EVENT [RESOURCES]: Political Ecology in Asia: Plural Knowledge and Contested Development in a More-Than-Human World [Bangkok, 10-11 October 2019]

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On 10 and 11 October 2019, Center for Social Development Studies together with French Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC), French Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), IRN-SustainAsia; Patrimoines Locaux, Environnement et Mondialisation (PALOC), and POLLEN Political Ecology Network organized a Conference on Political Ecology in Asia: Plural Knowledge and Contested Development in a More-Than-Human World. The conference, with the support of Chula Global Network (CGN), The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), French Embassy in Bangkok, and Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, was succesfully held in the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.

The conference intended to further the existing strong body of knowledge studying the political ecologies of Asia, in both academic and transdisciplinary forms, and in particular encouraging a reflection on how political ecology is understood and applied by researchers and activists throughout Asia whose work addresses the themes of the politics of plural knowledge, contested development, and human-more-than-human relationships. In doing so, the conference also actively seek alternatives beyond the anthropocene/ capitalocene.

Abstracts, Presentations, and Video feed:

Welcome Remarks and Keynote Speech on 10 October 2019

Welcome Remarks

  • Prof. Dr. Pironrong Ramasoota, Vice President for Social Outreach and Global Engagement, Chulalongkorn University

  • H.E. Jacques Lapouge, French Ambassador to Thailand

  • Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, Dean, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Keynote Speech: Reflection on Vijñana of Religion: New Animism in the Age of the Anthropocene by Thanes Wongyannava, Retired Professor, Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University

  • Chair: Jakkrit Sangkhamanee, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

  • Stephane Rennesson, CNRS-LESC

Session 1A: Particulate matters: The emergence of a political ecology of haze in Asia

Chair: Karine Léger, AirParif.

Session 1B: Feminist political ecology in Asia

Chairs: Bernadette P. Resurrección and Kanokwan Manorom

Session 2A: Resource politics and the public sphere

Chair: Naruemon Thabchumpon, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Session 2B: Asia’s urban political ecologies

Chair: Olivier Chrétien, Head of Department Environmental Impacts Prevention, Paris Municipality

Session 3A: Political ecologies of land in Southeast Asia: Beyond the technical-regulatory gaze

Chair: Miles Kenney-Lazar

Session 3B: People and the biodiversity crisis: reshaping governance and justice in conservation

Chair: Sarah Benabou

Keynote Speech on 11 October 2019

Keynote Speech: The Political ecology of climate change, uncertainty and transformation in marginal environments by Lyla Mehta, Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex

  • Chair: Bharat Dahiya, Research Center for Integrated Sustainable Development, College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Thammasat University and Urban Youth Academy, Seoul

  • Discussant: Prof. Surichai Wungaeo, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University

Session 4A: Industrialization and ecological justice

Chair: Shaun Lin, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Session 4B: Ontologies of infrastructure

Chair: Jakkrit Sangkhamanee

Session 5A: Hydrosocial rivers and their politics

Chair: Kenji Otsuka, Interdisciplinary Studies Center, Institute of Developing Economies

Session 5B: Representations of nature and political engagements

Chair: Frédéric Landy, French Institute of Pondicherry, University of Paris-Nanterre/LAVUE

Chair: Olivier Evrard

Session 6B: Post-development and systemic alternatives from Asia (round table)

Chair: Carl Middleton, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.

  • Kyaw Thu, Paung Ku 

  • K.J. Joy, Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM) 

  • Suphakit Nuntavorakarn, Healthy Public Policy Foundation (HPPF)

  • Wora Sukraroek, EarthRights International and Member of Thailand Extraterritorial Obligations Watch Coalition

Closing Remarks

EVENT REPORT: Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River [Bangkok, 7 September 2019]

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The Salween River, shared by China, Myanmar, and Thailand, is increasingly at the heart of pressing regional development debates. The basin supports the livelihoods of over 10 million people, and within it there is great socioeconomic, cultural and political diversity. The basin is witnessing intensifying dynamics of resource extraction, alongside large dam construction, conservation and development intervention that is unfolding within a complex terrain of local, national and transnational governance.

With a focus on the contested politics of water and associated resources in the Salween basin, on September 7, 2019, Center for Social Development Studies organized a seminar on "Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River". The seminar explored the possible futures of the Salween basin through the lens of: resource politics; politics of knowledge making; and reconciling knowledge across divides. The seminar also launched the new book: “Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River”.

The Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, Asst. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, welcomed the participants by reflecting how the Salween River basin is at the cross-roads of a major political and development transition. Within the basin, there is intensifying resource extraction alongside dam construction, conservation projects and other forms of development intervention. He also highlighted the important contribution that research can make toeards ensuring inclusive, sustainable and fair development within the Salween basin.

The first session, chaired by Vanessa Lamb from the University of Melbourne, explored the theme around resource politics and Salween River. Carl Middleton from the Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University explored the many possible alternatives for the Nu River, from hydropower construction to national park creation, but not every pathway has been given equal consideration, concluding that decision-making about which development pathway is chosen for the future for the Nu River, should be inclusive, informed and accountable with the rights of ethnic communities recognized. Alec Scott from Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) talked about hydropower politics and conflict on the Salween River, explaining how Civil Society Organisations have been working across multiple scales. He also explained how collaborations between local communities, CSOs and Ethnic Armed Organisations have reconceptualized and decentralized water governance in the context of unresolved armed conflict.  Laofang Bundidterdsakul from Legal Advocacy Center for Indigenous Communities (LACIC) reflected on the ongoing conflict between the national forest law and community livelihood in Thailand, and how the community were criminalized for using land and forest resources using the preservation areas declaration. He highlighted how the community should have the legal rights to get compensation from the products from the land and forest, as well as being involved in decision making since they should be regarded as affected people.

The second session, chaired by Professor Saw Win, retired Rector of Maubin University in Myanmar, explored the theme around the politics of knowledge making. Mar Mar Aye from Lashio University presented on the importance of understanding the traditional knowledge and practice in the Salween River basin especially on the use of the diverse plants by indigenous communities. These practice are being threatened by a range of factors including deforestation and agricultural expansion. Paiboon Hengsuwan from Chiang Mai University, explained the simplistic rendering of complex Salween Communities in their negotiation for development in Thailand. Saw Tha Poe, also from KESAN, presented on the lessons learned from Daw La Lake and Kaw Ku Island, Karen State, in regards to community-based water governance.  He also gave recommendation for the government to prioritize peace and political settlement as well as to prioritize trans-boundary river management.

