The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Indigeneous Knowledge in Adapting to Natural Disasters in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on August 1, 2014

Over the past decades, the occurrence of natural hazards has been more frequent and intense, so much so that they have severely impacted communities. With advancements in technology, scientists are able to better predict environmental and climatic changes. However, the application of these technological advancements in rural areas is difficult due to lack of financial and human resources.

In light of this, indigenous knowledge – practical experiences in detecting and responding to the natural disasters that has been handed from generation to generation amongst locals – would be more useful and feasible. Livelihoods of communities living in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle (CLVDTA) are based on agricultural production activities, raising livestock and fishing. These livelihoods are vulnerable to weather and climate change. Thus, the question raised is: how can indigenous knowledge contribute to detecting, adapting and responding to natural disasters as well as to guarantee sustainable livelihoods for local people?

Based on research fieldwork conducted in Kon Tum province of Vietnam, locals were asked the above-mentioned question, through which their answers revealed local strategies in early warning systems in the event of natural hazards. The local people noted that they could predict an incoming flood based on changes in the river, namely if the river water turns to red and white foam appears floating, and the water level fluctuates.

In the case of Ratanakiri province of Cambodia, when asked the same question, local people in Phum Buon commune shared that they could know when the flood come if they saw the tail of Trokut (a type of lizard) change colour (i.e. to black), or the Trech (a type of red ant) nets were located at higher on the tree tops. After identifying these signals, the local people would tell each other to take precautions to minimize the negative effects of natural hazards.

In addition, indigenous knowledge also provides practical experiences to the local people in order to help them to adapt to the changes of surrounding environment. In fact, over many years, local communities and ethnic groups in this region have been faced with these challenges. The local people with their practical experience have to find solutions to adapt to the changes such as planting appropriate crops suitable for drought and flood conditions[i], finding alternative food sources (from farming to fishing when the flood season arrives), or relying on a reciprocal system that provides funds from family and friends for assistance[ii] after suffering natural disasters.

The use of indigenous knowledge in detecting, forecasting and adapting to natural disasters has been always playing important roles, contributing to minimize the impact of natural disasters to local people. This research tries to provide a comprehensive account and suggest suitable solutions to predict and respond to disasters in the CLVDTA in order to minimize its impacts on local people livelihoods.

Notes:

[i] Recently, short-day plants and industrial crops such as beans, cassava… with better resilience to the harsh external conditions have been planted. Moreover, by dint of using indigenous knowledge, local people created organic manures and fertilizers using traditional forest products, manure, and leaves to limit the use of chemical pesticides.

[ii]The role of communal sharing traditional in rebuilding houses, sharing foods, providing basic tools, and so on is one of the most common coping strategies to natural hazards in the region.

 

This blog post has been written by Anh Tuan Nguyen. Anh Tuan is currently a PhD candidate in International Economic Affairs at the Graduate Academy of Social Sciences in Vietnam, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Exacerbated disaster impacts from hydropower development in downstream Vietnam

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on August 1, 2014

Hydropower plays an important role in Vietnam’s energy production, as government development plans set it to contribute to 23.1% of electricity by the year 2020, with hydropower projects in nine river basins across the country. Along the Gia Vu – Thu Bon river in Quang Nam province alone, there are 42 approved hydropower projects, which will contribute 7% electric energy from hydropower of the country.[1] In addition, hydropower also provides additional functions such as stream flow regulation, flood control and agricultural irrigation.[2]

Fieldwork conducted in the downstream commune of Dai An in Dai Loc District, Quang Nam province, however, seems to suggest that the hydropower projects have not achieved the above-mentioned additional functions. In addition to negative implications of hydropower projects such as increasing poverty, limited access to natural resource access and increased gender inequality in downstream communes.

First, rather than control floods, hydropower development amplified the negative impacts downstream area during the flood season. According to Quang Nam Provincial People’s Committee (PPC)’s report on the 2013 floods, 92000 households were affected, 11600 ha of agricultural land was inundated, with damage estimated at 1000 billion Dong. Dai Loc district was the hardest hit with damage totaling to 37 billion Dong and 80% houses flooded. Residents in Dai An commune noted that they have lost as much as half of the value of their assets, and livelihood activities had to cease for about one month during flood season. The impact of the floods was also exacerbated by water discharged from hydropowers, and late emergency warnings given to locals, who did not have enough time to prepare for the impending flood.

Second, hydropower development increases the likelihood of drought. 25000 ha of agricultural land along Gia Vu – Thu Bon river experience water scarcity thus making it difficult for farmers to cultivate. In 2013, drought as a result of the dams from hydropower development reduced crop productivity by 10% and raiseed 15% of cost for crop cultivation. In 2014, Quang Nam PPC estimated a loss of 30% of crop productivity if hydropowers continue keeps water in the reservoir in July.

Third, increased salination results in less water availability for downstream communities’ agricultural and household use. Salinitation occurred for 35 days in May to June 2014 in a downstream area of Gia Vu Thu Bon river, which supplies water for 80% people in Da Nang province.

