In the spring of 2018, the students of the Chulalongkorn University Masters in International Development Studies (MAIDS) Innovation for Inclusive Development (IID) course embarked a journey of learning, discovery and community, centered on the organic farming collective of Khlong Yong – Lan Tak Fa located just outside of Bangkok in Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand. While the courses requirements left the options and engagement in their hands, it did require the students to bring solutions or changes to certain issues for a group of people in their community, using the specific design processes that were learned during the semester. The economy of Khlong Yong Community primarily relies on their agricultural outputs but they now also have gardens and livestock and are looking towards sustainable, eco-tourism to bring in more interest and profit to their tight knit community. Using the design thinking approach of "empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test," the group of students, made of up nationals from all over Southeast Asia, engagement the community and created a set of publications and videos that they could use for the uptick of foreign visitors they hope to attract in the coming years.Read More
by Johanna Götz
After an inspiring workshop (Salween Studies Research Workshop - The Role of Research for a Sustainable Salween River) in Yangon, a group of 12 participants hit the road to travel south to Mon State’s capital Mawlamyaine. On our journey we set out to visit the mighty Thanlwin River and its estuary to recapture some of the topics we have been talking and learning about over the last days. A couple of inspiring days of informative meetings and conversations brought us nearer to (and upon) the river, its inhabitants and the discourses surrounding it, and it underscored the interconnectedness between the Thanlwin and the society around it.
Heading out early to travel to Bilugyun Island where one of our participants, Sayarma Cherry Aung, organized several meetings with members of multiple communities for us, our vans carried us over a bridge only opened in mid-2017 but was already marked by heavy contestation around its naming. With the announcement from the Union level to name the bridge after Burman independence leader General Aung San, local communities and activists from Mon State and beyond felt mistreated with their suggestions being undermined . We would come across this bridge again by the end of the day – not only to get back to the city but also as a felt impact by a village in a relative remote location to the bridge.
Besides uncovering historically-rooted underlying tensions between ethnic minorities largely situated along the Salween River and the Bamar-majority in the country, the bridge will – by facilitating easier access – shift life of the so-far largely agriculturally-based communities living on Bilugyun island. While the immediate impact from the bridge shifted certain labor – especially with regard to the previous ferry services – it is also said to have become cheaper and easier to transport goods. With an area similar to the size of Singapore and its strategic position within the Thanlwin Estuary, interests for the future of the island are manifold as we learned from a member of the village steering committee. Besides an interest from the tourism sector in beaches and local handicrafts, amongst others, rumors spread of plans to develop a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and/or a deep-sea port. Thereby opinions on outside-investment differ amongst those people we talked to. While one respondent sees no resistance against a SEZ from local communities and a gain through indirect positive changes as schools and infrastructures (does not expect direct income-related benefits though), another contact person rejects the idea of a SEZ due to expected issues as pollution or social problems despite the possibility of job opportunities and positive changes in infrastructure. This ultimately connects to questions around land titles and reflects the country-wide issues around land rights and investment.
A topic that would follow us throughout the day was the out-migration of mainly young people to find work, mainly in Thailand and Malaysia, and thereby support their communities back home. While this improves the economic situation of the respective families or communities, it does not go without challenges as a respondent from a youth-focused human rights CSO explained to us. Accordingly, most young people find it hard to envision a future for themselves on the island – which is her main reason to engage with the youth directly. Another important part of her work is focused around women empowerment – with traceable effects: in 2015s election more women went to give their vote. There is, however, still a long way to go: land titles have – according to our respondent – mostly the males’ name on them with a case of a widow failing to change it to her name stressing the problem.
On our next stop, we visited a Kayin village’s school and monastery to learn more about the deep connection between the community and the work of the monastery. Besides funding for public infrastructure and needs (e.g. school building), the monastery is an important provider of drinking water from a deep well to the communities. This is especially important during dry season and the periodic water shortage in particular during the months March to May. Despite the obvious challenges, we also learned about how social solidarity plays an important part of everyday life as manifested in ‘water donations’ amongst and within communities.
As a last highlight of the day, we were able to take part in a very engaging conversation with a group of fishers about their day-to-day business but also the challenges they face with a changing river. The next day would demonstrate us what we had learned on increasing sand mining and its impacts on the life of the fishers (especially problems with noise and changes of fish habitats). But impacts can also be seen from implementations that on the first glimpse might seem to support fishers’ ‘sustainability’. While microfinance has been introduced as a way of money lending to support individual fishers’ investment into equipment, self-described challenges indicate that a great share of recipients were not able to pay back their loans due to a “lack of finance management” leading to the need to migrate to Thailand for extra income. Similarly, the time of fishing bans between May and July, introduced by the Department of Fishery to avoid overfishing, represents the most difficult months for local fishers who have to seek other jobs or live off their savings during these dry spills. Nevertheless, fishery was said to have less generational transfer issues than in other parts of society.