The third session, chaired by John Dore, Lead Water Specialist from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia, explored the theme around reconciling knowledge across divides. Vanessa Lamb presented on the effort to think about the Salween across knowledge divides. The key messages from the presentation includes a different approach on state of knowledge, recognizing history and contributions across knowledge divides, values in addition to threats and maintain room for critique and collaboration. Cherry Aung from Pathein University provided information on current situation of governance and fisheries of the Salween River estuary with the focus on the community fishery livelihoods and the socio-economic change in the villages. She also highlighted how the Salween River estuary is facing pressures from a number of ecological and anthropogenic stressors. Khin Sandar Aye from Loikaw University shared key finding from her study in Bawlakhe District, Kayah State, Myanmar, that forest depletion and changes in land utilization have caused changes in the local economy. Her recommendation is that the government should promote community-based natural resource management in villages.

The fourth session, chaired by Carl Middleton, explored the theme around the future of the Salween River from the policy, politics, and practice. Khin Maung Lwin, advisor to the National Water Resources Committee, Myanmar, presented the various ways of advocacy on positioning the Salween River in Myanmar’s river politics. He shared his ideas on water governance in Salween River and also the importance of dialogues with relevant stakeholders including governments, armed groups, developers and business sectors. Nang Shining from Weaving Bonds across Borders and Mong Pan Youth Association explained her work on collaborating with partner organisations to empower the women and youth to have a more active role in sustainable development. She highlighted how ethnic groups should have a primary role in water management across different scales, and also women, children and vulnerable group should be the major concerns in the decision-making processes, and should be involved as part of accountable and transparent decision-making processes. Youth should have the opportunity to be involved in all the above processes and activities. Pianporn Deetes from International Rivers presented on local community activism on transboundary river protection under military control in Thailand and her concern for justice and peace in the Salween River. She highlighted that on moving forward, ensuring a peaceful existence of ethnic peoples in the basin and clear pathway for justice must come first.

The presentations from this public forum can be accessed here. All of the sessions were broadcast on Facebook Live and can also be viewed on the above link.

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EVENT [RESOURCES]: Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River [Bangkok, 7 September 2019]

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On September 7, 2019, Center for Social Development Studies organized a seminar on "Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River". The seminar also launched the new book: “Knowing the Salween River: Resource Politics of a Contested Transboundary River”.

The seminar discussed how Salween River, shared by China, Myanmar, and Thailand, is increasingly at the heart of pressing regional development debates. The basin supports the livelihoods of over 10 million people, and within it there is great socioeconomic, cultural and political diversity. The basin is witnessing intensifying dynamics of resource extraction, alongside large dam construction, conservation and development intervention, that is unfolding within a complex terrain of local, national and transnational governance. With a focus on the contested politics of water and associated resources in the Salween basin, the seminar explored the possible futures of the Salween basin through the lens of: resource politics; politics of knowledge making; and reconciling knowledge across divides.

Presentations file:

Panel 1: Resource politics and the Salween River

Chair: Vanessa Lamb, University of Melbourne

Panel 2: Politics of knowledge making

Chair: Professor Saw Win, Retired Rector of Maubin University

Panel 3: Reconciling knowledge across divides

Chair: John Dore, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia

Panel 4: The future of the Salween River: Policy, politics, and practice

Chair: Carl Middleton, Chulalongkorn University

Facebook Live Feed:

EVENT [RESOURCES]: The Mekong Drought: Impact and Solutions [Bangkok, 2 August 2019]

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On August 2, 2019, Center for Social Development Studies co-organized a panel discussion on “The Mekong Drought: Impact and Solutions". The discussion is organized as part of the 8th Chula ASEAN Week and 5th Parliementaty ASEAN Community Forum.

The discussion explored how the Lancang-Mekong basin is currently facing a severe drought, with serious consequences for communities living within the basin. The drought takes place in the context of increasingly extensive hydropower dam construction in the basin on the mainstream and tributaries. These projects have expanded water storage capacity that could potentially alleviate drought, but have also impacted the natural hydrology and ecology of the river with a range of negative consequences for existing riparian livelihoods. Meanwhile, intergovernmental cooperation towards the Lancang-Mekong River is evolving with the launch of the Lancang Mekong Cooperation in 2016 alongside the existing Mekong River Commission. The panel discussed the impact of the drought currently affecting the Mekong River basin, including on rural farming and fishing communities, its causes, and the immediate and long-term solutions.

Chaiwat Parakhun as representative of the Thai Mekong Network shared some pictures to illustrate the severity of the droughts:

He also shared some pictures of the area before the drought, to provide contrast:

Other three speakers participated in the event; Niwat Roykaew from Rak Chiang Khong, Suphakit Nuntavorakarn from Healthy Public Policy Foundation and Dr. Carl Middleton from Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. Also joining as chair was Emeritus Professor Surichai Wun’gaeo from Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University.

If you missed the event, you can get some of the presentations below:

You can also access the Facebook Live feed of the event below:

EVENT [RESOURCES]: Mega dams, sand mining and renewable energy: Navigating a new course for the mighty rivers of Southeast Asia [Bangkok, 12 June 2019]

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

On Wednesday, 12th June 2019, Carl Middleton from Center for Social Development Studies, was one of presenters on the panel discussion held in Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT), titled “Mega dams, sand mining and renewable energy: Navigating a new course for the mighty rivers of Southeast Asia”. Carl talked about the future relationship between the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and the Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC)

Other panelists on the event include:

  • Dr. Leonie Pearson, senior research fellow, Water for Stockholm Environment Institute: A renowned ecological economist and expert in sustainable development, landscape water management, livelihood policy and urban-rural integrated assessments.

  • Marc Goichot, WWF-Greater Mekong Water Lead, who has spent two decades in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos working on water stewardship, hydropower, disaster risk reduction and climate change.

  • Rina Chandran, land and property rights correspondent, Thomson Reuters Foundation and a former business journalist in India, Singapore and New York with Reuters News, Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

You can watch the video of the event below.

EVENT [RESOURCES]: CU Graduate Student Seminar Series 'The Water-Food-Energy Nexus' [Bangkok, 21 May 2019]

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The inaugural interdisciplinary seminar highlighted ongoing graduate student research related to the water-food-energy nexus. Students presented cross-cutting research in the areas of political ecology of water, bioenergy, agriculture, and the politics of water allocation in Southeast Asia.