Based on interviews with communities, three causes were cited for the above-mentioned situation – natural disasters, climate change and hydropower development on the Gia Vu-Thu Bon river. Moreover, many most interviewees agreed that drought and flood were made worse by the hydropower projects. The lost of forestland as a result of constructing hydropower plants coupled with the plant’s ineffective water management systems lead to the increased occurance of floods and drought.

In short, while the impacts of hydropower development on downstream areas are increasingly complex and destructive, it is still considered an important solution for meeting Vietnam’s energy needs. In order to reduce damage in downstream area, investors in hydropower projects should come to an agreement with other stakeholders on the need to supplement reforestation projects and ensure water management processes – including compensation schemes – that do not jeapoardise the wellbeing of downstream communities.

[1] Hoach Nguyen Huy, 2012, Hydropower in Vietnam: status quo and development plan.

[2] WCD. (2000). A new framework for decision-marking.

This blog post has been written by Pham Thi Nhung. Nhung is a lecturer at the Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry , and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Answering the Borneo Development Challenge with Green Strategies

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 31, 2014

Borneo’s tropical rainforest has come into the international spotlight since the reduction of tropical deforestation is seen as a means of stabilising global greenhouse gas emissions. The commitment under international conventions and agreements related to sustainable management and conservation of the rainforest have been made. What is central in these agreements is that development plans in improving the socio-economic well-being of communities in the subregion should not jeopardise the existence of Borneo rainforest as one of world’s most biodiversity regions.

Economic growth in developing countries is often heavily dependent on natural resource extraction. Likewise, the BIMP-EAGA subregion which is dominated by resource-based activities and the agricultural sector has become amongst the least industrialised area within its respective countries. In subregional areas, deterioration of natural resources as a result of irresponsible economic activities is compounded by the other challenges facing by the member countries such as population growth, urbanization, infrastructure deficits and the impacts of climate change. The problematic situation can be done with simultaneously enhancing productivity and efficiency of natural resources used through more efficient water, energy and transport infrastructure utilization. Green growth policies can therefore be considered an investment, in which benefits will be received in the future.

It was previously noted that decisions on land use and transport infrastructure systems are the most striking example of how regional integration and economic growth can be directly contradict with nature conservation as well as affect density in city or region. Both in the ​​conservation zones and urban areas, transport infrastructure and land use planning should be able to improve well-being and productivity, which are critical for the development, also provide environmental advantages. In green growth strategies, infrastructure policies are a core issue because of its great potential to regret nor benefit in the future.

In conservation zones, land use planning system based on identification and protection of natural areas with substantial biodiversity values can be a tool to direct and to control the impacts of development on these areas. In city planning process, green spaces are integrated with roads and transit facilities along with high density land use planning which bring people closer to public transportation.

Green infrastructure is thus a potential way of conserving the environment by addressing the ecological and social impacts of urban sprawl, as well as fragmentation and accelerated consumption of open land. Exploring green strategies as an approach to economic development in the areas surrounding Borneo’s tropical rainforest is part of my study under tbe ASEAN-Canada Research Fellowship.

This blog post has been written by Paramitha Yanindraputri. Paramitha is currently Research Coordinator for Skills to Succeed Indonesia in Save the Children, and Research Fellow in Urban Development Studies at the University of Indonesia, as well as Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

When the Forest is depleted: Resource Conservation in Border Regions

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 31, 2014

Transboundary cooperation in West Kalimantan and Sarawak has materialized by involving national governments, donor agencies and NGOs. Transboundary cooperation in Borneo Island has existed, taking forms on bilateral agreement between Indonesia and Malaysia. The cooperation scheme has involved not only the two countries but also NGOs such as the WWF and ITTO as a donor agency. The cooperation was institutionalized as the Heart of Borneo initiative. Despite all the efforts, the progress has been slow and the impact is also limited.

Proponents of transborder natural resource governance initiatives believe that the cooperation is not only important for the purposes of natural conservation but also in contributing to conflict resolution and borderland development. However, managing resources in border regions are faced with multiple challenges. Contesting interests among parties, institutional barriers, and social-economic conditions are some factors that could hinder the progress.

Although there is an increasing level of local awareness on resource conservation, local governments still perceive conservation efforts as a way of restricting development initiatives.[1] Local governments believe that the land is better used for purposes other than conservation, such as plantations, which can contribute to the local government’s revenue. Limited institutional capacity and contestation between local and central government are some other potential factors that hamper the conservation efforts.

Despite all the challenges, the prospects of resource conservation in border areas is favourable. The development of ecotourism to promote economic and social developments is promising. Kapuas Hulu district, for instance, initiated an ecotourism roadmap and tourism board as one of the strategies bridging conservation and development’s need (generating local income). The opening of the Badau border in 2012 is expected to not only strengthen ecotourism in the region but also improve the cooperation between Indonesia and Malaysia. [2]

International initiatives continue to be developed in the area. The institutionalization of cooperation   such as Heart of Borneo (HoB), BIMP EAGA and Sosek Malindo are some of the initiatives which are trying to merge conservation with the development efforts. Those institutions will provide support and make the collective efforts and governance become more viable.

Empirical data on the challenges and opportunities in border areas are not only imperative to strengthen any conservation work but also can be potentially used to identify the limit of governing transborder area. This research clarifies that to make the conservation work in the border more effective, attention need to be paid on local political, economic and institutional dynamic, as well as on how different interests compete and negotiate.

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[1] In several areas in West Kalimantan, World Wild Fund (WWF) initiates watershed forum which involves forest restoration, capacity building and sustainable of resource use.

[2] Due to the opening of the border, human and capital mobility is increasing. This open a chance to increase interaction and economic cooperation between the two countries. See here for more information.

This blog post has been written by Ali Muhyidin.  Ali is a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo, associate lecturer at University of Indonesia and Binus University, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

The façade of ecotourism: issues with tourism promotion in Karimunjawa National Park

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 22, 2014

Karimunjawa National Park is very unique for two key reasons: its beautiful marine attractions and close proximity to the densely populated island of Java. Having been heavily overfished during the past few decades, park authorities are now making efforts to protect and rehabilitate the park’s marine resources. As part of these efforts, tourism is being promoted as an alternative means for local residents to earn a living as opposed to other livelihood activities that are more resources intensive such as fishing. Working together with the National Park Authority, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been investing in community-based programs that aim to build tourism enterprises.

However, our investigations during our field research for the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership has revealed fundamental issues with the promotion of tourism as a sustainable alternative livelihood in Karimunjawa.

On the one hand, tourism promotion in the park has been extremely successful when we consider the dramatic of increase of visitors over the past few years. However, on the other hand, the chaotic and uncontrolled development of tourism has detrimental impacts on the environment and poses new conservation issues for park managers, for which they have yet to find any concrete solutions.

To illustrate this enormous increase of visitors, in 2008 the total number of tourist to the park amounted to approximately 13,000 for the entire year, while as in 2014 the same amount of visitors have been reported flow into the park during a single week in the high season. This enormous boom in tourism is undoubtedly good for the local economy, but at what environmental cost?

During our research in Karimunjawa National Park we found that the regulatory framework for tourism in the region is severely lacking. As one WCS employee points out, the regional Department of Tourism is only concerned with the promotion and development of tourism and doesn’t offer any regulations for its sustainable management. Nationally, the potential harmful environmental impacts from tourism are regulated under Law No. 32 – 2009 on the Protection of the Environment. However, since Indonesia’s era of decentralization, the implementation and enforcement of this law and others related to sustainable tourism falls to the provincial, regional and municipal governments that are often unprepared to take on such a complicated task. What further exacerbates the problem is the lack of cooperation between various government offices throughout all levels of government. This can lead to clashes of interests between different institutions and often produces gaps and overlaps in their activities.

In addition, there is insufficient ecotourism and conservation training offered to people working in the tourism trade. It is not uncommon to see tour guides standing on coral or boat drivers throwing garbage directly it the sea while on the job. Such a fundamental lack of environmental awareness and the lack of agreed upon best practices for tourism workers clearly illustrate that Karimunjawa currently doesn’t meet any kind of ecotourism standard.

A tour guide with his client stand on top of an already damaged piece of coral in a popular snorkeling spot off Menjangan Kecil, Karimunjawa National Park

A tour guide with his client stand on top of an already damaged piece of coral in a popular snorkeling spot off Menjangan Kecil, Karimunjawa National Park

These issues highlight the importance of providing better support mechanisms for ecotourism if any semblance of sustainability is to be reached. Management should proactively put in place proper regulatory frameworks and education programs before investing in the full on promotion of tourism. Otherwise, the only kind of tourism that risks developing is mass tourism along with its severe environmental impacts.

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This blog post has been written by Gilles Maillet. Gilles is a GIS Specialist at Yarmouth Active Transportation, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Upstream-Downstream Water Use and Flows

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 22, 2014

In my research on water management in upstream and downstream communities along the Mekong Delta, two sites over 120 kilometres from each other were chosen as case studies – Dong Thap and Tra Vinh Provinces of Vietnam. The upstream Dong Thap Province is prone to floods, pollution and extension (agriculture development), while downstream Tra Vinh Province, often experiences saltwater intrusion, pollution, and extension.

Local farmers living downstream are faced with limited water resources due to reduced water supply from upstream. As a result of various development activities such as rice and vegetable cultivation, aquaculture, and industrialisation, the water flow downstream is much slower. In particular, the development ofof irrigation systems in upstream areas retains much of the water for irrigating the farmlands. For upstream communities, water supply is perceived to be abundant given the natural conditions that make it easily available.

In the contrast, downstream communities are faced with water scarcity, in particular, increasing salinity of water surrounding communities, which has resulted in agricultural farmlands being protected by sluice gates. Fresh water is only accessed from upstream via digging and dredging the canals. Even though the area is protected, local communities are suspicious of the water quality from the canals as there has been a case of salinity due to human activities. Moreover, the conflict between local rice and aquaculture farmers emerges as a result of both sides requiring water of varying quality for their respective activities. A mixing of these two types of water quality, results in the water being polluted and unusable for either side. This problem is particularly acute for downstream communities as they are dependent on the water flow from upstream. Polluted water upstream will therefore mean polluted water downstream.