Treated with a tasty Mon food dinner, we sank into bed to get ready for the next day and our trip up the Salween River to Hpa-an.
From Mawlamyaine to Hpa-an with the Thanlwin Princess
Early in the day, we set out to board the Thanlwin Princess, which should carry us to yet another capital: Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State. During our day-filling journey we would see the river change. Its material meandering epitomizes the ultimate connection of nature and society. Tracing our moving along the river on our smartphones quickly let us realize the continuous changing of the river and its islands. We were gliding through the water where the aerial image indicated an island and vice versa.
Stopping on one of the many riverine islands taught us how the ‘giving and taking’ of land from the river shapes and shifts life on the river. Where just a few years ago the river was bringing fertile sediments for agriculture, presently parts of the island decline (again), taking away valuable agricultural land. Yet little studied questions arose: How has the river changed in the past and do present changes differ starkly? How does this connect to (changes in) the relationship of nature and society? A visit to the Kawhnat Pagoda Complex allowed us to reflect our impressions so far while being able to marvel at unique shrines and monasteries. Also, we were able to see similar structures of water provision by the monastery to the communities as we have learned the previous day.
Travelling up the Thanlwin River from Mon State, on and across the border to Karen State, what stroke us was the multitude of gravel-extracting boats. Based on the experience of some members of our group this was also considerably more than they had observed in the past. In the afternoon we arrived in Hpa-an at the site where the ‘Strand Road’ development project is currently being implemented to ‘upscale’ the city based on the model of Mawlamyine’s Strand Road. This project is connected to the observed rise in gravel extraction as are other road and ‘concrete’ infrastructure projects in the area which demand a supply of sand and gravel.
Warmly received by University of Hpa-an staff, we spend the rest of the evening exploring local karst caves which house Buddhist memorials, including Sadan Cave, before enjoying a wonderful Karen-style dinner at the Veranda Youth Community Café. Within these intensive and wonderful days, we had learned so much about some of the many voices and faces of the Thanlwin.
 https://www.bnionline.net/en/feature/item/3151-the-bilu-kyun-bridge-controversy.html (Accessed 03/2017)
While heavy rains for the early onset of the monsoon season may be a fact of life for people in Ubon Ratchathani and most parts of northeast Thailand (Issan), the flooding of 2017 proved to be more than most could handle. With some parts of the city facing up to 30 centimeters of water during last year’s floods, over 578,814 households in 12,949 villages were affected and at least 29 people died during the summer deluge (21,330 families and 175,832 rai of agricultural areas alone in Ubon Ratchathani).1 For this reason, on February 6 and 7, 2018, researchers from Chulalongkorn University (CSDS and the Faculty of Architecture), Ubon Ratchathani University and the University of Brighton, United Kingdom traveled to Ubon Ratchathani town, Thailand to begin some preliminary scoping fieldwork to better understand how extensive and regular flooding is being caused, how it is affecting the various communities in the area, and how local officials are handling it and planning for the future. The project in sight aims to employ a transdisciplinary research method, focusing on the grassroots and upward to ensure inclusivity and innovation from the community level. Similarly, the researchers interested in this project come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and areas of specialties. Flooding in this region of Thailand and many others around the country have been increasing as urban expansion and wider watershed changes threaten wetlands which naturally protect and serve as a barrier to deluges, so this proposed project is also equally interested on finding innovative approaches that can act as solutions for all of society.
The first day of visits began with a stakeholder meeting at the local municipal office with a mix of participants who live in the community and those working in government offices associated with flood control and/or prevention. This meeting is a highly important piece of the initial project preparation process in order to ensure proper transdisciplinary research technique which is inclusive of all stakeholders who are affected by flooding or actively involved in working on solutions. The meeting was facilitated by Ubon Ratchathani University’s Dr. Kanokwan Manorom, and gave participants, particularly from the community, a chance to voice some of their experiences about past flooding and fears for the future, as well as constructive inputs in how they see solutions or opportunities to work closer with local government agencies to prevent future loss of land and livelihood. One of the most challenging issues identified was how several large private companies had built flood defense for their retail outlets that redistributed the impacts of flooding to nearby, whilst community members found it difficult to raise their concerns on this. A representative from the Thai Royal Irrigation Department (RID) was also in attendance to connect on a more grassroots level with community members and provide an alternative point of view of the issues from an official, government agency perspective.