Presentation:

  • "A political ecology of Bangkok waters: the institutional interplay between subsidence, floods and water infrastructures" by Thanawat Bremard, ABIES, AgroParisTech, France

    Bangkok’s position in the Chao Phraya River delta confronts it to the risks of flooding from three fronts: local rainfall, the tidal cycle of the Gulf of Thailand and the cumulated waters from upstream during rainy season. As the urbanisation of the capital progressed, the city left its aquatic nature to adopt a terrestrial paradigm of development focusing on roads, polderisation and infrastructures that keep the city dry from the floods. The flooding vulnerability of Bangkok is further enhanced by the subsidence caused by groundwater over-extraction and building weight. The research, at the confluence of urban political ecology, historical geography and institutional analysis, aims to study the leeway, conflicts and interests between varying organisations dealing with flooding and subsidence risks. The thesis will focus on the underlying trade-offs and the fragmentation of policies and institutions regarding the management of the various waters of Bangkok by looking into how the situation evolved since the 2011 great floods and the efforts to limit subsidence by controlling the usage of groundwater within Bangkok and its vicinity.

    Download the presentation here.

  • "Alternative approaches toward agriculture and energy nexus thinking: historical, geographical and political processes of socio-‘techno’-nature interactions" by Hiromi Inagaki, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

  • "The politics of water policy making process in Indonesia" by Tanaporn Nithiprit, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

  • "Industrialization and water quality in Rayong Province, Thailand: are international, national and local water management strategies complimentary or contesting?" by Wipawadee Panyangnoi, GRID Program, Chulalongkorn University

    How is water allocated, who benefits, and who is impacted by the cycle of Thailand’s industrialization?

    Download the presentation here.

Discussants:

  • Dipak Gyawali, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology

  • Dr. Takeshi Ito, Graduate Program in Global Studies, Sophia University, Japan

Join your fellow graduate students for an engaging exchange of ideas in a relaxed atmosphere! To be updated about the next events, you can follow the CU Graduate Student Seminar Series Facebook Page here.

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EVENT [RESOURCES]: Book Launch 'The Water-Food-Energy Nexus' [Bangkok, 21 May 2019]

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Presentation can be accessed here. For more information about the book, as well as open access chapter and where to get it, please visit the link here.

Speakers:

  • Dipak Gyawali, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology

  • Jeremy Allouche, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (by Skype)

  • Carl Middleton, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Discussants:

  • Dr. Takeshi Ito, Graduate Program in Global Studies, Sophia University

  • Dr. Supawan Visetnoi, Chulalongkorn University School of Agricultural Resources (CUSAR)

Chair:

  • Dr. Kasira Cheeppensook, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Video feed from the discussion:

EVENT [REPORT]: Research Forum on Powering up Sustainable Development for Asia: The Future of Global and Regional Investment in Asia’s Energy Sector [Bangkok, 25 January 2019]

On 25 January 2019, Center for Social Development Studies together with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V. and Chatham House co-organized a Research Forum on “Powering up Sustainable Development for Asia: The Future of Global and Regional Investment in Asia’s Energy Sector”, which was held in Chulalongkorn University. For more information about this forum, please visit the link here.

Picture © Konrad adenauer stiftung 2019

Picture © Konrad adenauer stiftung 2019

You can read the report from the event here.

To read more about the findings from the event, please read the excerpt and visit the link below for an article by one of our co-organizers, Sam Geall from Chatham House.

Asia’s cryosphere, the vast stores of frozen water in the high mountains that feed the rivers on which some 1.3 billion people depend, is warming far faster than average, an expert assessment warned recently, adding that two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers could disappear by the end of the century.

This and other warning signs make clear the need for a sustainable energy transition in Asia, not only given the urgency of mitigating climate change, but also because renewable energy technologies can help to provide cheap and reliable energy to areas where grid-based provision is unreliable or otherwise prohibited by geography or high costs.

A green transformation, if done right, can address poverty reduction goals and improve health and environmental quality. But achieving this requires rethinking many assumptions about the current system that generates and distributes electricity, and its interconnections with a genuinely sustainable society.

Read more at this link here.

EVENT [REPORT]: Disaster and Displacement - A Human Rights Perspective [Bangkok, 28-29 November 2018]

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On 29 November 2018, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) hosted a workshop led and coordinated by our partner the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, to discuss about disaster and displacement in Asia Pacific. The discussion is part of a ten-country study on a range of types of disaster and displacement scenarios understood through a human rights perspective. The overall study examines how state actors fulfill their obligations to prevent displacement, conduct evacuation, protect people during displacement, and facilitate durable solutions in the aftermath. Aspects of the ongoing research were presented during the workshop by the researchers involved.

Regarding the prevention of displacement, the experience of Thailand and the Philippines were shared. For Thailand, Dr. Carl Middleton from Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), Chulalongkorn University, presented on the 'Hat Yai Model', which is an effort to develop ‘soft infrastructure’ in the form of improved flood warning, and the strengthening of local government, community, civil society and local business capacity and collaboration to live with floods over the several days when it occurs. While it still has room for improvement, the researchers propose that the ‘Hat Yai Model’ as a preventative measure should be widely promoted in Thailand and beyond as a means to promote constructive state and non-state cooperation, enhance community empowerment and awareness, as well as to reduce the community’s vulnerability to flood disaster. Ryan Jeremiah D. Quan from Ateneo de Manila University School of Law presented the research on displacement prevention effort in the Philippines, particularly during the Typhoon Haiyan, which revealed that even though there is a disaster prevention system in place, there is a gap between the guidelines that are implemented by the government agencies on the national and provincial level and the experience and needs of the local government personnel in the field.

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The studies from Indonesia and Vanuatu provided insights about the evacuation process, especially for vulnerable groups. The study on Indonesia was presented by Andika Putra from ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). The study, which focused on recurrent eruptions of Mount Sinabung and how it affected persons with disabilities, revealed how the disaster management system and the rights of persons with disabilities are managed under two different legal frameworks, which are yet to be synchronized at both national and local level. It is also noted that when the government doesn't present itself, non-government actors such as religious groups played an important role in supporting people with disability.

Lack of representation from vulnerable groups was also found in the case of Vanuatu, which was struck by Cyclone Pam in 2015. Tess Van Geelen in her presentation showed how there is no permanent position within government institution to consistently represent these groups. Such a condition led to the lack of protection provisions in government policies and effective approach in responding to disasters. International assistance has supported the development of many exemplary protection policies, however, the government staff is presently not equipped with the skill to implement the protection policies.

In terms of protection of affected people during disaster, researchers looked at the experience from the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and flooding in Bangladesh and Cambodia. The study in Nepal by Dr. Bala Raju Nikku highlighted the limited access to basic necessities and services, as well as mental health issues that became very common among displaced persons. Currently, there is limited capacity in the government to address this issue, and therefore mental health issue is not included in the protection planning. In the future, the researcher argued that it is very important to psychosocial assistance as the first aid for people facing the issue of displacement, especially for vulnerable groups such as women, children, and persons with disabilities.

