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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Laos Plans New Study on Dam Effects

A Cambodian fisherman holds a bag loaded life fishes as his catches from the Mekong River at the out skirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Laos has deferred decision on erecting in the first dam on the lower Mekong River in face of strong opposition from neighboring countries including its closest ally, Vietnam.

Laos says it will conduct new research on the environmental effects of a hydropower dam it wants to build on the lower Mekong River, bowing to requests from neighboring nations for more study on the project.

Daovong Phonekeo, the deputy director general of the country's Department of Electricity, said Tuesday the country will hire advisers to do the study, and will ask a Thai construction company that is playing a leading role in the project to fund the study.

He says construction work on the project will be delayed for the study.

The Xayaburi dam will be the first hydropower dam on the lower reaches of the river, although China has built dams on the upper stretches of the river.

Last month, at the Mekong River Commission, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, which the Mekong also flows through, asked for more information on the dam's possible effects on wildlife, fish stocks and farming along the river.

Vietnam has asked that all planned hydropower dams on the river be delayed for 10 years for further study. The commission, which aims to build a regional consensus for sustainable development of the river, does not have the power to block any dam projects.

Laos plans to build a series of dams on the river to generate electricity, which it can sell to other countries. Thailand earlier had agreed to buy 95 percent of the power from the project.

About 60 million people depend on the Mekong directly or indirectly for their livelihoods. Environmental groups, including the WWF, have expressed concern that dams on the Mekong could endanger rare fish and wildlife, and could damage farms along the 4,800-kilometer river.

The WWF on Tuesday urged that international best practices be used in any studies to evaluate the dam's effects.
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Urgent Measures Needed on Food Prices in Asia, Warns UN

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says food prices in Asia remain high despite a brief drop in April.

A Cambodian man carries rice at a paddy rice farm in Bekpeang village, Kampong Cham province (File photo).

According to the FAO, the retail cost of wheat and rice in Asia declined slightly last month, the first drop in nine months.

The price of rice, Asia’s staple, dropped two percent in Cambodia and Sri Lanka, and about half a percent in Bangladesh, it says. In India, the price of wheat declined seven percent.

The oil factor
But the FAO attributed the fall in food costs to a brief, sharp drop in the price of crude oil.

Despite the price drop in some places, the cost of rice from one year ago is still higher by 29 percent in Bangladesh, 25 percent in China and 40 percent in Vietnam and Laos.

The FAO's representative for the Asia-Pacific region, Hiroyuki Konuma, told reporters Wednesday that food prices across the region remain high and are hurting the poor most.

“So, negative impact of the retail price hike of food commodities, particularly of staple food like rice and wheat, it’s affecting the poor households which spend as much as 70 percent of their income for food,” Konuma said.

World food prices hit a record high in February as the cost of crude oil was driven up by political instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

The price of oil is closely linked to the price of food through transportation and processing costs.

Precautions

Konuma says countries need to take urgent precautions to prevent a repeat of the 2008 food price crisis when costs of some staples doubled in a matter of months. He recommends countries establish social security nets for the poor and emergency food reserves.

“And, improving the availability of food security and market information. This is one of the factors that create unnecessary speculation and also panic buying,” he said.

The FAO expects about a two percent increase in rice production in 2011 but a slight decline in wheat production.

Despite rising prices, Konuma said food production is expected to meet global market demand but is still falling short of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goal of halving the hunger rate by 2015.

The World Bank says since October rising food prices have pushed more than 40 million people into extreme poverty. Read more!

New species of lizard that has no eyes or legs discovered in Cambodia

A new species of lizard that has no eyes or legs has been discovered by scientists in Cambodia.

The small worm-like creature was found by researcher Neang Thy when he turned over a log in the Cardamom Mountains.

The reptile tried to flee from the sudden light, but Dr Thy noticed its peculiar attributes and swiftly took a photo of it.

It has now been officially identified as a new species and named the Dalai Mountain blind lizard - Dibamus dalaiensis - after the mountain on which it was found.
Dr Thy, who works for conservation charity Fauna and Flora Interational (FFI), said: 'At first I thought it was a common species, but looking closer I realised it was something I didn't recognise.'

These cryptic species of reptile are easily overlooked and previous to this discovery there is no record of a blind lizard in Cambodia.
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