Development comes at a cost, but what that cost is and who bears that cost is not set in stone. China’s rapid economic ascent has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but it has also precipitated severe ecological crises. In many cases, a “pollute first, clean up later” mentality towards industrialization has led to inequitable and unjust outcomes for both people and the environment. The Chinese government’s efforts on maintaining high economic growth rates in an effort to modernize the economy and society has in many cases obscured the scale of damage done to the environment, though the Chinese government and other institutional actors are actively taking steps to mitigate and alleviate issues of environmental degradation. The story of the Nu River, also known as the Salween or the Thanlwin, illustrates how hydropower development on the river was actively contested and resisted by diverse stakeholders, opening up possibilities for other kinds of water resource management and development.Read More
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. 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.Read More
The article explores the process behind the construction of the Chao Phraya Dam, the first World Bank-funded water infrastructure project in Thailand, developed during the 1950s. Employing Andrew Pickering's ‘dance of agency’ concept in examining the process of turning financial and technical assistance into a workable project, I argue that development infrastructure, like the Chao Phraya Dam, provides a space to explore the dialectic operations – accommodation and resistance – of agency and the unstable associations among diverse actors, expertise, institutions, and materials, as well as practices. Recounting the history of the dam in the making, I explore a series of entanglements through different dances of agency, namely initiation, assessment, mobilisation, negotiation, adjustment, confrontation, and settlement. Such a multiplicity of dances inside and in the making of infrastructure reflects the techno-political entanglement encompassing the manifold negotiation and adjustment of conflicting goals, interests, recognition, and cooperation among different agencies. The dam, often portrayed as an engineering achievement of the state, is in fact the result of unanticipated relations and the responses to the temporal emerging forms of practices.Read More
Most studies of major disasters focus on the impacts of the event and the short-term responses. Some evaluate the underlying causes of vulnerability, but few follow-up events years later to evaluate the consequences of early framings of the recovery process. The objective of this study was to improve understanding of the influence that recovery narratives have had on how decisions and actions are undertaken to recover from a disaster, and what influence this has had in turn, on long-term resilience. The study drew on comparisons and insights from four case studies in Southeast Asia: (1) local innovations that led to new policies for living with floods in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam following the 2001 Mekong River floods; (2) livelihood and infrastructure responses in Prey Veng, Cambodia, after the 2001 and 2011 Mekong River floods; (3) the role of the Panglima Laot, a traditional fisheries management institution, in the recovery process following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Aceh province, Indonesia; and (4) the challenges faced by small and medium enterprises in a market area following the 2011 floods in Bangkok, Thailand. This study identified alternative narratives on the purpose and means of ‘recovery’ with implications for who ultimately benefits and who remains at risk. The study also found both formal and informal loss and damage systems were involved in recoveries. The findings of this study are important for improving the performance of loss and damage systems, both existing and planned, and, ultimately, supporting more climate resilient development that is inclusive.Read More
This chapter shows how small-scale farmers and fishers around Tonle Sap Lake have been relatively resilient to flooding. However, changing flooding regimes have created more regular shocks for farmers, whilst declining fish stocks are increasing fishing households vulnerability. These flooding-related shocks and associated vulnerabilities link to the creation of debt for farmers and fishers, which influences the decision to send household members to migrate. Whether the incentive for migration is livelihood diversification or debt repayment, the influence of the Tonle Sap’s flood regime from year to year is significant as it is generative of the viability of farming and fishing livelihoods. Household livelihood viability and associated vulnerabilities, however, is in turn determined by social factors, such as the politics and contestations over access to resources in the village, as well as national level policies on fisheries and farming and transboundary water governance.Read More
Living with Floods in a Mobile Southeast Asia: A Political Ecology of Vulnerability, Migration and Environmental Change
Naruemon Thabchumpon and Narumon Arunotai
Carl Middleton, Rebecca Elmhirst and Supang Chantavanich
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In this chapter, Naruemon Thabchumpon and Narumon Arunotai present empirical research on the impacts of the major flood in 2011 in Thailand on three urban, one semi-urban and three rural communities. The chapter shows that whilst the rural communities are largely adapted to seasonal flooding, the 2011 flood increased vulnerability due to damage of property and livelihoods. In urban areas, communities were not well prepared and therefore were highly vulnerable. The chapter discusses the contentious politics of how vulnerability was exacerbated by government policy to protect core urban and industrial areas, leaving rural and suburban areas flooded. Thabchumpon and Arunotai nd that in the case studies selected the relationship between flooding and mobility is subtle. For example, some, but not all, rural migrants living in urban areas returned to their rural family homes, where living with floods was more feasible.