 The two sites of the research are called , which refers to community settlements located on higher ground than its surrounding areas – a difference of about 1- 2 meters. This geographical difference makes it difficult for communities to develop a proper irrigation system, and therefore resulting in limited availability of water for both household and agricultural use.

 The research also revealed how the implications of existing water management practices could also exacerbate ethnic and gender disparities. In terms of ethnic compositions, Kinh people are predominantly found in the upstream areas while Khmer people are largely located downstream. Poor and near poor households are found downstream, where the ratio of male and female is 4.5:5.5. Research also showed thatwomen were more active water users than men as their time at home and their role in their family are more than men, Poor and near poor households were the most disadvantaged in having access to clean water, as they are unable to afford it. It seems Khmer Ethnic Group is priority water users for clean water and sanitation program in order to according to national policy (Ethnic Group and Poor Group are priority to access clean water for free in the community).

This blog post has been written by Ly Quoc Dang. He is currently Researcher and Teaching Assistant at Mekong Delta Development Research Institute, Can Tho University, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Culprit or Victim? Conflicting Narratives on Indonesian Palm Oil Industry

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 15, 2014

This blog discusses the significance and impact of competing narratives in shaping Indonesian policies on palm oil. Narratives are central to policy making processes. Hence, to understand a particular policy making process, it is important to understand the narratives employed by the actors involved. Policy debates are not only an interplay between arguments or facts, but a contest between discursive frameworks or stories, as illustrated in various works by scholars (such as Jacobs and Sobieraj, Bedsworth, Lowenthal and Kastenberg and Birdgman and Barry).

Fieldwork research in Indonesia discovered two conflicting narratives in the palm oil industry-related policy making process. The first, constructed byNGOs, is the “Source of Destruction” narrative. Here, the palm oil industry is portrayed as the source of destruction, and is based on Indonesia’s palm oil industry rapid expansion due to rising demands in 2000s, which led to environmental degradation and adverse social impacts. According to this narrative, efforts to halt further destruction were partly successful, but not enough. Corrupt practices amongst companies and government officials made it difficult to push real reform. The narrative concludes with the call for action to push more reform, such as by reviewing the existing plantation permits of palm oil companies.

The second narrative, the “Trade War” narrative, was constructed by palm oil companies and their association (GAPKI) and views Indonesia’s palm oil industry as a target of trade wars waged by developed countries. Due to oil palm’s competitive value in the 2000s, it overtook other vegetable oils in the market. Responding to this development, according to this narrative, developed countries, who are producers of these less competitive vegetable oils, began a black campaign against palm oil to regain their domination in the vegetable oil market. This was done via controlling NGOs, enacting non-tarrif barriers to their market, and putting pressure on the government of Indonesia. The efforts by the developed countries are almost successful, marked by the moratorium and the President’s visit to the Greenpeace’s ship. The narrative conludes with a call that it is the time for Indonesian people to fight back.

Workshop for Journalists and Students on “Correcting the Negative Perceptions on Indonesia’s Palm Oil Industry.”The nationalist attributes (e.g. the national hat or “peci” with red and white pin) and the nationalist slogans during the talk are not a coincidence.

Workshop for Journalists and Students on “Correcting the Negative Perceptions on Indonesia’s Palm Oil Industry.”The nationalist attributes (e.g. the national hat or “peci” with red and white pin) and the nationalist slogans during the talk are not a coincidence.

In terms of the impact on policy making processes, both narratives have been partly successful in shaping the Indonesian government’s policies on palm oil. The “Source of Destruction” narrative colored the introduction of the Law on the Prevention and Elimination of Forest Destruction and the moratorium for forest conversion in 2011 (Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011), which is extended until 2015 (Presidential Instruction No. 6/2013). However, the “Trade War” narrative was also successful in halting important demands from the NGOs, such as reviews on existing concession permits. The “Trade War” narrative also contributed to the establishment of the inter-ministerial task force against the anti-palm oil black campaign and the inclusion of palm oil in Indonesia’s economic diplomacy.

By focusing on the narratives shaping the policy making process on palm oil in Indonesia, this research seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding on the dynamics surrounding the process, which is significant to ASEAN and Canada. For ASEAN, especially Indonesia and Malaysia, palm oil is an important export commodity. For Canada, as a producer of canola oil and soybean oil, it is a rival for palm oil producers in the global vegetable oil market. In this context, understanding the competing narratives in Indoensian’s palm oil industry (shaping various related policies, including Indonesia’s economic diplomacy) is important to understand the relationship between Indonesia, a major actor in ASEAN, and Canada.

