EVENT: The Political Economy of New Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia [22 July 2017]

Session organized at the 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars

11:30-13:15, 22nd July 2017, Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Center

Session convened by the Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Political authoritarianism is strengthening across Southeast Asia, mirroring a noted trend globally. This panel explored the politics, processes, and implications of the (re)assertion of authoritarianism, focusing on its political-economic regimes, but also including its ideologies and discourses. The panel engaged in a long-standing debate that globalisation and economic liberalism goes hand in hand with liberalisation and democratization in the political sphere. This association goes back to Lipset’s Modernisation Theory. Refuted by many and of fading interest by the 1970s, it came back into fashion in the 1990s with the spread of neoliberal capitalism and the so-called “third wave” of democratization.

The recent rise of authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia and globally seems to be a sustained trend that may be connected to economic projects associated with a specific stage of capitalist development (crisis driven late capitalism), and that also mirror the interests of the elite in power. This can be analysed through what Poulantzas, in the 1970s, called authoritarian statism, whereby a growing role of the state seeks to ensure economic growth under conditions of capitalist crisis tendencies.

In this panel, we situated the new authoritarianism of contemporary Southeast Asia within a post-Washington and post-aid era of globalization. The region’s new authoritarianism builds upon legacies of past authoritarianism, in particular the various guises of developmental states - both capitalist and socialist - since the 1950s. Even if authoritarian statism receded in the 1990s and 2000s, it never fully ended. Now, the region is increasingly under the political and economic sway of China, but also subject to intensified attention of the United States. Some countries have visibly becoming more authoritarian in recent years, including by military coup (Thailand) or strong-handed leaders (the Philippines; Cambodia), whilst others apparently less so, in particular Myanmar.  Vietnam and Laos, meanwhile, have stated themselves as socialist-orientated market economies. Trends towards regional economic integration, market expansion and intensification, meanwhile, add a regional-scaled dynamic to political authoritarianism.

The panel sought to address the following conceptual and empirical questions:

  • How can we conceptualize the connection between the trend of authoritarianism and the current state of capitalist development in Southeast Asia?
  • What are the characteristics of the authoritarian states in Southeast Asia? What economic models of development are being proposed by these states?
  • What are the implications for civil society, social movements, democracy and human rights?

The following papers were presented :

  • The One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and its influence on the political situation of China's neighbouring countries, by Dr. Wolfram Schaffar, University of Vienna
  • Thailand 4.0: the Rise of Neo-authoritarian Developmental State, by Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, Chulalongkorn University
  • 'Ephemeral transnational' and 'authoritarian domestic' public spheres in Laos hydropower dams, Dr. Carl Middleton, Chulalongkorn University
  • Authoritarian development, frontier capitalism and indigenous counter-movements in Myanmar Rainer Einzenberger, University of Vienna

The panel was chaired by Dr. Chantana Banpasirichote Wungaeo of Chulalongkorn University.

The papers presented on the panel are part of a forthcoming Special Issue to be published in the Austrian Journal of Southeast Asia Studies in mid-2018.

EVENT: "Thailand’s Overseas Investment in Southeast Asia and Transnational (In)Justice" [16 July 2017]

Session organized at the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies
"Globalized Thailand?" Connectivity, Conflict, and Conundrums of Thai Studies
 

15:15-16:45, 16th July 2017, Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Center

Session convened by the Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Our panel critically discussed Thailand’s investment role in the region through the lens of transnational social and environmental justice. Through empirical case studies on agribusiness, hydropower and special economic zones, we explored the political economy of these investments in order to understand the production of injustice and human rights violations.  The panel addressed the following questions: what are the roles, opportunities and challenges for public interest law, national/ regional human rights institutions, other transnational soft law mechanisms, and civil society to protect and promote human rights on Thailand’s investments?

The paper presentations can be downloaded below.

  • Paper 1:  Accountability Beyond the State: Extra territorial obligations in the case of the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Concession, Cambodia by Michelle D’cruz
  • Paper 2: Redressing transboundary environmental injustice at the Dawei Special Economic Zone and Roadlink Project by Naruemon Thabchumpon
  • Paper 3: Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers: Human Rights and Hydropower Dams on the Salween and Mekong Rivers by Carl Middleton

We would like to thank the panel discussant, Walden Bellow, and chair, Daniel King, for their insightful contributions to the panel.

Chair: Daniel King

EVENT: Salween Local Research Exhibition at Thai Studies Conference, [15-18 July 2017]

Local researchers from villages along the Salween River, which flows through Myanmar, Thailand and China, have been conducting research into the social and environmental issues related to the river for the past two years. Their research shows water governance challenges from the perspective of the village.