The displacement scenario was revealed to be different in Bangladesh. MD Abdul Awal Khan from the Law Department of Independent University, Bangladesh, said on his presentation that currently there is no systemic plan on displacement organized by the government, causing people to move haphazardly. There is an existing policy with statutory provisions regarding disaster management, but the lack of implementation mechanism and strategies made it inadequate to mitigate when disaster happens. The lack of coordination between concerned government agencies is particularly affecting persons with disabilities, because there is no existing plan to handle such situation.

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Ratana Ly from Cambodia on her research examined how people who live with annual flooding experience displacement. People in area that flood has been living there for generations; they are tied to the land and are unwilling to move away to other areas, even though disaster may happen every year. From the Cambodia research, it was shown that disaster management-related policies need to address the local knowledge, so that policy can reflect local values.

The final two studies presented were on China and Myanmar examining durable solutions to the aforementioned issues. In China, Tang Yixia found on her research that the legal framework for disaster relief had encompassed various aspects from the prevention measures before disasters, emergency rescue measures at the time of disasters, coping strategies after disasters, as well as incorporating special provisions on the rights of women and minors. However, in implementation, human rights and gender perspective are still being left behind, which makes the protection of displaced persons’ rights not fully effective.

Myanmar, which has ratified various international human rights treaties, also has existing national laws and policies which promote protection of the human rights of displaced persons in the context of disaster. Prof. Dr. Khin Chit Chit of Yangon University revealed in her presentation that there is even a provision within the national law that require the government to prioritize children, women, and persons with disabilities. However, a more detailed regulation is needed to ensure that the government has a long-term plan to manage risks within these vulnerable groups. Harmonization between the disaster management laws with other related laws is also needed to ensure the substantial protection.

The feedback gathered during the consultation workshop, with valuable inputs from international organisations and experts in regards to internally displaced persons in the context of disaster, will be incorporated into these ongoing studies, will be incorporated into the finalization of the research projects.

For the research in Thailand and about the wider project, please visit our project page here, for updates.

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EVENT [REPORT]: Policy Forum on Resource Politics and the Public Sphere In Southeast Asia: Deliberation, Accountability and Alternatives [Bangkok, 13 December 2018]

In Southeast Asia, access to resources, ranging from land and water, to clean air and energy, are central to livelihoods and wellbeing. The distribution of access to resources reflect state policies and societal values, as well as the inclusiveness and accountability of decision-making processes that link them together and result in their translation into practice. The public sphere is the arena where state policies and societal values interact and are debated, including on potentially contested issues such as access to resources. It includes public venues, and via the mass media and social media.

Civil, political and media freedoms are necessary for a vibrant public sphere, but they are increasingly challenged in Southeast Asia, and in practice accountability occurs only in part. Opportunities to utilize the public sphere for accountability and exploring alternatives vary across Southeast Asia due to diverse political and legal systems. It is important to reflect on the implications of these trends, and explore established and new opportunities to maintain an active public sphere for deliberating public policies and societal values, ensuring accountable decision-making and debating alternative development visions.

To address the challenge and opportunities of the public sphere in Southeast Asia, on 13 December 2018 the Center for Social Development Studies co-organized a policy forum together with the Foundation for Community Educational Media (FCEM), and Heinrich Boell Stiftung (HBS) Southeast Asia Office. Civil society, academics, journalists, lawyers, and other stakeholders joined the event at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University to discuss the trends, opportunities and challenges of the public sphere for ensuring fair resource politics in Southeast Asia.

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The Deputy Dean for Research Affairs of the Faculty of Political Science, Asst. Prof. Dr. Pandit Chanrojanakit, welcomed the participants by highlighting the importance of these kinds of discussions to explore the alternative ways of maintaining public participation in the continuously shrinking civic space in Southeast Asia. He also highlighted the main questions that the policy forum should address, namely: the role of civil society, government and business; an evaluation of the opportunities and challenges in local, national and transnational laws; and the role of mass media and social media.

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The first session, moderated by Jakkrit Sangkamanee from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, explored the trends, opportunities, and challenges related to resource politics and the public sphere in Southeast Asia. Naruemon Thabchumpon from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, reflected on how the public sphere has shaped Thailand’s resource politics. She explained on how democracy has evolved in Thailand with a shrinking public sphere and raised the important question of how civil society movements can respond to these challenges. Asfinawati, the Executive Director of Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), talked about the difficulties organizations in Indonesia are facing due to existing and new laws - such as the blasphemy law and the electronic information and transaction law – that is narrowing the civic space, but she also highlighted the opportunities and strategies of local and traditional communities movements that are occurring across Indonesia.  Benjamin Tay, the President of the People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze), reflected on Singapore’s experience of haze, explaining the impacts of the haze to Singaporean people’s livelihoods and highlighting the importance of community engagement both locally and across borders, as well as raising public awareness through the media. Mong Palatino, the Southeast Asia Regional Director of GlobalVoices, raised the situations of grave concern in the Philippines, particularly for environmental defenders with the targeted killings and surge of violence towards them. He noted how it has also led to a disturbing trend in the region on impunity and silencing the media.

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The second session, moderated by Chantana Banpasirichote from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, discussed transboundary accountability mechanisms and the public sphere. Eang Vuthy, the Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia, shared lessons learned from civil society in Cambodia on land issues, demonstrating how it is possible to transform community-company land conflicts through dialogue, but it is also necessary to empower communities so that they can participate effectively in the process. Premrudee Daoroung from Project Sevana Southeast Asia/Lao Dam Investment Monitor discussed about hydropower projects in Lao and how existing mechanisms in Laos has supported the expansion of the dam business, whilst not ensuring project developer’s accountability. Carl Middleton from the Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University, explored hard-law and soft-law transnational accountability mechanisms and the public sphere in Southeast Asia. He argued that transnational public spheres are created, affirmed and reinforced only through the actions of affected communities, civil society groups, and allied individuals. Commissioner Edmund Bon, Malaysia Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, discussed about the right to development and how it could facilitate public opinion and create the public sphere.