This blog post has been written by Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad.  Shofwan is Executive Secretary of the ASEAN Study Center and lecturer in the Department of International Relations of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Indonesia. He is also Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Utilizing Resources for Livelihoods: Constraints and Opportunities

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 15, 2014

Livelihood systems of the two villages more or less depend on land and forest resources. Farmers in Tualzaang mainly focus on land for both food and cash crops whereas those in Ngalzaang mainly utilize lands for growing food crops and forests for earning cash income. The farming system in Tualzaang is semi-permanent while farmers in Ngalzaang employ traditional shifting cultivation. As a result, household food sufficiency level is significantly higher in Tualzaang (3.9 months) than in Ngalzaang (2.3 months). Similar regard with less significance applies to mean household income, i.e. 780,000kyats in Tualzaang and 710,000kyats in Ngalzaang (1USD=965kyats) for the year 2013. While farmers in both villages are not food-sufficient through their own production, farmers in Tualzaang gain a significantly higher level of food sufficiency and a slightly higher level of household income than do farmers in Ngalzaang.

Another finding indicates that livelihood systems in Tualzaang are more productive and sustainable since farmers employ crop rotation by intercropping maize with various legumes. This enables them to gain maize yield of 11.6 baskets per acre (1 basket=33.3kg) even on repeated farm lands without fertilizer inputs compared with the 6.8 baskets per acre harvested on newly cultivated lands in Ngalzaang. Per acre yield rates of other major crops as upland rice (15.5 baskets), groundnut (17.6 baskets), and potato (318.2kg) also are very low compared with those obtained in other parts of the world. On the contrary, farmers in Ngalzaang practice shifting cultivation primarily because arable land areas are still abundant. They also see that cultivation on repeated lands attracts more weeds and produces lower yield unless fertilizer is applied. For practicing shifting cultivation by felling trees does not always guarantee food sufficiency, farmers in Ngalzaang inevitably employ certain coping strategies that depend again on forest products, of which many increasingly disappears.

The study also finds that there is limited innovation or value addition in linking resources to livelihoods. Farmers know well that early weeding (i.e. during September-October) is the best to capture the effects of conservation farming that enhances soil fertility, conserves moisture, reduces weed infestation, and maintains higher yield. This suggests that farmers can fulfill the key features of conservation farming if they start weeding about 4-6 months earlier. Similar regards apply to forest products that can fetch higher prices if processed to meet market demand. Again, most cultivated lands in both villages are freehold and most forest products in Ngalzaang derive from reserved forests. Unfortunately, most villagers do not know about the related laws (i.e. land law, forest law, etc.) regulating the use and/or extraction of resources. Their access to resources may thus become limited unless villagers take proper protection measures (certificate, license, etc.).

Finally, this study finds the need of innovation in utilizing resources for livelihoods. Yet, there is a crucial need of changes as to the way of thinking and behavior of villagers before any innovation in resource use takes place. Without those changes being ensured, every investment made for linking resources to livelihoods will surely get in vain.

 

This blog post has been written by Cin Khan En Do Pau (John).  John is Actions Coordination Director for the Center for Resources Mobilization, Research Fellow at RCSD-Chiang Mai University (2012–13) and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Valuing the environment in contested peripheries

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 15, 2014

In a previous entry, I wrote about the planned hydro dams integral to ASEAN’s long-term economic and energy strategies. The size of the dam cascade to be built on the Salween River will be the first of its kind globally, justifying close scrutiny of resulting impacts on natural resources, ecosystems and communities. Systematically studying these environmental impacts and related risks can inform local discourse on human and environmental security in the face of “economic development” (a topic of much academic study, particularly “development” impacts on marginalized groups, i.e. Ferguson 2009,).

The Total Economic Value (TEV) framework places monetary value on changes in environmental features, including those that cannot be traded in markets (such as aesthetic value). TEV is widely accepted as a tool for estimating environmental values compatible with Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA), a component of the Canadian government’s suite of regulatory decision-making tools.[1] A notable outcome of TEV is a list of economic and non-economic environmental features of relative importance for the well-being of communities affected by the change(s). Directly eliciting these features from community members provides valuable evidence on which to inform public debate and conceptualize losses and damages to groups most impacted by the project.

In early June 2014, I spoke with village leaders upstream from the Hat Gyi site about their concerns for the environment and their livelihood. Transparent information about the dam’s effects on local ecosystems and environmental risks has been limited[2]; in its latest consultations with these villages, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) “promised only two of our houses would flood.”[3] Distrustful of EGAT’s claim, village leaders fear damages will exceed EGAT’s predictions. Leaders are concerned about flooding of village houses and crops; any resettlement process could be complicated by legal issues. For instance, government-owned parklands entirely surround existing homes.

Worse, relocation to arable land is not guaranteed, putting villagers’ agriculturally-focused livelihoods at risk. Fish navigation could be interrupted, despite dam designs for a fish ladder and conclusions from a preliminary RFID tagging study near the site concluding otherwise (arguably, neither method is efficient as a fishway management technique[4]). Tourism, which brings income through hospitality services, food and handicraft sales, may suffer if the main port floods.

Further complicating the issue is Thailand and Myanmar’s discouraging record compensation, resettlement and (in Myanmar’s case in particular) human rights abuses, for investment projects. Villagers are also disappointed at a lack of meaningful input in public consultations about the Hat Gyi project.[5] The dam site itself is in a war zone, rendering it effectively inaccessible; EGAT has limited its presence at the site after the death of one of its workers near the dam site.