Their work is on display at the Thai Studies Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 15 to 18 July 2017. Come visit their display in the Exhibition Hall, and meet the researchers in person.

The research is a part of the Salween Water Governance project.

PUBLIC SEMINAR: "Water Scarcity and Disaster Recovery in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar: Technical Problem or Governance Challenge?" [5 July 2017]

In recent years, the population of Hakha town, Chin State has faced growing water insecurity. This has created great hardships for the local population, especially in the dry season. For those who cannot access water from private springs, or afford to buy water, they must queue sometimes for hours to collect relatively small amounts of water. Compounding the difficulties faced by Hakha’s population, in June 2015, Hakha town suffered a major landslide. As a result, over 4000 people living in at-risk places were moved, many permanently to a new settlement. In the settlement, the government has provided land or houses, yet basic services including water and schools were lagging behind.

Two presentations reflected on the production of water insecurity, and increasing resilience to landslide risks:

  • “Water insecurity in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar” by Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton (Director of CSDS) and Orapan Pratomlek (CSDS project coordinator) [Download PPT]
  • “Lessons learned from landslide disaster recovery in Hakha town, and how to strengthen resilience” by Hlawn Tin Cuai (Master Student of Architecture (IMARCH), Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University; and ex- Operation Manager of Hakha Rescue Committee, September 2015 to February 2016) [Download PPT]

Discussant comments were offered by Pastor Lai Cung (Hakhathar Baptist Church) and Van Bawi Lian (CSDS researcher).

The seminar can be watched on Facebook live here.

More details on our research project on water insecurity in Hakha town can be found here.

EVENT: "KNOTS Project Launch" [16 June 2017]

09:00 - 12:00

Alumni Association Conference Room, 12th floor, Building 3,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Organized by MAIDS Program and CSDS

Background

The KNOTS project will focus on contemporary development challenges in Southeast Asia, where transdisciplinary research methods could offer novel insights and innovative solutions. The particular focus is on: environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality.

The KNOTS project will prepare curriculum and teaching/ learning materials on transdisciplinary methods to be integrated into each universities’ teaching programs. Three summer schools and fieldtrips will be organized in Vietnam and Thailand over the duration of the project to pilot and refine these materials. There will also be a Stakeholders Workshop in June 2017 and a final conference in 2019, to be hosted at Chulalongkorn University.

The three-year project was initiated in October 2016, and is a collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam: the University of Vienna, Austria, which is also the project coordinator; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam.

The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme. At Chulalongkorn University, the MA in International Development Studies program is the project partner, alongside a network of academics and practitioners interested in teaching and practicing transdisciplinary research approaches.

Event objectives

This event will launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University. The objectives of the event are:

  • To formally launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University
  • To introduce the Chulalongkorn University team to the KNOTS project partners, and share about each team member’s institute/ department programs  

EVENT: MAIDS and CSDS Welcome Trinity College Faculty and Students

On 14th June 2017, the MAIDS and CSDS programs were very glad to welcome Prof. Xiangming Chen and his Faculty Colleagues and 25 students from the Center for Urban and Global Studies of Trinity College, Hartford, US. The faculty staff and students were mid-journey through their field trip visiting "River Cities" in China, Thailand and Cambodia. 

The Trinity College faculty and students at Chulalongkorn University   (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

The Trinity College faculty and students at Chulalongkorn University

  (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

During the Visit, Dr. Carl Middleton of CSDS and MAIDS offered a lecture titled "Think global, act 'teleconnected' local:Exploring the connections between regional trade, water security, and community vulnerability in Bangkok and Tokyo". The lecture sought to stimulate discussion amongst the group on how processes of industrialization and urbanization in East Asia have impacted peri-urban wetland spaces and community livelihoods in Bangkok and Tokyo.

Following a brief discussion on the lecture, the group toured the Chulalongkorn University campus and visited the CU museum.

Dr Carl Middleton provides a lecture titled “Think Global, Act ‘Teleconnected’ Local” (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

Dr Carl Middleton provides a lecture titled “Think Global, Act ‘Teleconnected’ Local”

(Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

WORKSHOP: Writeshop at Pathein University Preparing for Upcoming Book on Salween River

As the Salween Fellowship program enters its third and final year, eight fellows are joining together with several other researchers to further their research for publication in an upcoming edited book about the Salween River, to be published in late 2017. 

On 16 to 18 April, Pathein University's Department of Marine Science hosted the second WriteShop for this book (see here for the first WriteShop). Over three days, three Salween Fellows and three additional researchers worked through the concepts, arguments, chapter outline and policy implications for their research. The meeting agenda can be viewed here.

