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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Cambodia Opens Real Estate Market To Foreigners

Have you been hankering to buy real estate in Cambodia? OK, maybe not. But you may want to give it some thought now that a new law allows foreigners for the first time to purchase real estate in the impoverished Southeast Asian country.

Those in the know already know that some investors have long gotten around the prohibition. But do you really want to do something blatantly illegal in a place such as Cambodia? Well, now you won't have to.

The new law has passed the lower house of the Cambodian parliament. It still needs approval from the Senate there and the King, but that's considered nothing more than a technicality by the 'in the know' crowd.

There is just one small caveat you should be aware of, however, if you are thinking of buying into the Cambodian dream.

Under the new law, foreigners, says the Associated Press, will only be able to buy property at least one floor above the land. In other words, you can own the building sitting atop the land, but you can't own the land itself!

Agence France-Presse quotes Cambodia's land management minister as saying the new law would "boost the kingdom's real estate market and bring in more foreign investment."

The Xinhua News Agency quotes the minister as saying the new law will now permit foreigners to own apartments and condos above the ground, or from the first floor up. So, who owns the underground parking garage, is what I want to know?? Then again, maybe that's an LA thing. You could always take a rickshaw.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think, The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has written about real estate related issues for several years.
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Cambodia minister says Mekong nations committed to improving living standards

Phnom Penh, April 6, 2010 AKP - The four member countries of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) -Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - are committed to develop sustainably the Mekong basin, aiming at increasing the living standards of some 60 million people living along this river.

The commitment was made known by Water Resource and Meteorology Minister H.E. Lim Kean Hor at a press conference held here on April 5 at Phnom Penh International Airport upon the arrival of the Cambodian delegation from the First Mekong River Summit in Hua Hin, Thailand.

The four nations also recognized the development during the past 15 years of the International Mekong River Commission and they are determined to do their best to increase their joint cooperation in the sustainable development of the Mekong River basin, he said.

For its part, China promised to strengthen cooperation with the International Mekong River Commission and supported the good cooperation between China and the commission in information exchange on water change at the upper parts.

The International Mekong River Commission was established in 1995. It has four members; the upper-Mekong basin countries - Myanmar and China -have not joined the commission yet, but remained its dialogue partners. They also sent their participants to the summit.

Regarding the negative impacts on Mekong's water due to the construction of hydroelectric dams, Lim Kean Hor, also president of the National Mekong River Commission of Cambodia, said hydroelectric dams are very necessary, especially for Cambodia. "But, we also think about the development and the sustainability of the environment and nature," he underlined.

Cambodian Premier Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen on April 4-5 led a high-ranking delegation to participate in the First Mekong River Commission Summit, which will be held every four years according to the alphabetic order of the member countries.

Below is the full Declaration of the Mekong River Commission:

"MRC Hua Hin Declaration'Meeting the Needs, Keeping the Balance: Towards Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin'" 5 April 2010

Preamble We, the Heads of the Governments of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, meet in Hua Hin, Thailand for the First Summit of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) on the occasion of its 15th Anniversary.

We recall the signing on 5 April 1995 of the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin (herein referred to as the Mekong Agreement) and the establishment of the MRC by the representatives of the Lower Mekong Basin Governments, and reaffirm our political commitment to its implementation;

We recognise that the sustainable management of water resources in the Mekong River Basin is crucial to the economic and social well- being of the riparian population and to the poverty alleviation efforts of Basin governments;

We note that accelerating the development of water and related resources will make a significant contribution to the socio- economic development of the region, but may also have negative impacts on the Basin environment that need to be fully addressed; and

We affirm our strong and continued commitment to cooperate and promote the sustainable development, utilisation, conservation andmanagement of the water and related resources of the Mekong River Basin and agree to the following statements.

Recognition of achievements

We, the Heads of Government, recognise that the institutional development of the MRC has advanced from its inception as the United Nations based Mekong Committee and Interim Mekong Committee to the independent knowledge-based inter-governmental River Basin Organization of today. An increasing level of ownership of the organization by Member Countries has led to a strengthening of cooperative governance and increased effectiveness over time.