Eliciting environmental values for losses near the Hat Gyi site in isolation seems short-sighted in a context of deep political nuances and limited transparency. We should seek to modify economic methods to capture these intricacies and to create a framework for human and environmental security.

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[1] Treasury Board Secretariat (2007) The Canadian Cost-Benefit Analysis Guide: Regulatory Proposals. www.tbs-sct.gc.ca

[2] EGAT and Chulalongkorn’s 2007 Environmental Impact Assessment lacks a full sensitivity analyses or full disclosure on compensation calculations. See: Hutgyu Hydropower Project Environmental Impact Assessment, Environmental Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, 2007

[3] Interview, Sob Moei district, June 2, 2014

[4] Cooke, S.J. and Hinch, S.G (2013) Improving the reliability of fishway attraction and fishway passage efficiency estimates to inform fishway engineering, science and practice. Ecological Engineering 58 (2013) 123-132.

[5] Interview, Sob Moei district, June 2 2014

 

This blog post has been written by Liliana Camacho. Liliana is an economist and policy advisor with the federal Department of Environment in Canada, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

What role for civil society in imagining a “borderless ASEAN”?

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 11, 2014

With continued calls and planning for a “borderless ASEAN” in 2015,[1] existing cross-border or transboundary institutions and policies need to be examined. I have been particularly concerned with the processes of evaluating the environmental and social impacts of existing cross-border development. This matters because sustainable development and growth in the region require the capacity to evaluate and respond to impacts that cross national borders. The major challenge I identify in preliminary analysis is the inclusion and recognition of cross-border civil society networks and their potential contributions to imagining a more sustainable, borderless ASEAN.

Regarding governance and assessment of cross-border natural resources, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) is an important institution to examine within Southeast Asia. It the only transboundary river basin commission in the region.[2]

However, recent incidents involving the proposed Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos have called into question the MRC’s legitimacy in the region. The Xayaburi project is being pursued by the Laos government even as a cross-border Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the 12 Hydropower Projects on the Mainstream Mekong commissioned by the MRC Secretariat and member governments concluded that the project (as part of the series of mainstream dams) poses a high risk to people and ecologies of the basin.[3] The 2010 SEA also report states that a moratorium on the mainstream dam projects is needed in order to better understand the risks posed to lower Mekong countries.

But, what is the role for civil society in this process of cross-border decision-making and assessment?

As part of my research, I attended the most recent MRC International Workshop and the 2nd MRC Summit in early April 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Four years on from the landmark SEA, the mainstream dams were still at the forefront of concerns; although these concerns were voiced largely outside the official meeting, for instance, in the press or at parallel meetings.

As an observer, the lack of discussion and lack of representation of people affected by the proposed developments in the basin at the MRC Conference and MRC Summit was disconcerting. Outside the MRC meetings, the Save the Mekong Coalition, representing a broad group of individuals and organizations, held a parallel meeting which focused on civil society’s role and also highlighted their exclusion from the Summit. In a letter sent to regional prime ministers, the coalition called for a halt to development, and noted that “the MRC has failed to define its role and facilitate inclusive and accountable decision-making.”[4]

Lack of involvement by affected people or engagement with civil society in the region, formal or otherwise, exemplifies one of the most pressing challenges for proponents of both “borderless ASEAN” and sustainable regional growth in the coming years. Alternatively, this gap represents a significant opportunity for regional intuitions to recognize regional civil society’s ongoing work to meaningful engage and imagine a more sustainable regional development.

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[1]According to ASEAN, “borderless ASEAN 2015” hinges on establishing the the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) for improved regional economic integration, “with the following key characteristics: (a) a single market and production base, (b) a highly competitive economic region, (c) a region of equitable economic development, and (d) a region fully integrated into the global economy.” http://www.asean.org/communities/asean-economic-community

[2]Since 2001 the MRC includes ASEAN as a partner organization.

[3] ICEM. 2010. MRC Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream. Hanoi, Viet Nam. www.mrcmekong.org

[4]See letter dated 3 April 2014 at www.savethemekong.org

This blog post has been written by Vanessa Lamb. Vanessa is a Post-doctoral Associate at the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) in Toronto, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Joint Crediting Mechanism: A More Pragmatic Approach to Developing Emerging Carbon Markets

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 11, 2014

Beyond developing voluntary Emissions Trading Schemes (ETS), Indonesia and Thailand are simultaneously exploring other market readiness initiatives to address the multifarious challenges that lay ahead on the road to successful carbon markets.[1] The Joint Crediting Mechanism/Bilateral Offset Credit Mechanism (JCM/BOCM), by which the Japanese government helps hosting developing countries set up carbon offset projects whose credits can be applied towards GHG reduction targets in Japan, is emerging as a more pragmatic – and increasingly appealing – approach to developing nascent carbon markets in Indonesia and potentially later in Thailand.

Through the JCM, Japan contributes funding and technical assistance to approved carbon-offsetting projects in eleven developing countries on the condition that these projects will generate emissions credits for the Japanese market.[2] In other words, the JCM extends from the lessons of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)to not only help hosting developing countries invest in carbon reduction projects that can generate emissions credits to supply the carbon market, but even guarantees that market by ensuring demand.