It became apparent during the WriteShop that the research undertaken that is now being prepared for the book will fill important gaps in knowledge regarding the Salween River. The topics included:

  • Trends in fisheries in the Salween River estuary and socio-economic implications
  • Ethno-botany in Lashio District, Northern Shan State
  • Forest and land cover change in Bawlakhe District, Kayah State 
  • Contrasting visions of development at the Thai border of the Salween River
  • Grassland management in the upper Nu Jiang area
  • Contrasting local and national water policies in Myanmar

As the WriteShop proceeded to the second day, we were fortunate that Padauk, Myanmar's national flower, bloomed across the Pathein University campus

During the afternoon of the second day of the WriteShop, the group visited the Department of Marine Science's field station, where the university collaborates with a local NGO in a major mangrove restoration project. Dr. Cherry Aung, the head of the Department of Marine Science, who is also a Salween Research Fellow, explained about the project during the visit.

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: Insights on Recovering Co-existing Wetlands and Farming Systems

The importance of recognizing the value of agro-ecological systems in wetlands in Southeast Asia was the main message delivered at the SUMERNET research partners meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 29 March 2017. Dr Outhai Soukkhy, Dr. Nguyen Van Kien and Dr. Carl Middleton shared the main scientific findings and policy messages of the RECOVER project. They also emphasized the benefits of undertaking "co-production of knowledge" research methods, so as to involve all actors sharing a policy or on-the-ground challenge.

  • A poster summarizing the RECOVER project can be downloaded here.
  • The presentation summarizing the main project findings can be downloaded here

WORKSHOP: WriteShop for International Publication for Salween, Mekong and Red Fellows

On 23-24 March 2017, the selected fellows from the Salween, Mekong and Red River fellowship program who will proceed to further develop their research to be published in a book or international journal met in Sapa, Vietnam for a WriteShop. The goal of the WriteShop was to support the fellows in deepening their research analysis towards attaining a quality suitable for publication. 

Around 30 fellows, mentors and staff of the Salween, Mekong and Red River fellowship program joined the WriteShop. The agenda and presentations can be downloaded below:

 

EVENT: Mapping Out Policies and Practices of the Salween-Thanlwin-Nu River Basin: A Framework and Discussion for the Future of the Basin

At present, key decisions are being taken that will determine the future path of the Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River. In this session, we shared a “pathways” analysis of the latest developments shaping water governance in the basin. In revealing the range of visions for the future of the Salween basin, based on our research over the previous year, we sought to open a discussion about the outcomes at the local, national and transnational level of a range of potential development pathways, including the implications from the perspective of sustainability and social justice.

The session was chaired by Dr. Vanessa Lamb (York University) and Prof Saw Win (Senior Research Associate, Center for Social Development Studies).

The following presentations were made:

  • Which path to take? Pathways for the Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River by Dr. Carl Middleton, Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University [Download PowerPoint]
  • Development PathwaysThe case of the Nu River by Dr. Yu Xiaogang and Chen Xiangxue, Green Watershed [Download PowerPoint]
  • Myanmar Salween Pathways by Jeff Rutherford and Saw John Bright, KESAN [Download PowerPoint]
  • Thailand Salween Pathways by Dr. Carl Middleton, Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University [Download PowerPoint]

 

WORKSHOP: The Path to K_Space: Co-Creating Space Science Curriculum in Nepal

Sakar and Hermes goofing around the Karkhana classroom at K_Space

Sakar and Hermes goofing around the Karkhana classroom at K_Space

About 2 years ago I began a conversation with Sakar Pudasaini about the possibility of Karkhana leading a workshop on open science in Kathmandu, Nepal. Karkhana is an innovative and exciting social enterprise based in Kathmandu that has been working for over 4 years now to bring fun, creative, experiential, and impactful Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) education to all children in the Kathmandu Valley.

I had the great pleasure of meeting the team at Karkhana in early 2014 when I was working in Nepal as a Princeton in Asia Fellow, and the continued privilege of meeting new additions to the talent pool as it grew. Karkhana's focused vision and mission expanded the possibilities for the local communities' children, moving towards more equitable and prosperous futures in our globalized lives.

The first workshop of the Open Source Hardware and Citizen Science Project in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

The first workshop of the Open Source Hardware and Citizen Science Project in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

The focus of the larger project that I was crafting at the time (late 2014) was around the topics of open science and open source hardware - specifically looking at laboratory equipment, the designs of which could be shared openly across platforms and communities. The first workshop we ran within this larger project took place in September 2015, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in partnership with the House of Natural Fiber Foundation - a new media arts collective that had been working in the sciences for over 8 years now. Two members of Karkhana attended, and together we learned a lot about the design and facilitation of international grassroots workshops.