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The third session, moderated by Chiranuch Premchaiporn from the Foundation for Community Educational Media (FCEM), discussed the role of public spaces, mass media and social media in protecting the local commons and community livelihoods. Tran Vi from the Legal Initiatives for Vietnam presented an overview of the impacts of industrial pollution caused by Formosa, a Taiwanese company, that affected Vietnam in 2016. She explained the history and ongoing efforts of civil society, including how Vietnamese and Taiwanese groups have collaborated to assist people in affected areas. Mokh Sobirin, the Executive Director of Desantara Foundation and from the Kendeng Movement in Indonesia, demonstrated how the momentum of local people’s movements, when supported by the urban middle class, can be a vital element for democratization and ensuring an active public sphere in the case of natural resources management in Indonesia. Tay Zar Myo Win, an independent researcher and previously a MAIDS student at Chulalongkorn University, shared lessons from electricity planning in Dawei City, Myanmar. He  concluded that the public sphere can contribute towards the accountability of the government by allowing civil society and the people to communicate with and hold accountable the government even in hybrid governance regimes that are not fully democratic. Vincy Usun from Baram Kini reflected on the anti-dam protest movement in Baram, Serawak, and how the civil society movement was successful in their efforts to stop the Baram Dam with their people’s movement, blockades, talk sessions in the cities, and dialogues sessions between professionals.

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The last session, moderated by Srijula Yongstar from Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia Regional Office explored the alternative spaces for counter discourses. Kyi Phyo from Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEENet) and Aung Myint Tun from Green Rights Organization presented the successful example of how communities and civil society had managed energy, water and forest resources in Danu self-administrative area in Southern Shan, Myanmar at the local level. Charoenkwan Chuntarawichit, a youth member from the Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (SPFT), discussed about access to land and livelihoods in Southern Thailand, comparing the land allocation for Special Economic Zone versus arable land.  Toshi Doi, a Senior Advisor from Mekong Watch, drew lessons from his recent research on Laos’ dominant development narrative that emphasizes on large hydropower dam construction, in contrast to how communities provide alternatives to the dominant narratives through local stories. Lastly, Kirsten Han from New Naratif shared about this new online multi-media platform that aims to provide an alternative media analysis of what is happening regionally in Southeast Asia, and to bring important issues from each country to the attention of regional readers.

For the closing remarks, Mr. Manfred Hornung from Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia, emphasized the importance of protecting the multiple public spaces where different approaches to development can be deliberated and tested, whilst not viewing these different approaches as ‘alternatives’ as that could reduce their perceived value but rather seeing them as viable replacements for the current mainstream development. He acknowledge that there is a shrinking space that can limit the freedom of expression, even though the public space at large should be the space for anyone to express their opinion. Naruemon Thabchumpon from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University ended the forum with a story of how she was inspired by the committed spirit of two women activists who passed away recently, highlighting that in the matter of public sphere, it’s not about waiting for those in authority to grant public space, but how communities and civil society can create these spaces as well. Appreciating that many people had attended the policy forum and actively participated, she shared her optimism that people in Southeast Asia still and will continue to protect spaces to voice their opinions on things that matter to their societies.

The presentations from this public forum can be accessed here. All of the sessions were broadcast on Facebook Live and can also be viewed on the above link.

EVENT [RESOURCES]: Policy Forum on Resource Politics and the Public Sphere In Southeast Asia: Deliberation, Accountability and Alternatives [Bangkok, 13 December 2018]

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Program and List of Panelists:

08.15 - 09.00  Registration

09.00 - 09.15  Welcome remarks by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pandit Chanrojanakit, Deputy Dean for Research Department, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

09.15 - 10.30  Panel 1: Resource Politics and the Public Sphere in Southeast Asia: Trends, Opportunities, Challenges

Chair: Jakkrit Sangkamanee, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

10.30 - 11.00  Coffee break

11.00 - 12.30  Panel 2: Transboundary accountability mechanisms and the public sphere

Chair: Chantana Banpasirichote Wungaeo, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

12.30 - 13.30  Lunch

13.30 - 15.00  Panel 3: Protecting local commons and community livelihoods: Role of public spaces, mass media and social media

Chair: Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Foundation for Community Educational Media

15.00 - 15.30 Coffee Break

15.30 - 16.45 Panel 4: Deliberating alternatives: Spaces for counter discourses

Chair: Srijula Yongstar, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia Regional Office

16.45 - 17.00  Closing Reflections

  • Mr. Manfred Hornung, Director, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia Regional Office

  • Professor Surichai Wun’gaeo, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University

EVENT [REPORT]: Book Launch "Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank's Model Hydropower Project in Laos" [Bangkok, 19 October 2018]

On 19 October 2018, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) hosted a book launch for "Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank's Model Hydropower Project in Laos". The book launch event discussed several topics related to the book's themes, inviting four panelists who also contributed chapters to the book.

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Bruce Shoemaker, the co-editor of the book who is an independent researcher on natural resource conflict issues with a focus on the Mekong region, presented an overview of the book highlighting amongst other issues the impact that Nam Theun 2 has had on biodiversity in the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area. Glenn Hunt, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Bern, Switzerland followed by discussing the livelihoods resettlement program on the Nakai Plateau and analysed it using the five pillars of livelihood restoration program which includes commercial forestry, fisheries, agriculture, livestock and off-farm.

Carl Middleton from Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, discussed the legacy of the Nam Theun 2 project in the discourse on sustainable hydropower and the need to re-frame the debate from sustainable hydropower towards comprehensive forms of energy options assessments. Kanokwan Manorom from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University, discussed the downstream impacts of the Nam Theun 2 project on the Xe Bang Fai river basin, focusing on women and the ethnic minorities living around the area and how the project affected their livelihoods negatively in their everyday life. The book launch was moderated by Kasira Cheeppensook from CSDS.

The shared presentations from this discussion can be accessed here. The discussion was broadcast on Facebook Live and can be viewed at the above link.

EVENT [RESOURCES]: Book Launch "Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank's Model Hydropower Project in Laos" [Bangkok, 19 October 2018]

 
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Program and List of Panelists

Moderated by Kasira Cheeppensook (Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University)

Panelists:

EVENT [RESOURCES]: Understanding the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework and China’s role in the Mekong Region [Bangkok, 3 September 2018]

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Program and List of Panelists:

08.15 - 09.00  Registration

09.00 - 09.15  Welcome remarks by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, Dean of Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

09.15 - 10.45  Session 1: The Belt and Road Initiative:  Geopolitical implications for Asia

Moderator: Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

  • 'Geopolitics and Geoeconomics of the Belt and Road Initiative' by Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS), Chulalongkorn University

  • 'The Belt and Road Initiative: A Perspective from China' by Mr. Li Hong,Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP)

  • 'What does the Belt and Road Initiative mean for US-Thailand relations?' by Benjamin Zawacki, Independent Analyst

  • 'Debt Diplomacy?: The experience of Sri Lanka' by Amantha Perera, Journalist

10.45 - 11.15  Coffee break

11.15 - 12.45  Session 2: Transboundary Water Cooperation – Progress and Challenges

Moderator: Dr. Ukrist Pathmanand, Mekong Research Center, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University  

12.45 - 13.30  Lunch

13.30 - 14.45  Session 3: Rise of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework: Emerging cooperation issues

Moderator: Kamol Sukin, China Dialogue

14.45 - 15.15  Coffee Break

15.15 - 16.45  Session 4: Reporting on the Mekong and China’s role: Trends, challenges and successes for Southeast Asia’s media

Moderator: Sim Kok Eng Amy, Earth Journalism Network

16.45 - 17.00  Closing Reflections

  • Dr. Sam Geall, China Dialogue

  • Professor Surichai Wun’gaeo, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University

EVENT [REPORT]: Policy Forum on Understanding the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework and China's role in the Mekong region [Bangkok, 3 September 2018]

On 3 September 2018, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) and the Faculty of Political Science of Chulalongkorn University hosted a policy forum discussing the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) and China's role in the Mekong region. The forum was co-organized with chinadialogue, The Third Pole, and Earth Journalism Network. Over ninety participants were spending the full day discussing important issues on the cooperation framework and initiatives in Southeast Asia.