According to the JCM Secretariat in Jakarta, a key strength of the JCM is that it is simpler to implement than any other carbon market mechanism in the sense that it has a lower criteria for qualifying projects. As of 2014, Indonesia’s JCM program has already begun piloting feasibility studies, implementation projects and supporting programs with the expectation that the JCM will be in full force in 2015. The private sector is expected to be the main actors of the JCM.

Thailand is also interested in potentially joining the JCM. An interview with a Senior Policy Officer at the Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization (TGO), which is responsible for developing the voluntary ETS, reveals that political disruptions in the country have been a cause of delay in the signing of the JCM agreement with Japan.

Quite significantly, the JCM appears to be gaining traction in Indonesia as an alternative approach to contributing to the ultimate UNFCCC objective of facilitating global emissions reductions, but in a more straight-forward bilateral cooperation that supports the full-cycle supply and demand flow of carbon credits between two countries. Compared to the EU ETS, which has witnessed multiple carbon market stakeholders oversupply the European market with low-priced credits, or the CDM which has imposed high qualifying criteria that developing countries have struggled to meet, a relatively simpler two-way crediting mechanism such as the JCM has high potential to wedge its influence on emerging carbon markets by helping developing countries build up capacity where autonomous emissions trading may not yet be technically or economically viable.

Of the ten ASEAN member states, four are already signatories to the JCM: Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. If Thailand joins too, half of ASEAN will be building their carbon markets with assistance from Japan. Closer scrutiny of the development of the JCM and its appeal to Indonesia and Thailand in my research fieldwork reveals a more promising uptake of this bilateral crediting mechanism relative to the slower-coming ETS in these two countries as well as across the ASEAN region more broadly.

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[1]In a previous blog post titled “Preparing for Emissions Trading Schemes in Indonesia and Thailand: Progress and Challenges”, I suggest that in order to developing well-functioning carbon markets, Indonesia and Thailand must overcome a number of hurdles including but not limited to: restoring industry interest in carbon markets, garnering sufficient political support, bolstering the regulatory environment, and enhancing technical capacity to conduct rigorous MRV.

[2] As of June 2014, the 11 partner developing countries involved in the Japan-led JCM are: Mongolia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Laos, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Maldives, Vietnam, Palau and Cambodia.

This blog post has been written by Shelly Hsieh. Shelly is a post-graduate Research Fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Gains & Losses of Hydropower Development for Resettled Communities

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 13, 2014

Hydropower development is a major part of Vietnam’s economic development strategy. To date, Vietnam has built approximately 450 hydropower plants dams out of which 268 are already in operation. 40 percent of these hydropower plants are allocated in the central and highland regions of the country.

That said however, there are potentially adverse socio-economic implications from these hydropower projects. According to the Quang Nam Provincial People’s Committee office’s planning report in central Vietnam, 42 hydropower projects have been approved. This translates into possibly affecting over 37000 people, inundating 20,000ha of land including forests, agricultural land and urban areas.

In terms of displaced communities, the building of Song Tranh II hydropower with capacity 125 MW in Quang Nam province affected 4 communes comprising of 9500 persons from 834 households, out of which 4,369 persons were resettled. Tra Bui is the most affected commune with 353 resettled households with 1,706 persons. Resettlement brings its own set of challenges in the form of limited access to natural resources. First, there is limited availability of land for cultivation. The average land area decreases from 1.5ha/household to 0,1ha/ household. Land in these resettlement areas are also often of bad quality and on high slopes, therefore unable to be used for cultivation. Second, water access is limited if not scarce. Without small lakes or natural irrigation in the resettled area, water for daily activities as well as cultivation must come from the mountain creek. In the dry season, water becomes more and more scarce. The third challenge from resettlement is the loss of forest land. Song Tranh II hydropower construction has resulted in a loss of about 1200ha of forest land including planted and natural forest areas, which would be viable sources of livelihood (through timber and non-timber products) for communities had they not resettled.

As such, the diversity of income activities is lesser than before resettlement. Most households often gain income from cultivation, forest products, husbandry and paid employment when living in their original communes. However, with resettlement, they only have one income activity, which is temporary employment. This has subsequently let to decline in the average working day number per labor per year from 200.5 days to 120days, and a rise in unemployment rates from 20% to 60%, especially amongst women.  As the result, average income per person per year falls from 4.2 million VND before resettlement to 2.67 million VND at present and the poor rate increase 50 % to 87 %.

Food insecurity, increasing gender injustice and natural disasters are also vulnerabilities faced in resettled communes. The rate of malnourished children is 20%, 85% of household are ill-nourished from 2-3 months. Feedback from women’s group discussions demonstrated a sense of worry and insecurity as they are dependent on their male family members who work. Since2012, earthquake occurs continuously and irregularly, the highest intensive is 4.7 richer leading to 80 percent of house was cracked and inclined.

To sum up, natural resources access and diversity of livelihoods of resettled people are limited and unstable, thus raising the level of vulnerability. To enhance quality of people’ living, two projects are development cage fishing model and livelihood improving for resettlement area have been proposed. These projects are funded by Quang Nam Provincial People’s Committee, will bring to opportunities such as new jobs, increasing awareness and knowledge through technical training courses, supporting money, financial and food.