The original discussion that I had with Sakar in the second half of 2015 morphed along with this greater understanding of the needs of communities, and understanding of the diverse individuals we planned to bring together in these workshops. I realized after the Indonesia workshop that I still retained a latent bias towards my background in physiology, and my own experience with science education and training. These workshops, along with my work in inclusive and co-created design at DSIL Global, have shifted my own perspective on the nature of open science, and the way that we (as a global community) can create a new definition of science that is more inclusive, contextual, and heard.

Ayisha Rahman (Malaysia) and Hermes Huang (USA) lead an activity in the Karkhana classroom in Kathmandu, Nepal during K_Space. Photo credit: Karkhana

Ayisha Rahman (Malaysia) and Hermes Huang (USA) lead an activity in the Karkhana classroom in Kathmandu, Nepal during K_Space. Photo credit: Karkhana

When Sakar told me that he wanted to focus the workshop in Kathmandu on space science, I said: "Let's do it." As an applied science, there are few things more expansive than allowing a generation of students across the world to imagine a future where we can use technology, arts, engineering, history and science in order to engage the earth, the sky, and beyond.

So, here we are today, October 2016 in Kathmandu, with an amazing group of men and women from across Asia working towards creating curriculum, experiences, and tools for students and individuals across Asia to imagine a future in space. 


This workshop would not be possible without the generous support of the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network, which is funded by IDRC Canada and UK DFiD. This project is undertaken in collaboration by DSIL Global, HONF, and CSDS. 

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: Towards A Shared Vision for the Salween-Thanlwin-Nu River Basin

By Sarah Allen

Small group discussion at the Salween University Network meeting. Photo: V. Lamb.  

Small group discussion at the Salween University Network meeting. Photo: V. Lamb.


The people living in the Salween River Basin, and their voices,have been largely ignored. The up to 10 million people living in the River Basin are continually left out of decision-making processes that will directly impact their livelihoods and futures. But this is changing. I can point to recent civil society and academic research, high-profile research collaborations, and international meetings that aim to attend to the complex ecologies and politics of the Salween River Basin and its challenges, which is much more than when I first joined Salween University Network meetings five years ago.

The most recent Salween University Network meeting was held on January 29-31, 2016,at Chiang Mai University, Thailand with support from the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Chiang Mai University, and CGIAR Water, Land and Ecosystems Greater Mekong Program. This meeting was an opportunity to review existing research, and to bring a wide range of actors together to discuss the future of the Salween River Basin. A meeting of this variety is a milestone for the Salween University Network, which has been working since October 2012 to build a network in the Salween River Basin as a way to share research and knowledge between academics, researchers, NGOs, journalists, and local communities.

In fact, prior to this 2016 meeting, there were several meetings organized to draw international and basin-wide attention to the issues affecting the River Basin, in Myanmar in 2014 and in Thailand in 2014 . In October 2012, for instance, I was among a smaller group who met to discuss what to do about the future of the Salween River Basin. During this meeting, discussion revolved around the mega projects planned along the upper Salween River Basin and the downstream impacts, should the projects gain approval, as well as logging and mining in the River Basin. The interest in the future of the Salween River Basin at that time was eye-opening to future possibilities for collaboration. The opportunity to attend a workshop at its early stages of development and watch its progression to now has especially eye-opening for me who, at the time, was a recent master’s graduate in Global Governance. I was witnessing the beginnings of international collaboration and the formation of a basin-wide organization where the emphasis was on inclusive knowledge production. One of the Network’s biggest strengths is that it is composed primarily of a range of actors from the Salween River Basin region, who are working to produce high-quality research on the Basin and who are concerned about future developments of the basin which put residents at risk.

At present, the River Basin is indeed at risk. The mainstream of the Salween River is currently undammed, but that status is being threatened by proposal for 16 large hydropower development projects. The Salween River Basin supports rich fisheries, farmland, and a diverse river landscape. However, high demands for new sources of electricity, especially by Thailand and China, are outweighing and ignoring the needs and voices the region’s people.

A strength of the Network’s meeting was the diversity of the participant’s research presentations. Pai Deetes from International Rivers spoke about the plans to divert water from the Salween River, or the tributaries of the Salween River, to the Chao Phraya River in Thailand. She spoke on the importance of collecting adequate baseline data before projects of this kind are accepted. Pai Deetes also noted that there have been no impact assessments done on the implications of this project and therefore the likelihood of solving drought conditions in Thailand are unlikely. She explained further that

“If the water level lowers further it will cause some species to lose their ecosystems; species and people alike on the river will likely struggle for survival. It is important to study the effects.” (January 2016)

Pai Deetes, of International Rivers, presents information about the Salween water diversion plans. RCSD photograph

One of the meeting organizers, Professor Saw Win, former rector of Maubin University and current member of the Renewable Energy Association of Myanmar (REAM), spoke about why such a meeting is considered a milestone for academics and civil society members in Myanmar. He explained,