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Flooding is a common experience in monsoonal regions of Southeast Asia, where diverse flood regimes have for centuries shaped agrarian and fisheries-based livelihoods. However, in recent public discourse, the link between flooding and migration is most often made with regard to catastrophic flood events. News images of frequent and intense weather-related flood events in the region’s low-lying megacity and delta regions in recent years has contributed to a perceived link between extreme environmental events and mass migration through displacement. Yet, this focus on mass displacement frames migration in largely negative terms. Mobility is seen as a failure of adaptation to a changing environment, with both trans-border and internal population mobility to some even regarded as a security issue.Read More
Flooding is a common experience in monsoonal regions of South East Asia, where diverse flood regimes have for centuries shaped agrarian and fisheries-based livelihoods. In this book, we highlight the need for a nuanced understanding of the connections between flooding and migration in Southeast Asia. The book provides key insights from eight empirical case studies in urban and rural areas across Southeast Asia. Overall, through a better understanding of the relationship between migration, vulnerability, resilience and social justice in Southeast Asia, we aim to sensitize flood hazard policy agendas to the complexities of migration and mobility.Read More
Flooding is a common experience in monsoonal regions of South East Asia, where diverse flood regimes have for centuries shaped agrarian and fisheries-based livelihoods. In this policy brief, we respond to the need for a nuanced understanding of the connections between flooding and migration in Southeast Asia. The policy brief summarizes key insights from a research project with eight empirical case studies in urban and rural areas across Southeast Asia. The policy brief outlines the multi-dimensional relationship between migration, vulnerability, resilience and social justice in Southeast Asia, cutting across the local, national and regional level, and offers recommendations on how to sensitize flood hazard policy agendas to the complexities of migration and mobility.Read More
The Mekong Region contains extensive wetlands of great biodiversity that provide a wide range of ecosystems services and that are also important to human well-being (ADB, 2012). Within these wetlands, local communities often practice agroecological farming, including growing rice and vegetables, animal raising, fishing, and collecting non-timber forest products. Unfortunately, many wetlands in the Mekong Region have been degraded or even lost, including due to agricultural intensification, large-scale water infrastructure development, and land use changes associated with urbanization (Hughes, 2017). The loss of wetlands is a threat to regional sustainable development. Furthermore, as wetlands are lost, so too is the local knowledge associated with their ecosystems and how to practice agroecological farming there.Read More
This policy brief aims to highlight and analyze the impact of land cover changes to the socio-economic conditions of four villages in Bawlakhe District, Kayah State and its policy implications in Myanmar. The study area lies in the Thanlwin (Salween) River Basin, home to communities of various ethnic groups including the Kayah, Yintale and Shan, as well as being rich in biodiversity. These local communities heavily depend on this watershed area for most parts of their lives, including food, water, security, fuel and income. The main economy of the people in these areas depends on forest production, which is the major economy in Bawlakhe. Moreover, local people depend on subsistence farming, especially shifting cultivation which is practiced in these areas. Their livelihoods are still closely related to the environment and largely contribute to the local economy. This policy brief shares geographical research to describe the role of forest use in support of livelihoods for the communities in the study area.Declining fish stock and catches within the estuary and out at sea have had deep impacts on community livelihoods, ecology and socio-economics within last ten to forty years. Encouraging the reduction and management of the natural and anthropogenic threats might encourage specific ways to improve the fishery status of the estuary.Read More
The Thanlwin/Salween River originates in China, where it is known as the Nu (angry) River and flows south into Myanmar, then eventually Thailand. It meets with two rivers (namely the Gyine and Attran Rivers) at the point of Mawlamyine and together discharge into the sea (Gulf of Mottama) by two channels (namely the Mawlamyine and Dayebauk Rivers). These four Thanlwin tributaries are experiencing daily tidal intrusion and freshwater discharge, forming estuarine environments and habitats for varieties of fresh, brackish and marine creatures. The term estuary refers to a mixing body of fresh and sea waters. The Mon and Kayin ethnic groups are dominant around the estuary and the riparian communities largely depend on fisheries within the river tributaries as well as those out at sea for their livelihoods and survival.