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The Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, opened the event with welcoming remarks highlighting how the countries of mainland Southeast Asia are facing a period of rapid change with growing flows of investment from China into a range of projects. He observed that whilst economic growth continues, there remain unresolved challenges on environmental sustainability, social equity, and public participation.

The first session, moderated Dr. Carl Middleton from CSDS, discussed the geopolitical implications of the Belt and Road Initiative for Asia. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak from the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) of Chulalongkorn University raised the question on how the Belt and Road Initiative posed challenges to the existing legal international regimes, while Mr. Li Hong who is the Permanent Representative of China to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) discussed the ideas behind the Belt and Road Initiatives and how it is an open initiative and it is expected to be a joint effort between the countries instead of just centering on China. Legal and Political Analyst Benjamin Zawacki explained the impact of Belt and Road Initiatives for the relations between Thailand and the US, including US proposals for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the crucial role Thailand could be playing once it takes up the ASEAN chair in 2019. Wrapping up the session was Amantha Perera, a journalist from Sri Lanka, who shared the experience of Sri Lanka dealing with investments from China which has led in some cases to a so-called “Debt Trap” when loans failed to perform. He also reminded how environmental impact from investments are rarely being properly assessed and not publicly disclosed.

The second session, moderated by Dr. Ukrist Pathmanand from the Mekong Research Center of Chulalongkorn University, discussed the progress and challenges on transboundary water cooperation. Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat explained about the MRC and how it was increasingly engaging with China, including through the LMC. Dr. John Dore, Lead Water Specialist from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade highlighted how around transboundary water governance on the Mekong River involved not only governments, but multiple actors and coalitions through multi-track diplomacy that influences development directions and decision-making. Meanwhile Supalak Ganjanakhundee from The Nation newspaper reflected on the Xe Pian - Xe Nam Noi disaster and how he expected the existing initiatives in the Mekong Region, including the MRC, to play a bigger part in responding to the disaster.

The third session, moderated by Kamol Sukin from chinadialogue, discussed emerging cooperation issues with the rise of the LMC. Courtney Weatherby from the Stimson Centre raised the issue of energy market shifts. In particular, she addressed how the price of non-hydropower renewables were dropping quickly, there are now innovations in energy transmission, and how China’s current excess hydropower could drastically alter investment needs in the Lower-Mekong region. Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) explained the necessity of sustainable scientific cooperation across the region to address knowledge gaps. She also highlighted how better approaches to knowledge production and need to influence policy, in particular the “co-production of knowledge” between researchers and practioners. Dr. Apichai Sunchindah, an Independent Development Specialist, highlighted the lack of sufficient cooperation between different existing regional frameworks and how ASEAN could help in backing initiatives in the Mekong Region to balance the influence of China.

In the last session, moderated by Sim Kok Eng Amy from Earth Journalism Network, journalists from China, Myanmar, and Vietnam shared the trends, challenges, and successes for Southeast Asia's media on reporting the Mekong and China's role. Wang Yan from News China highlighted journalists' role in reporting regional issues such as helping to facilitate communications between upstream and downstream countries and communities. Zayar Hlaing from Mawkun Magazine in Myanmar shared the story of the Sino-Myanmar pipeline project and its impact on the livelihood of people living along the pipeline. Bui Tien Dung from Vietnam shared about the importance of networking and capacity building for journalists working on environmental and social issues in the Mekong Region to improve the quality of the reporting. This session also highlighted the importance of cooperation between media and research institutes to help inform public debates.

For the closing remarks, Dr. Sam Geall from chinadialogue highlighted the importance of improved communication between China and the Lower Mekong countries and the role that journalists could play. Professor Surichai Wun'gaeo from the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies of Chulalongkorn University ended the forum with a reminder that any regional inter-governmental cooperation needs to be understood from the perspective of the impact on people’s lives, and emphasized the importance of always putting the well-being of people as the priority.

The shared presentations from this discussion can be accessed here. Some of the sessions were broadcast on Facebook Live and can also be viewed on the above link.

EVENT: Salween Studies Research Workshop - The Role of Research for a Sustainable Salween River

Salween River near Hpa-an
participants of the 2018 Salween Studies Workshop (Credit: R. Irven)

participants of the 2018 Salween Studies Workshop (Credit: R. Irven)

The 2018 Salween Studies Research Workshop gathered researchers and experts from around the world on 26 & 27 February at the University of Yangon, Myanmar to discuss the present situation of this important river as well as the future of the basin, its people and natural ecologies. This research workshop was also the final meeting of the Salween Water Governance Project and as such, represents the culmination of three years of research and collaboration among the “Salween University Network.” The workshop was co-hosted by the University of Yangon, the York Centre for Asian Research and CSDS, with the kind support of CGIAR WLE and Australian Aid. Over sixty participants were able to spend two full days diving into important issues and developments all related to the unique Salween River, with topics ranging from the traditional conversations around water management and natural conservation to more contentious presentations on peace/conflict and alternative development planning. The abstract booklet for the entire workshop is available for download here. With great diversity in backgrounds, nationality and expertise, it can be concluded that the wealth of knowledge exchange and learning that took place during this workshop was not only inspiring to all those in attendance, but has set the bar for future gatherings on the topic, aimed at creating real action and planning for Salween River sustainable and inclusive development. 

