasion” using case studies of the impacts of tree plantations around the South; I filmed and contributed the Thailand case study. When he visited Thailand, I had a memorable trip travelling together with him to villages who were fighting for greater access to their forest resources.

He was always keenly involved in my life in Thailand and always had something to say, usually extremely witty + acerbic (which he got away due to his huge charm) and always, always laugh-out loud humorous.

When I emailed to invite him to my wedding, he replied (using the “L” instead of the “R” for my name … knowing that’s how some Thais are prone to say it):

Dear Lajesh,
Wow!!!! I AM impressed. This is very serious business and there’s yet the Indian ceremony to come! It seems that when you marry you REALLY marry. I am also very impressed by the length of your bride’s name and surname. Can you actually pronounce it? Unfortunately, I have other things on my agenda on that date and will be unable to attend. I wish you the best. Cheers, Ricardo

In end December 2008, and only a few days before my wedding on 4 January 2009, I was working on an article on agrofuels for the WRM bulletin that took up more time than we expected and he kept editing and sending me new revised versions. Then we at last nailed the final version that he liked, after which he said (in some exasperation):

Finally! I hope this marriage thing will soon be over and your brain will start working at least the not-too-bright way it used to work in the past. Happy New Year! Ricardo

When I emailed him that I was soon expecting to be a father with my son to be born in June 2009, he said:

Dear Rajesh, Congratulations on your father-to-be status. I don’t have a clue about what you are supposed to be doing, given that when my daughter was born I was living underground and when she was 4 months old I had the stupid idea of getting myself imprisoned for seven years! But I’m sure your wife will tell you in very clear terms that you role is not about stocking beers or blogging your mind away. If you don’t want to get yourself in trouble you’d better be careful my friend!

The loss feels even more sudden as I was in touch with him not very long ago as he informed me about his retirement, mulled over the future of  WRM and discussed setting up a Mekong/Southeast Asia office of WRM. He sounded me out about working with WRM based in the Mekong region, saying WRM will have to re-invent itself again, though I don’t expect very dramatic changes in the near future. The Montevideo team will continue its work led by a new coordinator. Maybe now -that you know I won’t be around and that you have become a full-time father- you might begin to think seriously about my offer regarding a possible Southeast Asia WRM person.

This was probably something I would have leapt at even a few years ago, but now as I wanted to spend time with my son Rawin I was not able to give the idea the attention it should have merited, and replied to him that I would not be able to. This was something I feel quite sad about once I learnt of Ricardo’s passing away, that I was unable to do enough to help him when he really wanted me to.

He was a wonderful friend who always had time for a few beers and stories and some laughs.

I was really fortunate that I had more than a few occasions with him (in Thailand and also once in Oxford) exchanging stories over beers, and finding out more about his life, hearing those personal stories that he rarely talked about, and it was a privilege to hear him talk of his early life and struggles in Uruguay fighting against dictatorships, spending time in jail and later finding asylum in UK.

He always carried a mate drinking-carafe which had a long sipper. Mate is made from the coca plant and is prepared and drunk as a herbal tea. Ricardo always carried the jug and accessories as well as the tea leaves – for which he was detained once briefly in Malaysian immigration as they thought he was carrying cocaine. He even gave me a gift of a bombilla (metal straw that also acts as a sieve to drink the tea infusion) when he was in Thailand.

We shared many football stories and he was the classic Latin American passionate-fanatic-fan of his Uruguay team. When I asked him if I should try to go to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014, he emailed me:

On a separate issue, I wouldn’t advise you to come to Brazil for the World Cup. It’s probably going to end up as in 1950 (with Uruguay beating Brazil in the final) and I don’t think that Brazilians will be able to take it peacefully as they did last time. This time there’ll be rioting my friend, 11 Brazilian players (plus the manager) hanging in Copacabana, the police out in force, a coup d’etat and perhaps a quick invasion to Uruguay. You stay home and enjoy all that -and more- on TV.

Ricardo was an inspirational activist and my mentor on all things in life. He was my elder brother whose humour and advice I always cherished.

I will always really miss you, Ricardo.

Go in peace, in fond farewell.

¡Hasta siempre Ricardo! – Farewell from the WRM team

A message from the WRM Team on the passing of Ricardo Carrere.

WRM had an international meeting in South Africa on the dangers of monoculture timber plantations in 2007. Standing next to Ricardo, with camera, is Timberwatch’s Wally Menne. Timberwatch hosted the conference in Johannesburg. Photo: Langlle/GJEP-GFC.

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of our dear colleague and friend Ricardo Carrere on August 16. Although we had known for several months that he was ill, his death took us by surprise, as his condition rapidly deteriorated in just a few short days. (Pic: Ricardo Carrere (third from right) during a field trip in South Africa.)

We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mari, his children Cecilia and Francisco, his sister Margarita, and the rest of his family.

We who worked with him at WRM – Ana, Lizzie, Teresa, Raquel, Flavio and Winnie – are deeply sorrowed by his loss, and yet we are left with his clarity, conviction and love for what he did, his wholehearted commitment to social and environmental justice, seasoned with his unique sense of humour, optimism and zest for life.

Ricardo was the coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement (WRM) from 1996 until December 2010, when he retired. Throughout all those years, he played a fundamental role in building the organization and forging its network of contacts and partnerships based on shared trust and a clear definition of its ultimate goal, to defend the forest and provide support for the local struggles of communities and peoples for their rights and their ways of life.

Ricardo liked to listen to what the people of these communities had to say about their lives and their struggles, which is why he considered himself to be, as he put it, “more than a coordinator of anything, a learner of everything.” He reflected a great deal on everything he heard, during his morning ritual of drinking mate, in silence, during his many travels, and at home, in his garden full of native trees and plants, which he created and nurtured with enormous dedication and love.

Like few others, Ricardo was able to pass on what he learned to a great many people: to those of us who had the tremendous privilege of working directly with him, to others who met and worked and lived with him at different times in his life, and to people from organizations, networks and movements in many different countries.

We want to thank our friends and colleagues for the many messages we have been receiving from around the world. We plan to share back a bit of this outpouring of affection in our September bulletin, which we will be dedicating to Ricardo.

We also want to take up the suggestion made by some of our friends to hold a special tribute to Ricardo this coming September 21, the International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations. We will organize a tribute here in Uruguay, and our friends are more than welcome to hold tributes of their own wherever they are. But the most fitting tribute of all will be to join in the activities for this international day of struggle that Ricardo worked for so many years to disseminate and promote, with the enthusiasm, determination and passion that he was known for.

¡Hasta siempre Ricardo!

Ana, Lizzie, Teresa, Raquel, Flavio and Winnie