Documenting Threats to the Rivers of Southeast Asia: Looking through the Journalist's Lens
The mighty Mekong river flows through five countries in the region – Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand – and is home to millions of people, whose lives are interconnected with the river. In Burma, the Irrawady that flows the length of the country from the north to the south, is more than just a river: it is the soul of the nation. The large island of Borneo is home to three majestic rivers—the Rejang and Kinabatangan in Malaysia and Mahakam in Kalimantan.
But these rivers are at risk: from being biologically dead, to being affected by climate change. The impact is great, not only to the environment but also to the communities living along the rivers. The Lower Mekong Basin for example, is at risk of several climate change impacts, such as increase in mean temperature and higher rainfall. Annual floods, while having its benefits on the ecosystem, also wreak havoc when overall management is not properly done.
According to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), devastating floods in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines, have led to 1,000 deaths and the destruction of millions of homes and livelihoods, while on the economic side, costing Southeast Asia USD6.3 billion in lost production.
In addition, the global impact of climate change is very much a serious issue in the Southeast Asian region. With 2012 as the end date for the protocol to fight global warming, the Kyoto Protocol, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). What future protocols or agreements will replace this and how will it have an impact on the protection of natural resources?
In recent years, plans for the construction of dams along many of these massive rivers have raised environmental concerns. The controversial Myitsone dam on the Irrawady River is one such example.
Though its construction was suspended late 2011, there are concerns as to the damages on the communities living along the river and the environment. Neighbouring countries have also expressed concern with the proposed Xayaburi dam in Laos, but little is being reported within the region on the issue.
Fellows will be encouraged to explore the causes of the problems affecting the rivers and water resources in the region; the impact on the overall environment, the peoples and the economy; and solutions that are being explored, and frame proposal questions such as: