Архив за месяц: Октябрь 2009

Mongolia Parliament Member Warns Against Kherlen River Diversion

Water transfer projects in Mongolia

According to a Mongolian news site, Parliament member B. Bat-Erdene said during a press-conference that a Chinese company has begun diverting the river to Shivee-Ovoo. The motion to redirect the Kherlen River to the Gobi regions was abandoned a few years ago, following protests by locals.

He also said a working group established to ensure enforcement of the new law prohibiting mining activities in river and forest areas would submit its report in November. Defining the forest boundaries is proving challenging.

A July 2009 World Bank report entitled, «Southern Mongolia Infrastructure Strategy» suggests that there is no current need to divert water from the Orkhon or Kherlen Rivers. Based on existing studies, it appears that there is enough groundwater in Southern Mongolia to support extensive development, and that tapping this source would cost about half of the endeavor to build long-distance pipelines.

Map above: by Mongolian National Water Programme Support Center, October 2007. See link for information on water diversion projects and World Bank statement from July 2009.

Russia-China Agreement on Cooperation through 2018: How Will in Influence the Argun River Basin?

This new cooperation agreement underscores the Argun River Basin’s importance in overall Sino-Russian Strategic Cooperation, as many joint projects are located in this watershed. Many of these are old projects that have been on the drawing board for decades. It seems that border territories submitted these on-going plans to national agencies negotiating the agreement without having done any kind of impact analysis. The agreement contains troubling elements: Sino-Russian Cooperation provides very little by way of social and environmental safety programs that would be needed to counterbalance the exchange of natural resources across the border.

Russia will send the raw material base of the Far East and Eastern Siberia to China. The Agreement on Cooperation through 2018 calls for joint efforts to tap Russian deposits, but the processing and manufacturing enterprises will be built on in China, writes Russian newspaper Vedomosti on October 12, 2009.

During a September 23, 2009 meeting in New York, President Dmitry Medvedev and President Hu Jintao signed the 2009-2018 Eastern Russia and Northeast China Cooperation Program (the document is available in Russian HERE). The document includes 205 key joint projects in the countries’ border territories, reports RIA Novosti.

Almost all the Russia-based projects involve extracting raw materials from eastern Siberian and the Far East, including coal, iron ore, precious metals, apatite, and molybdenum. China will expand its tin, lead, furniture, fire-proof door, copper sheet, and brick production in its northeast region.

Many of the program’s key projects are located in the Argun River basin: improvement of several border-crossings from Manzhouli-Zabaikalsk to Shiwei-Olochi, development of the Berezovskoye iron ore deposit, plus five more large mining leases along the border river in Russia, a railroad from new mines to the border crossings, new lumber-processing facilities in Zabaikalsk and Manzhouli, etc. The program contains a small section on environmental cooperation that mentions the 2006 Agreement on Argun River Conservation, which thus far has not been implemented due to the Inner Mongolia regional government’s unwillingness to comply. The program also calls for transboundary environmental education exchanges and development of joint tours on transboundary rivers.

«Russo-Chinese cooperation in the next 10 years will based on the principle of ‘our raw materials — your technology’,»notes director of the Center for Strategic Studies of China Professor Alexey Maslov. «It’s not necessarily the case the there is no technology in Russia — the technologies are just several times cheaper to implement in China than in the Far East, a poorly mastered area, where high-tech industry is difficult and inefficient to operate.

«Eastern Siberia and the Far East can only be developed through investments in energy and mining,» states Higher School of Economics Scientific Director Yevgeny Yasin. He believes it makes little sense to operate labor-intensive production facilities here — there are simply not enough workers. The region in home to 3.5-4 million people, including women, children and the elderly; it would prove extremely difficult to find the 500-600 thousand people of working age needed to feed the region working at Russia-based oil refineries.

«Raw materials extraction and development requires significant investment. Neither of us can cope there alone, so Chinese involvement is quite necessary,» says Institute for Economy in Transition Executive Director Sergei Prikhodko. » He went on to warn that relying on the Chinese labor force means Russia will have to be careful and implement reasonable restrictions to protect Russian interests.

The Chinese are willing to compensate for the lack of hands. This topic was discussed at a two-day forum organized by the ruling parties of Russia and China, United Russia and the Communist Party of China. China agreed to a Russian proposal to build jointly owned woodworking factories on its territory with the caveat that a Chinese labor force operate the facilities. China has offered to create special customs corridors for this purpose and facilitate annual visa acquisition. Chinese workers will be able to return home to China. They are proposing a similar scheme for the agricultural sector: Russia and China seek to grow grain crops in the border region.

