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Phuket Lifestyle: The mighty Mekong – ‘Mother of Water’

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Lifestyle: The mighty Mekong – ‘Mother of Water’ | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Tourists visiting Thailand for the first time might be forgiven for thinking that “Mekong” is nothing more than a cheap local whiskey.

But mention the word to almost any Thai national and you’ll proudly be informed that it is a mighty river. He or she might go on to say that its name means “Mother of Water”.

In a country where most rivers become stagnant or worse in the dry season, and on an island, which you can drive end to end without seeing anything grander than a stream, the mother of all Asian rivers is truly a marvel. Consider its size.

The Mekong is one of the 12 longest rivers in the world, at an estimated 4,350 kilometers (2,703 miles). It begins in far-off Tibet, and in its upper reaches alone, drops a colossal 14,800 feet.

The river drains and enriches an area consisting of over 300,000 square miles, and when it finally enters the South China Sea, it has passed through: Tibet, China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Most importantly, for conservationists, it is second only to the Brazil’s Amazon river as the most ecologically diverse river system in the world.

It is home to not one, but three of the largest freshwater fish in the world: the giant barb (probarbus jullieni, a variety of carp), the freshwater stingray (himantura chaophraya) and the giant catfish ( pangasianodon gigas).

One catfish recently caught by net, weighed 646 pounds, and may well be the largest freshwater fish recorded in recent times. Even the Amazonian behemoth the arapaima, and the giant carp of the Nile, cannot match its sheer bulk.

The Mekong has its own species of freshwater dolphin (the Irrawaddy dolphin), and even an indigenous crocodile (crocodylus Siamensis), which is found in the lower reaches of the river.

The aquatic biodiversity of the Mekong is staggering, taken hectare by hectare, it is the richest in the world. A veritable treasure-trove. It is conservatively estimated – and new species are being discovered every year – that there are 20,000 plant species, 430 mammals, 1,200 birds, 800 reptiles and amphibians, and 850 varieties of fish in the Upper and Lower Mekong basins.

Because the river has so many different aspects, it can support not only so-called “black fish” (such as catfish), which inhabit the slow-moving, shallow reaches where oxygen is in short supply, but also “whitefish”, which are found mainly in the upper basin where the current flows quickly through rapids, gorges and waterfalls.

Sadly, like most treasure-troves, the river has been raided so often and so remorselessly that many of its riches have become seriously depleted – in some cases to the point of extinction.

Most of the aquatic creatures listed above are in serious decline: the Irrawaddy dolphin, once common everywhere, is now close to extirpation, and large specimens of giant Mekong fish are now rarely seen or landed.

The melancholy list of threatened species is endless, and is not just confined to fish. Cantors’ soft-shell turtle is now found only in the waters of Cambodia, the Siamese crocodile in remote sections of the Laotian Mekong.

Hardly surprising, when one considers that the “Mother of Rivers” supports literally several million people, all dependent on the aquatic life of the river for their supply of protein. Greater concentrations of population, and the improved efficiency of modern fishing methods have led to overfishing along the length and breadth of the Mekong.

It isn’t a problem peculiar to this habitat… it’s worldwide. Think of the herring shoals that have vanished from the North Sea, of defunct cod fisheries off the coast of Newfoundland, of the declining Fraser River sockeye runs in British Columbia.

Many factors exacerbate problems in the Mekong, not just overfishing. The modern evil of pollution, especially toxic chemical pesticides, is one issue. Another is the buildup of sediment in the lower reaches of the river, a state of affairs caused by “slash and burn” deforestation and consequent soil erosion in the upper basin. This sediment has a damaging effect, especially in hot weather because water is shallower and more liable to overheat. Higher temperatures mean less oxygen.

It is estimated that 50 per cent of this silt is carried downstream from the Chinese section of the river where it passes through Yunnan Province. That stretch of the river is characterized by deep ravines, narrow gorges, and now arboreal depletion on a massive scale. Unfortunately, what happens to the river in one country affects everything else downstream. Rivers are not aware of political boundaries.

Globally, one cannot ignore the impacts of climate change. While opinions about its ramifications are divided, it is clear that there is a prevalence of extreme climatic conditions. In the Mekong region alone, there have been unprecedented floods and droughts.

But, the biggest villain is all too obviously – and visibly – man-made. Dam and be damned. It is already happening. The Mekong and its tributaries are traversed by major dams: four in China, nine in Laos, ten in Vietnam, seven in Thailand. 134 more are planned. Why?

Because the mother of rivers, once viewed as a larder of fresh food – constantly replenished – is now regarded as the battery of Southeast Asia. It is a potent source of that most valuable of commodities – power. These dams generate enormous volumes of mega-watts. One dam alone, the Xayaburi Dam in Laos will be 820 meters long and 32 meters high. Regarded as a key source for the generation of electricity – and money, work on the project is currently suspended – a small and perhaps ephemeral victory for environmentalists.

Proponents argue that such hydro-power is green and that its creation involves no fossil fuels or nuclear reactors. True. Furthermore, Thai politicians have argued that water channeled from such projects can provide a water grid; leading to a “greening of Isaan”.

In any case, the cost to ecosystems is incalculable. Such projects are throttling and will continue to garotte (a weapon used to strangle someone) the mother of rivers, destroying her unique biodiversity.

Dams provide barriers to riverine fish migration; they interrupt the natural sequence of water-level patterns to which fish are accustomed; they cause a hardening of the river bed downstream; they alter water temperatures, and wash away delicate plant systems.

The inevitable creation of more reservoirs is no solution. Few fish (nine species only) breed in reservoirs, and in any event, these static bodies of water can quickly become deoxygenated and algae prone.

Life at all levels of the food chain is slowly but surely ebbing away. Given time and man’s insatiable greed, the Mekong will lose its real potency. Aging prematurely, the Mother of Rivers will become barren.

— Patrick Campbell

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Property

Guaranteed rental returns – Are they real?

The Thaiger

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Guaranteed rental returns – Are they real? | The Thaiger

If you’re looking to invest in overseas property, search the market and it’s not unusual to find condos for sale with guaranteed rental returns of 40%, and some even higher. Yes, it DOES seems too good to be true, but the offers are out there and the packages often come with free legal fees and other such benefits. Clearly, before diving in, you need to seek some expert and professional advice.

So, what is the debate about? And what questions should you ask prior to investing?

Guaranteed rental returns are obviously enticing for investors and purchasers alike, with standard net returns usually being advertised below the 10% mark.

In the opinion of many, this is not a cheap marketing trick. Yes, it does have ‘marketing power’ and it might just be the additional financial package that helps developers and agents clinch the deal. But for the investors, they genuinely are guaranteed a minimum return on their investment. Surely that’s positive. It eases the concerns of investors and keeps the market buoyant. And why wouldn’t buyers prefer to go with the property that guarantees this return, over the property that does not?

Other experts are not so sure. While acknowledging that a rental guarantee clearly offers agents and developers an advantage in marketing and selling, there are voices within the industry that urge caution. There’s a suspicion that developments that come with a guarantee may be overpriced and that the developers may have factored the cost of the guarantee into the actual price of the property that is being offered.

Those that hold this negative opinion about guarantees suggest that a better strategy for any investor might be to really understand the market in which the property is being offered, aim to get the lowest price possible, do the deal and then organise the letting independently.

Other cautious voices wonder if investors aren’t being tantalised with a vision of unrealistic long-term returns. The question that is asked is what happens when the guaranteed period ends? It’s not unknown for the guaranteed period to expire, and for the investor to suddenly realise that the true rental value of the property is much lower than they believed. Rental incomes suddenly drop, and they suddenly realise that they have overpaid into the wrong investment.

But still, many deny that developers overprice properties when offering guarantees. And no matter what, it’s clear that a rental guarantee is important for certain investors who need the security that it offers. And genuinely, it appears that there are some good guarantees out there on the market. So what to do?

The trick is to apply common sense and due diligence to the situation and examine the legal, commercial and financial strength of the guarantee and the market in which it is being offered. Here are some questions worth considering:

Legally, how is the guarantee structured?