Declining fish stock and catches within the estuary and out at sea have had deep impacts on community livelihoods, ecology and socio-economics within last ten to forty years. Encouraging the reduction and management of the natural and anthropogenic threats might encourage specific ways to improve the fishery status of the estuary.Read More
Kun Lone township, situated in Lashio District, Northern Shan State, Myanmar is home to various ethnic groups, namely the Kokant, Wa, Kachin, Larr hue, Bamar, and Shan. It is also home to various medicinal plants that are essential for traditional medicine practices. In developing countries, traditional medicine is perceived to be an important part of human health care (WHO, 2002). In Myanmar, health care has even been provided to the people with potent therapies of traditional medicines at Yangon Traditional Medicine Hospital, Mandalay traditional medicine hospital and Monywa Traditional Medicine hospital. Myanmar traditional medicine practitioners aim to give health care services to people in accordance with their traditions. This policy brief documents traditional ethnomedicine use and practices in Kun Lone township and suggests ways that traditional medicine can continue to provide health care benefits for the future.Read More
Myanmar is a developing country trying to follow in the footsteps of its neighboring countries, which are rather more developed than itself. The Myanmar Government wants to harness its natural resources and sees the rivers of the country as a national asset in acquiring regular revenue for the government. The decision to build many mega dams on the major rivers of the country such as the Irrawaddy, Salween and Sittaung rivers is considered a natural resource development. With their high energy needs, Myanmar’s two neighboring countries, China and Thailand, want cheap energy by importing hydropower from Myanmar.Read More
By Carl Middleton, Naruemon Thabchumpon, Van Bawi Lian and Orapan Pratomlek
Hakha town is the capital of Chin State, Myanmar, located in the mountainous Northwest of the country. In recent years, the town’s population has faced growing water insecurity, which has created great hardship for the local population. Meanwhile, a major landslide in the town in July 2015 compounded these challenges, resulting in the resettlement of over 4000 people.
The purpose of the research presented in this report is to understand the underlying factors and dynamics that have produced water insecurity in Hakha town to generate policy recommendations towards attaining sustainable access to water for all.Read More
Gender-related issues figure high on global research and policy agendas, especially economic issues such as employment and development inequity between men and women. This research has identified gaps in employment opportunities between men and women and has also identified the related causes of gender inequity in terms of their employment opportunities. The results of this research culminate to contribute to raising awareness of the affected people in the reservoir resettlement area, particularly focusing on the role of women. The research emphasizes the changes in employment circumstances and prospects after resettlement, and compares the income of people before and after the transition.Read More
Watershed resources in the Shan state of Myanmar provide the base for livelihood security among rural populations, providing food, shelter, and medicine to regions where markets, clinics, and schools are scarce. Taungya, or shifting cultivation, utilizes the landscape as an agricultural mosaic of forest and upland fields.
The Thanlwin River, also known as the Salween, provides fish, crustaceans, and riverbank vegetables as food for village members; gold for currency; water for drinking and household needs; and power for micro-hydro generators.
This policy brief provides recommendations for hydropower developments, focusing particularly on the nexus of gender and hydropower development. In recent years, Myanmar has been moving towards market economy development with a tendency to extract natural resources in order to fuel economic growth. Hydropower is an example of how the government is meeting the demands of economic growth through electricity that benefits some at the expense of others. Gender is just one aspect among many that has been undermined in this process. It is recognized in Myanmar that women are important bearers of culture in society, often with a close relationship with the environment, but they have little recognition in society and have little decision making power when it comes to natural resource managementRead More
Following concerns raised by a coalition of Chinese environmental groups, scientists and policy makers including the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), the 13 proposed mainstream dams on the Nu/Salween River have been under suspension since 2004. It is now very likely that the dam project will be cancelled given the plan’s lack of inclusion in China’s 13th five-year development plan and the announcement of a project to build national parks in the area in 2016. This is a positive development for those concerned about sustainable development in the Mekong Region, as well as an opportunity for concerned citizens, environmentalists and the Chinese authorities to work closer together to build a sustainable future for the Nu River in China as well as its residents upstream and downstream.Read More
By Carl Middleton, Somporn Pengkam, and Areeya Tivasuradej
This chapter illustrates how the Khao Hinsorn community in Thailand have undertaken a CHIA as a means to challenge an expert-led EHIA that backs a proposed coal-fired power station near their community. Through the CHIA, the community successfully revealed analytical shortcomings in the EHIA, and in the process broadened the definition of legitimate knowledge considered within formal state-led decision-making processes. We argue that CHIA has emerged as an important and strategic collective action response in Thailand, which has contributed towards social learning and community empowerment, and thus enabled the contestation of unequal power relations within knowledge production with implications for social justice outcomes.Read More