“Working under a military government for 40 years I have not had the opportunities to network or attend international meetings. This is the first opportunity for increased collaboration and networking.”(January 2016)

In comparison to previous decades of military rule in Myanmar, at present researchers have more freedom to do research, and that includes research on the Salween River Basin. In fact, due to successful mobilization efforts and collaborations in the region,academics, and civil society groups are making great strides. The Salween University Network is in a unique position to learn from the mistakes made and gaps that exist in producing knowledge around the other major river basins in the region. Beyond being composed of people from the region, the Network has also established important links with local universities in order to stay connected to the River Basin as a whole and the people who live there. In this way, the opportunity has been created for scientific knowledge and community oriented research to come together to inform national policies.

Discussion led by Professor Saw Win, organizing committee member and member of the Renewable Energy Association of Myanmar (REAM). RCSD photograph

 

Dr. Yu Xiaogang, the director of Green Watershed in Kunming, China, spoke on future means of collaborating and building a stronger Network. Dr. Yu proposed:

“A Salween Friendship Partnership that brings together civil society actors, academics, community members, and other interested individuals across borders to imagine transboundary cooperation and highlight economic, cultural, social, and political values of the Salween.” (January 2016)

The Network’s meeting this past January included two full days of presentations and various group work sessions where participants had the opportunity to identify knowledge gaps, current research, future collaboration opportunities, and priorities for future work. One of the many positive aspects of the meeting was the wide range of presentation topics, from: challenges faced by local communities, methods for community empowerment, traditional knowledge research, the importance of the media, the relationship between people and the environment, proposed infrastructural changes on the River, geomorphology studies, and local case studies highlighting the current state of the River. The full meeting report can be found at:https://www.dropbox.com/s/dcm09n2kdcyhsl1/SUNM%202016%20Report.pdf?dl=0

 

Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Chiang Mai University.RCSD photograph

Poignantly, the most recent meeting ended with an important message from Dr.Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Chiang Mai University. He emphasized that there is both a “geography of knowing and [a] geography of ignorance” for the Salween. In other words, the Salween River Basin has a rich and long history, butby staying ignorant to the voices of its communities,researchers, and policy makers are jeopardizing the River Basin’s future. Dr Khin Maung Lwin, Member of Myanmar’s Advisor & Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, also reiterated these sentiments, explaining that “Policy gaps are more a result of poor ears than poor policies.” It is important to learn from each other and share that information rather than creating separate, closed-off expert knowledge groups.

Continue to connect with research on Salween and to follow updates on Salween Water Governance at https://www.facebook.com/SalweenStudies

 

 

WORKSHOP: Workshop for Research Finding Analysis and Conference Paper Writing 1st-3rd April 2016 Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

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This workshop brought together research fellows, mentors and colleagues who are currently involved in the project titled “Capacity Building and Professional Development of Water Governance and Regional Development Practitioners in the Mekong, Salween and Red river basins.” The project aims to strengthen the capacity for undertaking research and policy engagement of scholars and practitioners of water, land and energy use and governance in the Red, Mekong and Salween river basins. A cross-cutting focus of the project is research on gender and other forms of social marginalization.

The objectives of the workshop were:

  • Support fellows’ analysis of data collected in their fieldwork
  • Support fellows’ preparation of a conference paper that will highlight the main research findings (to be presented at the WLE Forum in November 2016)
  • Advise fellows on the remaining period of the fellowship, including the production of the research report, policy brief, and second blog

The workshop agenda can be downloaded here

Workshop Presentations

Introduction: Workshop for Research Finding Analysis and Conference Paper Writing By Dr.Carl Middleton

Writing an abstract By Louis Lebel

Management and analysis of in-dept interview data  By Louis Lebel

Managing and initial analysis of structure and semi-structured interview data by Dr.Carl Middleton By Dr.Carl Middleton

Introduction to research methodology  By Assoc.Prof.Dr.Dang Tung Hoa

How to write an introduction By Dr.Jakkrit Sangkhamanee

Writing with a purpose, writing with concepts By Louis Lebel

How to manage in-text citations (ITCs) and reference list items (RLIs) By Michael Medley

Sourcing and incorporating policy and law in to your conference paper analysis By Dr.Carl Middleton

Research methodology By Dr.Kanokwan Manorom

Basic structure of a conference paper By Albert Salamanca

Gender dimension to research writing By Dr.Kanokwan Manorom

Writing conclusions  By Louis Lebel

Writing a research article By Louis Lebel

Write to publish By Louis Lebel

Next step

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Credit: Photos by Ms.Chawirakan Nomai, MK32 Program Coordinator and Mit, MK33 Program Coordinator

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EVENT: WLE Forum 2015 : Experience Shared and Lessons Learned at WLE Forum, Phnom Penh 2015

 

 

By Thita Orn-in:

WLE forum 2015 opening ceremony
WLE forum 2015 opening ceremony

WLE forum 2015 opening ceremony

The Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 21-23 October 2015 was an opportunity for the fellows of the Salween, Mekong and Red River Fellowship programs who attended to share their work, to network, and to learn from others. The Forum itself attracted over 300 participants from institutions of diverse backgrounds and from countries all around the Mekong Region and beyond ranging from civil society organizations and universities, to research institutes and government agencies.