Prof. Maung Maung Aye

Prof. Maung Maung Aye

In total, 30 individuals presented their research or current work/projects in twelve separate, themed panels, with the addition of important keynote and closing statements. In the opening address by Professor Maung Maung Aye, the seasoned Salween advocate highlighted the importance of research and the scientific process to the past, present and future of the Salween River. Given the political and often violent upheaval that has been ever-present along the river and throughout the country over the past decades, persistent and continued research has the ability to greatly boost the efforts of knowledge transfer, policy change and conservation, which is seen as a major benefit to the millions who depend on the river. He also stated that past conferences and this workshop continue to highlight the need to better link researchers with the decision-making processes that are taking place, which will also allow for more effective collaboration between the many various actors who relate to the river in some way. Professor Maung concluded that those in the room (and outside) need to continue thinking outside of the box to create more inclusive solutions to the problems stemming from river development and most importantly, be sure to include local community perspectives in all policy processes.

Chiang Mai University's Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti kicked off the second day of the workshop with a focus on the states of knowledge and geographies of ignorance of/in the Salween Basin, issues that lie under the surface of the conversation, but have a mighty effect on how decisions are made and who controls what. Dr. Chayan is known throughout the region for his transdisciplinary community based research, so his spirited and inspiring keynote about the importance of analyzing how knowledge is produced, understood and dispersed, in terms of development and conservation on the Salween, was extremely timely and an important addition to the workshop's conversations and vision.

For the closing remarks, Dr. Khin Maung Lwin discussed how research and policy making on the Salween River (and beyond) is related, a topic most in the audience could relate to, as many are active not only in research, but policy change. The question of how the two concepts should be related and work with each other is certainly a complicated one, particularly in Myanmar these days, but as Dr. Khin Maung Lwin pointed out, based off of just the research and work presented during the workshop, the two most certainly compliment each other in many situations, and policy making cannot happen properly without research, and quite often, research is made practical or relevant if it affects policy. The trick with connecting both is to find a happy medium, a balance between two delicate processes, only made even more complicated when looking at many of the issues that face the river and the people who depend on it. 

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EVENT: 2nd International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies

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From 16-18 February 2018, academics, researchers, and civil society convened in Mandalay, Myanmar for the 2nd International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies hosted by the University of Mandalay in conjunction with Chiang Mai University. This three-day event gave participants an opportunity to present their most recent research on all things related to Burma/Myanmar, from the effects of hydropower construction on the country’s rivers and communities, to health trends of Burmese migrants in northern Thailand. For full details on the conference and to download all the abstracts for the presentations detailed below, please follow the link. CSDS Researchers convened three separate panels during the event, and supported Salween fellows and visiting researchers to present on the panels. 

The first CSDS session, convened by Carl Middleton, focused on the sometimes-drastic changes that are now taking place in many of the sites within the Salween Basin as the effects of hydropower and land development transform communities and livelihoods. With a session title of “Local Livelihoods and Change in the Salween Basin,” four researchers from the Salween Fellowship program (Dr. Mar Mar Aye, Dr. Khin Sander Aye, Hnin Wut Yee and Dr. Cherry Aung) presented findings from their research. Satellite imagery was used in Dr. Khin Sander Aye’s research to show how forest and agricultural land cover was changing due to a lack of management and conservation, and the negative impacts this was already causing in community’s local economies and individual livelihoods. Similarly, Dr. Cherry Aung’s research focused on how new developments on the Thanlwin River, and in particular its estuary, were affecting natural ecology and fish populations, where the drastic decline of fish populations (some have even gone extinct) is causing major problems for the people and economies that depend on them. Dr. Mar Mar also used an analysis on how plants are being tapped for their medicinal purpose and how the changes in this practice is effected by development projects and economic improvements in the study area. Fellow Hnin dived deeper into the hydropower development debate by looking specifically at how women are not only impacted by these new plans, but how they are (or are not) included in decision making processes that will have major impacts on their lives and livelihoods.

Joanna Göetz presenting

Joanna Göetz presenting

In the afternoon, Vanessa Lamb convened a session that looked at the cultural and political implications and transformations of the Salween River and the communities that are located on or around it. Civil society member and research fellow John Bright presented on how the traditional understanding of human rights as well as a lesser known frame of cultural rites could be used to increase participation and decision-making power of local communities that are most effected by river developments, concluding with a presentation of the Salween Peace Park concept that has been growing in popularity among many involved in the riparian debate. Similarly, Alec Scott, co-authoring with Carl Middleton, analyzed river developments from a frame that recognizes that there are multiple pathways in the debate, further complicating the not-so-simple debate by bringing in more actors and viewpoints on the benefits or damages created from hydropower developments on the Salween River. Visiting CSDS Research Fellow Joanna Göetz took a step back from the normal conversation to question the current definition of water and scale in the governance conversation. By redefining the debate and understanding of these concepts amongst various actors (both state, government and citizen), she argued that this could have very important implications for future development, most of which would not be positive for the everyday person. Finally, Dr. Vanessa Lamb took a look at flooding, and how various communities, particularly those who practice riverbank gardening, utilize and harness monsoon flooding, shining a new spotlight on how we understand disaster narratives and some uncovered truths behind them.

Mandalay Palace

The last of the sessions organized by CSDS was that of “Development and Transition in Myanmar: Exploring a New Political and Economic Landscape Since 2010,” led by Dr. Nauremon Thabchumpon where panelist delved into discussion about change and future implications of such transformations. This session took on a more formal and technical tone, with panelists looking at specific development projects, laws and finance structures and how they are creating new status quos and relationships in the political and economic sectors. Looking at newly established legal and political reform, Wolfram Schaffer used various case studies to demonstrate his argument that rather than state-building, recent changes in governance and rule-of-law are resulting in greater trans-nationalization between Myanmar and its neighbors, particularly given increased bi-lateral development projects and trade in the region. Nattapon Tantrakoonsap from Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies took the recent case study of the Mandalay-Ruili Road Connection project to highlight Myanmar’s new and growing relationship with China, as well as the fact that this relationship is not static but rather one that continues to change as its border situation, forest policy and special economic policy continues to alter course. MAIDS alumni Zaw Aung also used the country's current development policies and plans to determine how these were resulting in economic transitions both for the post-military government as well as the nation, a transformation which has important implications for the citizens of Myanmar who are eager for change and prosperity. With the return of the civilian government (the first in 50 years), the economic effects of a growing democracy and liberalization of the markets could spell success if enacted correctly, or financial disasters for millions. Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon also focused on the effects of economic changes on the democratic transition and how these trickled down to effect the public sector and the growing civil society movements. Her presentation made the case that these transitions in both the economic and political spheres were resulting in expanded spaces for the public sector and civil society participation in the democratic movement, but not without a sleuth of challenges that comes with such a transformation. Lastly, a presentation by Carl Middleton on work conducted with Naruemon Thabchumpon, Fransiskus Adrian and Tarmedi Surada Chundasutathanakul discussed how the road link project of the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) has sparked and transformed conflict among communities on the project's route, and threatens local livelihoods and ways of traditional life. While power structures continue to grow asymmetrically, mainly benefitting the state and project developers, new spaces are appearing in which the public and civil society can challenge the current narrative. 