On the second day of the trip, a meeting between the research team and the Thai Royal Irrigation Department (RID) was held to learn more about the current information and strategies they are using to implement solutions in flooding areas. Maps, models and projected trends were shared giving the team a more comprehensive view on what information has already been captured, how it is being used to implement procedures and solutions and what gaps are existing that can possibly be filled through this research project. From this meeting and others, it became apparent that there is presently a relatively short-term approach to addressing flooding in the watershed, in particular with regard to impacts on urban areas.
After the morning meeting, the team visited Warinchamrap community that is one of the areas of the city most affected by flooding. Casual discussions with community leaders and members allowed the team to begin getting an initial understanding on how deeply multiple flooding occurrences were impacting their communities, particularly the economy and livelihoods of these communities. We learned how some of the community had been able to work effectively in a network to relocate to a new housing area less vulnerable to flooding and build a community with a strong sense of solidarity in the process. For those remaining in the flooded area, they were keen, to explore how preparation for flood events, in collaboration with the local authorities, could be improved, and how the impacts of flooding could be better managed and compensated. However, regardless of the countless stories of hardships shared, one thing became clear, and that was a high level of resilience and determination has allowed these people to continue their dignity and livelihoods.
While initially difficult to grasp and often equally hard to plan and implement, the foundations and practice of transdisciplinary research have the important ability to create more inclusive and impactful projects, better benefitting the community and transferring knowledge to multiple parties. In a development climate where community engagement, particularly of the most marginalized populations, justice seeking and empowerment have become the goals of practitioners and increasingly, researchers, utilizing a transdisciplinary methodology and mindset can help achieve the goals of both scientists and participants, closing the gap that often exists in such settings. Throughout the training and subsequent field work, I not only found the methodology sessions but also the conversations and debates incredibly insightful for my own work, research and future goals. As someone who has taken up work in the development sector with a particular interest in giving voices to members of society long forgotten, ignored or targeted, I believe employing transdisciplinary methods is something that will more easily allow me to achieve those goals.Read More
The Greater Mekong Forum on Water Food and Energy provides a great chance for participants to exchange their knowledge and views on international rivers in the region. At the most recent Forum in Bangkok, in November 2016, my attention was caught by a presentation titled “From MRC (Mekong River Commission) to LMC (Lancang-Mekong Cooperation) towards a healthy economy and healthy river in Greater Mekong: the core transboundary compensative mechanism for water benefit-sharing.” During the forum, when Professor He Daming from Yunnan University proposed a transboundary compensation mechanism for water benefit-sharing after introducing the Chinese-initiated Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, launched in 2016, participants around my table first understood that after building eight dams on the upper Lancang-Mekong mainstream, China finally admitted those dams caused negative impacts to downstream states and would like to offer certain compensation under the LMC. However, when the presentation reached its end and a short discussion followed, several pairs of eyes widened when they found out that what was being proposed instead was that downstream states might get a bill under the transboundary compensation mechanism if they expected river flow augmentation from the upstream dams during times of drought, or that they had to offer to pay China if they asked for no more dams to be built on the upstream.Read More
What are the existing conditions of ethnic rural women in two villages in the downstream area of the proposed Mong Ton Dam project in relation to men in their day-to-day life? How do women control and get access to resources at home, in the community and the country? What would be the implications for them if the large-scale dam is built?Read More
When we think of innovation or “design thinking”, it’s often in the context of technology. We may think of places such as Silicon Valley as being capitals of innovation, where thinking outside of the box is the key to success. In reality, however, innovation is more prevalent, extending far beyond the tech world, and we now see the process of design thinking being applied in new ways to create positive social impact in developing areas. Some examples include design thinking for natural disaster risk reduction and response, enhancing access to reproductive health and hygiene for women in rural areas, and re-packaging health products to increase its appeal to low-income communities. Design thinking is also being recognized as a way to support more inclusive development, where the intended beneficiaries of development interventions are fully engaged in the process of formulating that intervention.Read More
"...In the water there are fish, in the fields there is rice..." This famous line from the ancient inscription by Rapee Sagarik is still heard nowadays, but in reality, Thai farmers’ way of life has changed from time to time. I had the opportunity to attend the Innovative for Inclusive Development (IID) course for my second trimester in the Chulalongkorn MAIDS program. For the course, I interned at the Ban Chanote, Klong Yong-Lantakfa Community Enterprise, which is located in one of the most fertile areas of the Central region in Nakhon Pathom province.Read More
By Peter, MK31 Fellow