The forum’s main objective was to bring together researchers, practitioners and policy makers to exchange their work and ideas, and to debate key issues related to food, water and energy in the region. To this end, over forty sessions were held over the three days of the event. The Salween fellowship program, together with our sister programs in the Mekong and Red river basins, hosted two sessions during the Forum.

The Fellows introduce their work

The first session was titled “Launching the 2015 Regional WLE Fellowship Program in the Mekong, Salween and Red River Basins.” The session opened with a brief overview of the fellowship program (download the PPT here ). It then provided a space for the other forum participants to learn about the fellowship programs by having the fellows themselves from each river basin individually introduced their research projects, their related work and their aspirations.

Four Myanmar academics of the Salween fellowship program; Dr. Cherry Aung, Dr. Khin Sandar Aye and Dr. Mar Mar Aye and Saw John Bright
Four Myanmar academics of the Salween fellowship program; Dr. Cherry Aung, Dr. Khin Sandar Aye and Dr. Mar Mar Aye and Saw John Bright

Four Myanmar fellows of the Salween fellowship program; Dr. Cherry Aung, Dr. Khin Sandar Aye; Dr. Mar Mar Aye; and Saw John Bright

A number of participants from the other WLE projects were interested in the fellows’ research, and could see possibilities to collaborate including how the research produced could be shared. This was a positive outcome as it was an aspiration of the wider WLE Mekong Region Program that the individual fellowship projects would integrate with and contribute towards the other WLE projects, and thus deliver a better outcome for the WLE Mekong Program as a whole.

Saw John Bright :Understanding different conflicts,ethnic and marginalized groups In Salween Hydro-Power Project.
Saw John Bright :Understanding different conflicts,ethnic and marginalized groups In Salween Hydro-Power Project.

Saw John Bright: Researching on the value of the Salween River from the perspective of different groups, in particular Karen ethnic groups.

A number of the Salween fellows’ research topics focus around themes related to plans for large dam construction on the Nu-Thanlwin-Salween River and effects on livelihoods, agriculture, gender, and governance. Some topics draw physical science aspects into their analysis of local livelihoods, whilst others use principally social science approaches.

Dr. Mar Mar Aye introducing her research
Dr. Mar Mar Aye introducing her research

Dr. Mar Mar Aye introducing her research

The session provided an open space for fellows to introduce their research to the audience in small groups. For example, one of the Salween fellows, Dr.Mar Mar Aye, a lecturer from the Botany Department of Lashio University, described her study as an ethnobotanical study on the Thanlwin-River local plants. She explained that since ethnic group villages live far from access of modern medicine, they often rely on medicinal plants and these plants are thus valuable to the communities. Yet, so far there hasn’t yet been any documentation of the local values of these medicinal plants, and she hopes that her research could help address this knowledge gap.

Another one of the Salween fellows, Ms. Arun Shining, who is co-founder of the NGO Weaving Bonds Across Borders, explained that she has chosen to collect her data using an innovative research method. She plans to use a video-camera as a way to gather the thoughts of families and children who may be affected by dam construction in Shan State, Myanmar.

Also, Dr.Huang Yaping, a lecturer from the Faculty of Law at Hohai University is focusing her study on to women of the Lisu ethnic group in Yunnan Province, China who have been affected by a dam project. She is looking specifically at their migration patterns, changes in their livelihoods and evaluating the effectiveness of dam impact mitigation programs so as to improve decision-making in the future.

Salween research fellow took turn introducing their projects
Salween research fellow took turn introducing their projects

Salween research fellow took turn introducing their projects

Many forum participants complimented that the session was unlike academic-styled presentations that they have attended in the past. Rather, it was designed in such a way that people from different backgrounds could be on the same page and therefore interact, engage and challenge one another openly and constructively.

Fellows reflect on lessons learned at the forum

Salween fellow having a debate with Mekong and Red fellows
Salween fellow having a debate with Mekong and Red fellows

Fellows from the Salween, Mekong and Red report back from group discussions reflecting on lessons learned from participating in the forum

On Friday 23rd October, 2015, the Salween, Red and Mekong fellowship programs organized a second session titled “Debating Water Governance in Southeast Asia: The perspective of the 2015 WLE fellow.” This session opened the floor for fellows of the Salween, Mekong and Red River basin to share and reflect on their WLE forum experience.  The session was structured first as paired discussions, followed by a plenary discussion facilitated by Dr. Kanokwan Manorom. The participants then broke in to table groups to focus on emergent themes that they had identified as consistently raised during the WLE forum, namely: water governance; public participation; and working towards interdisciplinary approaches. From my observation, it seemed that incorporating inclusiveness as a concept was a cross cutting theme across all three topics. The session was wrapped up by a reflection back from each table group, followed by a more informal plenary discussion for fellows to discuss their plans moving forward and challenges faced before they start their field data collection for their research.

Fellows help close the WLE Forum during final plenary

Dr.Bian Yongmin and John Bright give a reflection on WLE forum closing session
Dr.Bian Yongmin and John Bright give a reflection on WLE forum closing session

Dr.Bian Yongmin and John Bright give a reflection on WLE forum closing session

During the closing ceremony of the WLE Forum, representatives from the Salween, Red and Mekong fellowship programs were invited to give their personal reflections and analysis of key themes addressed by the conference. On behalf of the Salween Fellowship, Saw John Bright, Kyaw Thu Han and Dr. Bian Yongmin joined the stage leaving a memorable impression for everyone. They stressed points towards decision-making processes about large water infrastructure projects, in particular hydro-power dams, which they said should be more inclusive to ensure equality and sustainability for all. They also raised the issue of addressing gender equity, recognizing marginalized groups, and the need to address the challenges of trans-boundary governance.

Research fellow reflect back the forum as reporters
Research fellow reflect back the forum as reporters

Research fellow present their reflections to the final plenary of the WLE Forum

Now that the WLE forum is concluded, the Salween Fellows will be busy with their field research as they are well-equipped with their clear research design and ideas for research methodologies and approaches derived from the forum and our previous workshops. Early in 2016, the fellows will also be inviting their mentors to their field sites to benefit from the mentors experience. The next workshop when the fellows meet again will be in Bangkok, when the Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University will host a “Write Shop” to help the fellows organize and analyze their data and refine it into a conference paper. This is an important step, as when it comes to the WLE forum in 2016 the fellows will present their research findings and we will produce a conference proceedings that compiles their research papers. In the meantime, the fellows will soon be writing about their field experience in the form of a blog which will be published on the CSDS and Mekong Citizen Website in January 2016.

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WORKSHOP: The Second Workshop on Data collection and Methodology, Ubon Ratchathani, 4-6 August 2015

The second  Field Study Workshop in Ubon Ratchathani, Rasi Salai,

August 2015

The Second Workshop on Data Collection and Methodology, Ubon Ratchathani and Sri Saket, 4-6 August 2015

             In this second workshop, we focus on the principles and best practices of undertaking fieldwork, and how to document and analyze the findings. This workshop, hosted by the MSSRC, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University, will entail workshop based discussion and practical experience in the field. Workshop objectives The workshop objectives are for research fellows to: learn about social-science research methods and how to apply them in field work, consider how to incorporate these research methods into their own fieldwork, practice these research methods in the field, and reflect critically on their use, learn how to undertake basic data analysis of qualitative and quantitative field data, continue to build relationships between one another across the river basins.

            The workshop involved field visit to rural villages along the Mun river basin in Sri Saket Province. The fellows had an opportunities to practice their obtained research skills through observations, interviews with the locals, and group work. By the end of the workshop, each group of fellow represented the gained data in the form of PPT presentation based on their assigned topic. The results are as follow;

Group 1 - Role of Women

Group 2 - Role of Government

Group 3 - Role of Civil Society

Group 4 - Traditional Water Management

Group 5 - Local Livelihoods

Field study tools' presentation by Carl Middleton

Experience of past fellow on data collection tools by Dr.Watcharee Srikham

A Glimpse of Rural Wet Land, The Mun River Basin, Sri Saket Province

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WORKSHOP: Naga Fellows’ Field Research Training: A Journey to the Rasi Salai Dam, Thailand

By Alayna Ynacay-Nye and Kyle Ojima

On 4 to 6th August 2015, the Naga fellows from the Mekong, Red and Salween river basins traveled to Ubon Ratchathani province in Thailand for an intensive course in field research methods and to study the impacts of the Rasi Salai dam on local livelihoods.  The event was hosted by the Mekong Sub-Region Social Research Center (MSSRC), Ubon Ratchathani University.

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Groupphoto2

All of the research fellows and staff from the Mekong, Red and Salween river basins who attended the training at UbonRatachathani University. (Photo by Kyle Ojima)

The first day of the training, held at UbonRatchathani University, readied the fellows for their field work, providing an orientation to field research methods. Techniques and approaches were provided by invited speakers, but benefited greatly from the combined experience of the fellows themselves, many of who have experience conducting field research already.  The fellows were then separated into five thematic groups that would be their research focus for the following two days:

  • Roles of women in wetland management
  • Roles of government and local authority in irrigation management
  • Civil society and people organization in wetland recovery
  • Traditional water management
  • Local Livelihoods and change of wetland resources and utilization.

By the early evening, the fellows had relocated from the university to Si Sa Khet province, and were settling into their home stays in villages within the area affected by the dam.

Construction and impact of the Rasi Salai Dam

In the 1990s, the Thai government constructed the Rasi Salai dam on the Mun River in Si Sa Khet Province, inundating a large swathe of wetland, proposed to irrigate the surrounding areas. The impacted wetland was referred to by the locals as their ‘supermarket’ due to the invaluable resources it provided and that supported the community. The dam had a severe impact on many people’s livelihoods, with prolonged flooding and the loss of river and wetland biodiversity reducing fishing yields, wetland rice farm production, and farmers’ ability to raise cattle and to collect valuable products from the wetlands, such as mushrooms, medicinal herbs, red ant eggs, and fire wood.

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RasiSalaidam

The Rasi Salai Dam in Si Sa Khet province, Thailand, which caused serious impacts to local communities. (Photo by Kyle Ojima)

When the government approved the construction of the Rasi Salai Dam, it did not conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or consult local villagers. When construction began in 1992, villagers were initially told that a 4.5 meter rubber weir was being built to solve the problem of water scarcity. However, after the construction the villagers found that instead of a small rubber weir it was a 9 meter concrete dam. Whilst there have been many impacts, relatively few villagers of the region have actually received the promised irrigation benefits.

Fellows learn about the Rasi Salai Dam

On Wednesday August 5th, the fellows and staff woke up in their local villages, and began to explore their allocated themes. Most of the groups started out with interviews a range of people, from local government organizations to farmers living off the land. The fellows learned that some villagers who once relied on the wetlands for food, were no longer able to grow crops because the flood regime had changed; it had led to water logging creating soils that could no longer sustain rice fields and other plant life. Villagers said that traditionally in the area there were 13 varieties of rice grown for generations, but now there are only 3. The river’s migratory fish species were also in decline.

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Meeting 2 Ubon

A meeting with retired local officials and farmers to discuss the effects of the RasiSalai dam on local livelihoods (Photo by Alayna Ynacay-Nye)

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Cattlephoto

There were once many cattle in the Rasi Salai area, but the loss of grazing land following the dam significantly reduced the number (Photo by Kyle Ojima)

The fellows heard from the villagers interviewed that they are no longer able to depend solely on the land for food and economic security, and must seek alternative solutions. This has resulted in villagers migrating to big cities such as Bangkok in pursuit of low paying labor jobs, leaving their traditional agrarian way of life and weakening their ties to family, culture and their neighbors. For those who chose to stay in RasiSalai, the land is no longer able to provide the variety and quantity of foods it previously could, forcing people to purchase low quality products in the market which further increases their expenses and debt. The creation of the dam sparked social movements advocating for villagers’ rights and compensation. The Royal Irrigation Department (RID) is currently negotiating with the Taam Mun Association, which represents the villagers, for compensation and livelihood recovery programs. This has created a stronger trust and communication between the RID and the villagers that in the past.

Presenting research findings

Finally on Thursday August 4th, the groups left the villages and arrived at the Lower Mun Irrigation Office for a wrap up of the workshop. The fellows were able to present what they had learned in the villages using the research tools studied on the first day of the workshop. A local village leader and a representative from the Royal Irrigation Department also joined the meeting to provide their perspectives on the Rasi Salai Dam and its benefits and impacts.

Overall, the fellows had a valuable opportunity to build relationships amongst each other and therefore across the Mekong, Red and Salween basins. The fellows also learned various techniques for fieldwork and had the chance to actively apply them in the field. In addition, the fellows were able to learn from the local situation at the RasiSalai dam, and to contrast it with the experience in their own countries. The fellows are now looking forward to meeting again and sharing the progress of their research at the “2015 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food, and Energy” on 21-23 October in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Meeting Ubon
Meeting Ubon

All of the fellows gathered at the Lower Mun Royal Irrigation Department office to present what they learned from their field work.  (Photo by Kyle Ojima)

Further information

Please see the blog titled “Finding Common Ground: Co-produced Wetland Zoning in Northeast Thailand”(12 August 2015) produced for the Recovering and valuing wetland agro-ecological systems and local knowledge for water security and community resilience in the Mekong region(RECOVER) project.

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