Is it underwritten with a contract in which legal recourse is an option, should you not receive the income that is guaranteed? This is clearly important.

Commercially, is the guaranteed rental figure in-line with the rental market in which the property is situated? Basically, are the developers offering you more rental income than is actually achievable in the current market? If they are offering you more, then once the guaranteed period expires, you’ll probably see your returns on investment drop.

Financially, how does the guarantee work?

Is the guaranteed return dependent upon the commercial success of the project?

Some guarantees are based on projected annual revenues and are subject to these revenues being achieved. In other words, if the expected revenues aren’t achieved, the full guaranteed amounts might not be paid to the purchaser.

In addition to this, some guarantees may also come with the proviso that the amount being ‘guaranteed’ is ‘subject to the competency of’ the management of the complex. This may seem vague, but it’s possible that if the expected revenues aren’t achieved, then the blame for this failure is going to be put solely on the management company.

The vagueness of such a ‘competency’ proviso might also be used to cover all manner of issues. For example, is it possible that forecasted rental revenues might fail to materialise, not because of the bad management of a complex, but because the original forecasts were set too high? It might be easy to blame all manner of poor results on the incompetence of how an apartment complex is managed and to do this with no liability.

With this in mind, once again, it’s very important to look at the rental market in which the property is located, and then ask: are the projected annual revenues realistic in the current market? And of course, you will have to do some research on the developers.

Do the developers have a track record of successfully managing properties, renting them out and ensuring that incomes are generated?

If the answer to this is ‘no’, how then will they be able to generate the income that they are guaranteeing? This may be a sign that the property price has been ‘artificially’ increased to cover any foreseen shortfall in future income.

All-in-all, there’s a lot to consider. Guaranteed rental returns do offer investors a level of security, and it is natural for people to feel compelled to buy into them, and yes, there are some good offers on the market. But it’s worth remembering that in the right location, you’ll always be able to rent out a property.

As we always recommend at The Thaiger, do your homework!

To find thousands of available rental properties in Thailand, click HERE.

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News

30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands

Greeley Pulitzer

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30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands | The Thaiger

Tourists were treated to the sight of a school of dolphins in the Similan Islands off the Phang Nga coast on Sunday.

Tour organisers said that around 30 dolphins swam close to the boat six or seven miles offshore, creating excitement for passengers. It was the first time dolphins had been seen in the vicinity since October 15.

The Similan Islands National Park director said they were bottlenose dolphins and were among several species now returning to the area following a five-year closure of the park for environmental rehabilitation. Food is again plentiful there for them, he said.

Tourists are forbidden to feed wildlife lest the free handouts alter the animals’ natural behaviour, and the park’s waters are also very sensitive to contamination from human disease and marine debris, according to the director.

SOURCE: nationthailand.com

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Business

500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies

Greeley Pulitzer

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500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies | The Thaiger

Roughly 36% of Thailand’s corporate equity is held by just 500 people, highlighting wealth inequality in the Kingdom, according to a study released by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute.

Each of these 500 amass some 3.1 billion baht (102 million USD) per year in company profits, according to the report from the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research. In contrast, average yearly household income in Thailand is around 10,000 USD.

A report out this week from the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Thailand’s Rangsit University also pointed to divisive and polarised politics being another root cause of the economic divide.

Thailand’s private sector is dominated by tycoons running sprawling conglomerates. According to the World Bank, the gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of the Thai population of 69 million is among the many economic challenges for Thailand. According to Bloomberg, the perception of a divide, exacerbated by an economic slowdown, is a major political fault line.

“Magnates arise in Thailand from institutional factors that privilege certain businesses,” said the executive director of PIER, author of the study.

The institute said Thailand needs to promote competitiveness to reduce profits from monopoly power and bolster entrepreneurship to create a more equitable distribution of corporate wealth.

The research is based on analysis of 2017 Commerce Ministry data on the 2.1 million shareholders in Thai firms, and was funded by the University of California San Diego.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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