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Lastly, in a separate panel that had a focus on Chin State, Dr. Carl Middleton presented his research on water insecurity in Hakha town, Chin State, Myanmar, culminating the over year-long field research that was conducted there. With a growing population and decreasing peace and resources, accessible and clean water for all is of major concern for the region and the town is making due with community water groups and small-scale private activities. The research presented uncovered that structural violence, not just population growth, was a major factor behind the decline of water security in Hakha Town, so matters of justice actually stand to be addressed on top of traditional water governance methods. 

csds researchers (Left to Right: Alec Scott, SAw John & Dr. Mar mar aye) (Credit: R. Irven)

csds researchers (Left to Right: Alec Scott, SAw John & Dr. Mar mar aye) (Credit: R. Irven)

EVENT: "Towards a Creative Diplomacy Agenda: Exploring New Approaches for Contemporary Transboundary Water Governance"

Why Think Tanks and Civil Society Networks Matter

Towards a Creative Diplomacy Agenda:
Exploring New Approaches for Contemporary Transboundary Water Governance

 

As part of a special day of worldwide events, spanning over 100 cities and with 160 organizations involved, Chulalongkorn University (CSDS, Chula Global Network and the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies) hosted a Why Think Tanks Matter event, moderated by Prof. Kasira Cheeppensook, focused on the topic of how civil society can create a stronger diplomacy agenda for transboundary water governance and riparian diplomacy. This series of global events was sparked to help highlight the crucial role think tanks and civil society now play in analyzing, developing and promoting policy solutions, particularly as the rise of populism, nationalism and protectionism increase worldwide, signaling an end to the traditional post-WWII order of politics and society. Particularly here in Southeast Asia where a change in the relationships between the environment, social movements, governments and human rights is creating a new set of security challenges, solutions are required amongst all institutions to cooperate in a more consistent and effective manner. 

World leaders at the LMC

Paired with this important topic were the issues and opportunities that face this region in particular, of perhaps the most precious resource for humankind: water. With the region's rivers serving not only as the lifeblood to millions of people, but also as boundaries to many nations in South and Southeast Asia, the importance of pragmatic and effective diplomacy, not just by governments, but by civil society institutions, will be vital to the success and stability of the region for the foreseeable future. 

As the organizations and institutions tasked with such work have a tough road ahead on these topics, it is imperative that they operate with knowledge and resources that reflect and come from a variety and multiplicity of levels and stakeholders, in order to remain relevant, impactful and fair. This is perhaps the most important accompanying set of discussions that were brought up by almost every panelists, as it is recognized widely that knowledge equates with power, so it is the role of civil society to ensure that this knowledge is used in an innovative and widespread manner to promote sustainable and equitable change for all. Panelists at this event did not mince words and stressed the importance of collaboration and transparency, which are still heavily needed in the work being done at this topics at all levels. 

Panelists (Credit: D. Marksiri)

Panelists (Credit: D. Marksiri)

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, from the Centre for Genocide Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh opened the panel by providing an alternative yet thought provoking take on the meanings and re-contextualizations of both "water" and "rivers," as he supports the idea that this must now be done in order to better understand how we use water and how it is interwoven in all parts of society and daily life. The concepts of using the new methodology of micro-narratives to better tell stories in order to bring about creative hydrodiplomacy were also brought up, adding to the innovation that this series of events hopes to spark throughout civil society. Dr. John Dore from the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Australia challenged the room to think outside of the proverbial box as he reviewed and analysed alternative mechanisms and organizations like the Lancang Mekong Cooperation Framework that are reshaping water policy and governance in the region, fueled by new regional players and an increasingly serious battle for depleting resources. The subsequent three presentations given by Ganesh Pangare and Bushra Nishat  (International Water Association), Dr. Sucharit Koonthanakulwong (UNESCO Chair on Water & Sustainable Development) and Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton (CSDS/Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University) all focused on local case studies where civil society, co-productions of knowledge and innovations are being employed to better engage all members of society in projects focused on hydro-diplomacy and water governance. Lastly Dr. Chariyaway Suntabutra the Former Ambassador of Thailand to Egypt, Kenya and Germany provided his insight on the panel's non-traditional methods compared with the traditional diplomacy approaches observed from his time working for the government, and stressed that these new ways of thinking are indeed vital for our shared success and survival in the future. The wrap-up to the panel given, by Surichai Wun'gaeo, served as both an inspiration and call to action for all present, with emphasis on challenging the current status quo in order to influence those in power and to make real, tangible change, starting from the lowest grassroots level all the way up to the top.  

 

EVENT: Panel Presentation at Social and Sustainability Science in ASEAN Conference

"Water (In)security and Development in Southeast Asia: Inclusions, Exclusions and Transformations"

local researcher roundtable discussion (Credit: R. Irven)

local researcher roundtable discussion (Credit: R. Irven)

On the first day of the Social and Sustainability Science in ASEAN International Conference 2018: Agri-Food Systems, Rural Sustainability and Socioeconomic Transformations in South-east Asia, CSDS organized and presented on a panel centered on conflicts over access to, control over and use of water and natural resources at scales ranging from the interstate to the individual. Four panelists presented their most recent research which focused on case studies from around the region, in Myanmar, Thailand and Lao PDR. The panel was comprised of Dr. Soimart Rungmanee (Puay Ungpakorn School of Development Studies, Thammasart University), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kanokwan Manorom (Department of Social Science, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University), Saw John Bright (Karen Environmental and Social Action Network - KESAN) and Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton (Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University). For more details on the conference please visit our post here or download the official program here

To download the full presentations from the panel, please visit the links below:

PRESENTATION: Sustainable Development, Human Rights and Impact Assessment in ASEAN

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On 29th and 30th October 2017, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) organized a two day workshop in Yangon on a "Rights-Based Approach to Regional Management Strategy for an Effective Environmental Impact Assessment." 

Dr. Carl Middleton of CSDS was invited to offer a presentation titled "Sustainable Development, Human Rights and Impact Assessment in ASEAN", which can be downloaded here.

The key messages of the presentation were as follows:

  • Sustainable development for ASEAN will mean choosing wisely (and steering towards) sustainable “pathways.” Impact Assessments are key tools that can inform and shape inclusive decision-making

  • Impact Assessment is simultaneously a scientific, assessment and political process. A human right based approach ensures that all appropriate knowledge and opinions are considered

  • In a region with strong economic growth and accelerating economic integration, environmental policy must keep up. A human right based approach will help environmental policy keep pace and innovate, for example on community health impact assessment