The political transition in present-day Myanmar has brought forward tremendous economic, social, and environmental change and an associated expansion in challenges and opportunities: accelerating capital investment, intensifying resource use and extraction, and heightened conflict partly due to non-inclusive development model.Read More
By Dr. Mar Mar Aye, MK31 Fellow
Traditionally, local communities throughout Myanmar have extensively relied on plants for medicinal and health purposes. In today’s world, this traditional herbal approach to medicine still occupies a central role within many rural communities, given the clear lack of transport and health infrastructure in the region, as well as the remoteness of the villages.Read More
By Zhong Mei, MK31 Fellow
Faced with a large and ever-expanding population, China’s employment issue has been a growing concern for the country and its people. With a plethora of ethnic minorities, Yunnan province has been strongly impacted in terms of employment due to the growing population, economy, and new policies. In addition, disparities between men and women have prominently widened amidst overall unemployment concerns. My research focuses on Liuku Town, Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province, and aims to uncover and analyze employment differences between men and women in a resettlement area village called Xiao Shaba that has been built for the planned Liuku hydropower project.Read More
By Kim, MK31 Fellow
In Myanmar, my whiteness, my gender, and my language flag me as an outsider and in the Shan state they are my anti-passport, preventing me from traveling to the brown-zoned countryside. I set out this past summer wanting to investigate how this contestation of natural resource use along the Salween river effects local communities, but quickly hit barrier after barrier. My hands tied by my identity and my location locked by my foreigner status, I couldn’t figure out how to actually do the research.Read More
By Dr. Khin Sandar Aye, MK31 Fellow
The Thanlwin River Basin is one of the four major watershed areas in Myanmar covering the Shan, Kayah, Kayin and Mon states. In Kayah State, the Thanlwin River flows from North to South and is characterized by a variety of ethnic groups living amongst an extremely bio-diverse environment. Local ethnic people are crucially dependent on this watershed area for their survival, through its importance in terms of food, water, security, fuel and income more generally. In addition, the economy of this area relies to a very large extent on agriculture, forest extraction, and mining, which are all land-intensive activities.Read More
By Saw John Bright, MK31 Fellow
In late February 2013, the Burmese government announced six dam projects that were to be built on the Salween River in Shan, Kayah (Karenni) ,and Karen states. The investment and know-how would come from Chinese and Thai corporations in cooperation with three Burmese corporations. However, the proposed dams are located in active civil war zones, which will make their development and construction even more complicated.Read More
By Nang Shining, MK31 Fellow
In this blog, Nang Shining presents the perspective of a youth researcher who is working with her in her participatory action research-designed fellowship project on women’s engagement and their role in water governance particularly at the proposed Mong Ton hydropower project in Shan State, Myanmar. Nang Shining highlights both some of the initial findings of the field work, and also the lessons learned by the researcher herself.Read More
By Hannah, MK31 Fellow
Chinese politics and civil society can seem both complex and difficult to understand for outsiders. However, my curiosity to better understand what is happening in the world’s rising superpower led me to choose women’s civil society in China as the focus for my fellowship research on water governance on the Salween River (known as the Nu or Nujiang in China).Read More
By Hnin Wut Yee, MK31 Fellow
Wan Hsala is a secluded village along the Wan Hsala Stream housing a little over 30 households with a total population of approximately 100. As one of the small villages along the Salween River in the Eastern Shan state, the majority of its villagers are part of the Shan ethnic minority, while a few are ethnic Lisu and Bamar. Today, these villagers are facing actual and potential negative impacts from a hydropower construction project started about a decade ago. The local villager's limited knowledge of their rights and their lack of participation in the project have caused them to be taken advantage of. It is crucial that a solid framework of national and international standards reinforced with a strict enforcement vehicle is in place before any further project decisions are made.Read More
By Dr. Cherry Aung, MK31 Fellow
As one of the longest trans-boundary rivers and the only major one that still flows freely without dams in Southeast Asia, the Thanlwin river supports the livelihoods of approximately 10 million people. The river hosts rich fisheries and supports fertile farmland vital to the food security of many ethnic minority communities living along the river banks and beyond. Yet, like most rivers in the world, it is facing multiple pressures from both natural and human causes along its length, which could affect the ecosystem and the livelihoods of thousands of local people who depend upon themRead More
By Carl Middleton
n Asia and globally, the water-energy-food nexus has received growing attention from policy makers, researchers, and practitioners. A key premise of ‘the nexus’ is that water use is interdependent with energy and food production. Thus, from a nexus viewpoint, the relationship between water, energy and food should be understood, and if demand increases in one then trade-offs must be managed with the others.Read More
“When ecosystems change, people change.” These five words, spoken by a member of the Rasi Salai community, really capture what we were able to observe during the MAIDS program’s first trimester fieldtrip this year. From November 13 – 15, we traveled to Rasi Salai in Northeastern Thailand to learn about the impact of the contested Rasi Salai irrigation dam on the surrounding community from the Tam Mun Association. The Tam Mun Association is a community organization working to raise awareness about the impacts of the dam on their livelihoods as well as share local traditional knowledge.Read More