We applaud the significant achievements of cooperation among Member Countries in the 15 years since the signing of the Mekong Agreement.

We are encouraged by the achievements of the MRC and its Member Countries through our joint efforts in implementation of the Mekong Agreement that include strengthening dialogue on regional water resources development; facilitating a Basin-wide, consultative planning process through an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) approach; reducing the risks of regular flooding and promoting the beneficial effects of the annual flood pulse; increasing international trade opportunities through safer and more effective river transport and legal frameworks for cross-border navigation; defining a balance between the opportunities and risks of proposed hydropower projects; an enhanced understanding of the Basin's aquatic biodiversity and fisheries; providing environmental decision support; and initiating a process to help the people of the Basin adapt to the consequences of climate change.

Over the past fifteen years, the water and related resources of the Basin have been protected through the effective environmental governance of MRC and its Member Countries. Mekong partners and stakeholders now know and understand more about this complex and productive river system. We note with appreciation these positive outcomes that have come about through a strong sense of regional cooperation and continued national capacity building among the Member Countries. We acknowledge the progress made to extend cooperation between the MRC and international, regional and local partners including MRC's Dialogue Partners, namely the People's Republic of China and the Union of Myanmar, and its Development Partners. The sharing of hydro-meteorological data by People's Republic of China in the current drought situation is highly appreciated and we hope the cooperation will be continued. We appreciate the efforts of MRC to further strengthen and expand its relationships with People's Republic of China, Myanmar and all MRC partners in pursuing the organization's development goals.

We note that the MRC has forged new alliances and working relationships with a range of international organizations including ASEAN, the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank to further promote the sustainable development and management of the Mekong Basin's water resources.

We welcome and appreciate the continued and extensive strategic, financial and technical support from MRC's Development Partners over the years which has allowed the MRC to successfully implement the Mekong Agreement and become a more effective organization.

We acknowledge with appreciation the outcome of the International Conference on Transboundary Water Resources Management in a Changing World held prior to the First MRC Summit as reflected in the Conference Summary.

Regional opportunities and challenges

We, the Heads of Government, acknowledge that there are both opportunities and challenges to be faced by the MRC over the next decade as a result of development pressures including expanding populations and rapid economic growth. We commit to cooperate further to tackle critical emerging challenges in the Mekong Basin that include: reducing the loss of life and assets at risk from flooding and loss of livelihoods from drought conditions; better integrating sustainability considerations into the development of the Basin's significant hydropower potential; ensuring effective management of water for agricultural production, particularly as part of drought management strategies; preparing for climate change adaptation measures to minimise poverty and food insecurity among vulnerable communities; minimising any deterioration of water quality, loss of wetlands and deforestation, which present risks to biodiversity and peoples' livelihoods; better managing the Basin's unique natural fisheries; and reducing the risks associated with expansion of river transport.

Building on the solid foundation of 15 years of capacity building, we encourage MRC to address these challenges through the preparation and implementation of the IWRM-based Basin Development Strategy and the forthcoming MRC Strategic Plan for 2011-2015. We note that significant opportunities exist through intensifying partnerships and relationships with an increasing range of Partners, including ASEAN, the ADB, the GMS, the World Bank and other transboundary river basin organizations. We confirm that the continued focus of MRC on active stakeholder participation with a range of civil society organizations and the private sector will strengthen its ability to meet its development goals.

Vision of the MRC

We, the Heads of Government, note:

The existing Vision of the Mekong River Basin as "An economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River Basin"; " The Vision for the MRC as

A world class, financially secure, International River Basin Organization serving the Mekong countries to achieve the Basin Vision"; and

The Mission of the MRC, "To promote and coordinate sustainable management and development of water and related resources for the countries' mutual benefit and the people's well-being."