The trend is evident: Russia is becoming a raw materials dealer for China. The Russian Federal Customs Service estimates that by July 2009, trade between Russia and China had reached $19.5 billion, more than half of which came from commodities (56.4%), while machinery, equipment, and vehicle trade contributed a mere 4.4%. Russia and China have shown completely opposite results in the second quarter of 2009: China’s GDP grew by 7.9%, while Russia’s fell by 10.9%. There can be no question of parity in such a situation. The new cooperation program simply shows already established trends.

There is much analysis yet to be done on the new Cooperation Program to determine which Sino-Russian plans, projects, and agreements were not included in the list and what that means for their successful implementation.

Ramsar Secretariat Sends Urgent Recommendation to Assess Cumulative Impacts of Dauria’s Water Infrastructure Projects

The Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian agencies managing the Dauria International Protected Area (DIPA) received a letter from the Ramsar Convention Secretariat regarding protecting Daurian wetlands. The letter reaffirms the organization’s previously stated intention to nominate DIPA as a trilateral transboundary Ramsar site. The Ramsar Secretariat supports the idea of expanding DIPA to encompass already existing protected areas on the Dauria Steppe and new areas in need of protection, such as floodplain wetlands near the Hailaer-Argun and Buir Lake. Ramsar also supports the development of a joint management plan for this international protected area. These suggestions were all documented in the official resolutions from the 2006 meeting of the Mongolian-Russian-Chinese DIPA Joint Commission, but thus far none have been implemented. This is a timely reminder from Ramsar, as parties prepare for the upcoming Joint Commission meeting in Mongolia.

The Ramsar Secretariat learned that a number of water infrastructure projects are under construction in the area and sent a letter to the Chinese State Forestry Administration, Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Mongolian Ministry of Nature, Environment, and Tourism, and to DIPA administration. The letter inquires whether the projects’ cumulative impacts have been assessed and if the three countries are conducting any joint environmental monitoring programs. The letter suggests using the internationally-recognized strategic environmental assessment procedure recommended at the recent 2008 Ramsar Conference of Parties in Korea.

See full text here.

Russian official expressed a hope for constructive dialogue on Argun River issues.

 The Press-Service of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources reported on a meeting of Sino-Russian Commission on preparation of regular meetings between the heads of state took place in Beijing on October 12th. The director of Department of International Relations of Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia Vladimir Ivlev reported on preparations for the meeting of Commission on protection and use of transboundary waters. He praised Chinese side for its preparedness to start at last a dialogue on water transfer from Argun River basin into Dalai Lake. He stressed that Russian experts carefully analyze information on water transfer canal passed by Chinese side in the beginning of October and expressed a wish that this question will be discussed in depth at the upcoming Sino-Russian meeting on transboundary waters at the end of October in Hangzhou, China.

The information on the Canal from Chinese side, that Mr. Ivlev mentioned, does not coincide with data on water transfer volumes published in China in 2005-2007. For example, the annual volume of water diversion is 3 times less than that known from the 2005 Environmental Impact Assessment report of the transfer project and related articles on internet. However, as we know from satellite imagery, physical dimensions of already functioning canal are sufficient to carry even more than 1 cubic kilometer of water annually.

The key argument defending the project continuously repeated by Chinese Water Resources Ministry is that they restore water flow into Dalai Lake disrupted by construction of Chinese Eastern Railroad by Russian engineers in 1904. As a result «lake is drying» and needs replenishment…. However, this statement contradicts a well known fact that oscillating Dalai Lake was filled to its fullest extent at least two times since the railroad was built: in 1962 and 1987…..So, the Lake oscillation is largely a natural process driven by climate cycle and the railroad has little influence on it.

It is yet unclear why high Russian official talked only about single Hailaer-Dalai water transfer project, but did not mention additional construction of at least 5 large reservoirs in the Hailaer river basin in China. Those reservoirs may at least double the impact  on Argun river hydrology expected from the Canal to Dalai Lake, and two of them have been already filled with water. All in all it would be more productive to talk about securing sufficient environmental flows in transboundary Argun River, rather than discuss each of many water engineering projects planned inside China territory.

Rivers without Boundaries