We resolve to enhance efforts to realize these goals through a broad consultative approach that feeds into and influences MRC's strategic directions and ensures continued relevance of the MRC for future generations.

Priority Areas of Action

We, the Heads of Government, pronounce that building on the achievements of fifteen years of implementation of the Mekong Agreement, further cooperation over the coming years between the governments of Member Countries will be required to optimise multiple-use of water resources and mutual benefits for all riparians, to avoid any harmful effect that might result from natural occurrences and man-made activities and to protect the immense value of natural ecosystems and ecological balance.

We expect the MRC to focus on and prioritise:

Adopting and implementing the IWRM-based Basin Development Strategy;

Intensifying efforts to effectively manage the risks from flood, drought and sea level rise including establishment of forecasting and warning systems across the whole basin;

Facilitating an international legal framework that encourages river navigation and trade;

Researching and addressing the threat to livelihoods posed by climate change and cooperating with other regional partners in addressing haze pollution;

Monitoring and taking measures to improve water quality in priority areas of the Basin;

Sustaining the existing and future uses of water and related resources, and aquatic biodiversity, wetlands and forests in the Basin;

Identifying and advising on the opportunities and challenges of hydropower and other infrastructure development in the Basin, especially risks as they pertain to the protection of food security and livelihoods;

Continuing to improve the implementation of the Procedures for Data and Information Exchange and Sharing, the Procedures for Water Use Monitoring, the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement and the Procedures for Maintenance of Flows on the Mainstream and finalise the Procedures for Water Quality;

Exploring and identifying opportunities for expansion of cooperation between the organization's current Dialogue Partners and Development Partners, in particular to address common water resources and climate change challenges, as well as identifying new Development Partners and other stakeholders.

Way ahead We, the Heads of Government, reaffirm our solidarity and the highest level of political commitment to the implementation of the Mekong Agreement.

We commit to working together to achieve sustainable integrated water resources management for sustainable development, economic growth and the alleviation of poverty and improvement of livelihoods in the Mekong River Basin. In parallel, we recognise that efforts need to be expanded to protect the natural resources of the Mekong Basin for the sustainable management and use of the Basin's resources.

We reiterate our support for the MRC's role in promoting and facilitating coordinated and sustainable development; enhancing and strengthening the working relationships with Dialogue Partners, ASEAN, the GMS, the ADB, the World Bank, other Development Partners, civil society, the private sector and others. In this connection, we welcome other Riparian States to join the MRC in the future.

Consistent with the Initiative for ASEAN Integration, we emphasise the need to prioritise resources, funding and capacity building for those Member Countries where poverty is highest and economic need is most urgent.

Recognising that economic development is progressing in the Mekong Region, we commit to a vision for the MRC to be financially sustained by Member Countries by 2030. We refer to institutional models adopted by other international river basin organizations and encourage the MRC to increasingly explore de-centralised implementation modalities for its core river basin management functions.

We agree that progress made in implementing the resolutions of this Declaration will be monitored through the MRC Council. We decide that an MRC Summit will be convened every four years. The host country will rotate among the MRC Member Countries in alphabetical order.

We express our sincere appreciation to the host country, Thailand, for hosting the First MRC Summit.

ADOPTED at Hua Hin, Thailand on 5 April 2010 in the English Language."
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Drought grips parts of China, Southeast Asia amid dam concerns

By Miranda Leitsinger, CNN

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- Dams have dried up in southwest China, Thai fishermen have almost completely stopped their fishery activities on the Mekong River, and nearly half of northern Vietnam's farmland is under threat because of a regional drought.

The region is facing water shortages and low water levels along the Mekong River -- particularly the tributaries that feed into it -- after a shorter-than-usual monsoon season last year and light rainfall in the dry season, affecting millions of people, livestock and hectares of land, and generating losses in the millions of dollars, officials from various countries and the United Nations say.

"This is a regional drought. It's not just restricted to one area. We expect it to go on now for maybe another two to three weeks before the rainy season starts, and then the water levels on the river will hopefully start to rise," said Jeremy Bird, chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission, which was formed in 1995 by Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to oversee sustainable development along the waterway.

In southwest China, the drought has lasted for six months and is still spreading, resulting in an economic loss of more than $2.5 million in Yunnan province, according to a presentation made last week by Chen Mingzhong, deputy director general of China's Ministry of Water Resources, to a Mekong River Commission summit.

Less rainfall in the Mekong River basin led to a decline in water levels, with 662 rivers and water at 3,674 small dams drying up, Chen said in the presentation.

In Thailand, 7.6 million people and 59 of the country's 76 provinces have been affected by the drought, according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. The drought has been severe in the Southeast Asian nation, said Srisuwan Kuankajorn, co-director of the environmental nonprofit Terra in Thailand.

"According to villagers who live along the river in Thailand ... the Mekong is really drying. At some point, people seem to be able to even walk across the river, which has never happened before," he said Monday, adding that some locals have said they couldn't travel by boat or grow crops along banks of the rivers, and some reported cargo getting stuck.

People who live in the north, particularly Chiang Rai province, were in "big trouble," Srisuwan said, citing information received from local nonprofit groups. "They cannot fish. Fisheries are a very important source of income and source of protein ... they have almost completely stopped their fishery activities."

The Mekong is nearly 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) long, stretching from the Tibetan plateau, through southern China, and then along the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, through Cambodia to Vietnam. Some 60 million people live in the river basin, and Bird said the river's fisheries are the most productive in the world.

Forty percent of northern Vietnam's total farming area was under threat and 22 provinces on high alert for forest fires because of the dry conditions, according to the United Nations. Saltwater has also flowed into southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta in greater amounts than usual because of the low water levels, threatening rice and other crops on 620,000 hectares.

The mainstream Mekong in its upper reaches has now recovered from one-in-50-year low levels reached in February, but problems remain in tributaries that feed into the river, Bird said.
"Those are still running at extreme dry levels, the driest we have seen on record for the 50 years that we have been recording," Bird said. "It's really a question of very low water levels for communities, drinking supplies for agriculture, for livestock."

China's dams on the Upper Mekong Basin -- so far, three are operational and one is being filled with water -- have come under scrutiny amid the drought and river lows, with some critics questioning if Beijing was stocking up water in a bid to battle the drought in that country's southwest.

At the Mekong River Commission meeting last week in Thailand, Chen, the Ministry of Water Resources official, said his country was not to blame.

"The current extreme dry weather in the lower Mekong River Basin is the root cause for the reduced run-off water and declining water level in the main stem Mekong," he said in comments published by the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency. "The hydropower stations built on the Lancang River (Mekong) will not increase the chance of flood and drought disasters in the downstream. Instead, it will considerably enhance the capacity of flood control, drought relief, irrigation and water supply for the downstream countries."

There are eight existing or planned Mekong dams in China's Yunnan province, and 11 proposed by Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are in various stages of research, according to the Mekong River Commission.

The commission was studying the influence of upstream dams in China, but past studies showed dams can have beneficial and detrimental effects.

For example, Bird said releases of water from dams upstream in China in early March this year helped keep water levels in northern Laos higher than they would have been in natural conditions and helped the upper reaches of the Mekong move from the one-in-50-year lows to one-in-10-year lows.

He also said China shared data at the meeting indicating that more water was being released from its dams rather than stored from December 2009 through March.

"We see the cause as extremely low rainfall, both at the end of the wet season and this dry season -- not due to dam operation," Bird said.

But for Srisuwan Kuankajorn of Terra, the dams are the main problem. He said villagers had detected fluctuations in water levels that they did not believe could be attributed to rainfall, rather thinking it was because of releases of water from dams by China.

"I don't ignore what the Chinese authorities are trying to say -- the drought, the low rainfall," he said, but added that China's actions had "been done without transparency, without taking into consideration the principles of sharing."
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