While this blog analyses only the impacts of hydropower projects on resettled commune, research under the ASEAN-Canada fellowship also includes downstream commune, which would thus provide a comprehensive account of the hydropower’s impacts on affected communes. Based on this comprehensive account, only then can conclusions and recommendations be made for sustainable development of hydropower.

This blog post has been written by Pham Thi Nhung. Nhung is a lecturer at the Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry , and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Water Users: Differentiated access and utilisation amongst communities in the Mekong Delta

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 27, 2014

In the Mekong Delta, water is the lifeblood of local communities given its multiple uses – water for drinking, cooking, and sanitation as well as in supporting livelihood activities such as growing rice, fruits and vegetables, and aquaculture Research in both upstream and downstream communities has noted the use of water for irrigation of rice and sugar cane fields, fish and shrimp farms, vegetable and fruit gardens, small businesses and services. The research study will assess two areas along the Mekong Delta of varying issues and social circumstances. Dong Thap Province, an upstream area, faces flooding, pollution and water scarcity which makes water management difficult. But, the local community in the downstream in Tra Vinh Province of the Mekong Delta experiences water scarcity and management issues, pollutions as well as salt water intrusion, Khmer Ethnic Minority communities are found in the downstream area, and there are just few individuals of Khmer Ethnic Minority in an upstream area. Men and women are divided in the difference of 48 and 52 percent of population in both upstream and downstream communities. The poverty rate of the areas being studies are the biggest in both Tra Vinh and Dong Thap provinces.

In terms of decision making processes for community water management, poor families have a limited say in these matters despite being participants in these meetings, consultations and workshops. Their limited voice co-relates to their small land ownership and limited funds to contribute to water projects. As such, these poor families use poor quality water such as shadow ground water) and polluted water from the rivers and even canals that originate from rice fields and fish farms. The rich or middle classes are able to access high quality water as they have money to build deep pump station or even purchase water.

There is also differentiated participation in decision making amongst men and women. Men are invited into the meetings as they are owners of the households. Women also join but their opinions are over-ridden by the men. Members of the ethnic Khmer community do not participate much in the discussions as they assume water management to be the government’s responsibility. At upstream, there is a few Khmer ethnic group, they migrated from Cambodia and live in Vietnam side, in the contrast of upstream, many Khmer ethnic group in the downstream. Their role in decision making process of water management in the community is lesser than the Kinh (Vietnamese).

Moreover, through my research I have found that representation for community water management is limited for women, poor people, and Khmer ethnic minority. A Khmer community upstream lives in the border areas, but are not recognised by the provincial government as they state that there are no Khmer ethnic communities in the province, while local government officials say that although they are Khmer people, they are Vietnamese citizens.

This research will thus elaborate on these differentiated water access and utilisation – where the vulnerable groups such as women, Khmer minority and the poor are dominated by men, the Kinh majority and the wealthy.

This blog post has been written by Ly Quoc Dang. He is currently Researcher and Teaching Assistant at Mekong Delta Development Research Institute, Can Tho University, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Transport Connectivity and Environmental Consequences in the Borneo Economic Corridor

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 27, 2014

The East ASEAN sub region characterized by under-development and remote areas yet which possess outstanding ecosystems and natural resources. As part of improving ASEAN Connectivity to achieve a competitive and resilient region, the BIMP EAGA was established. The cooperation among EAGA countries needs to be intensified by improving the enabling conditions such as transport connectivity. The West Borneo Economic Corridor (WBEC) of BIMP EAGA which links West Kalimantan (Indonesia), Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei Darussalam was endorsed to promote physical and cross-border mobility in order to enhance trade and investment activities within the corridor with Pontianak in Indonesia and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia as gateways to regional and international markets.

The island of Borneo, which comprises territory from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, contains one of the richest natural endowments on earth, which include oil, coal, gas mining as well as tropical rainforest area that serves as valuable ecosystem with rich biodiversity and high carbonsequestration potential. Tropical rainforest area within WBEC stated as a global biodiversity hotspot which constitute as home to six per cent of the world’s biodiversity and containing the headwaters for 14 of Borneo’s 20 major rivers.

The unsustainable practices on the fulfillment of requirement in transport sector may affect the natural capital and related impacts of climate change as more people, goods and services are transported within and across the region. On the other hand, declining natural capital and climate-related natural hazard may also interrupt the economic activities.

In the mining sector, the construction of land transportation access resulted in direct habitat removal and habitat fragmentation, as well as increased noise pollution, vibration and dust associated with mining activities which bring negative impact on the habitat adjacent to the mining site. Meanwhile, river sedimentation and erosion has potentially caused costly dredging or even temporary shutdown as the mining companies in the Borneo depend on river-based transport to deliver their output to market.

Furthermore, transportation improvement influenced the change of spatial, economic activities and natural capital degradation in Malaysian Borneo. The development of land transport infrastructure in Sabah changed the settlement patterns of rural population as they created new village close to roads. The opening of road access also resulted in market opportunities for logging activity, which affected the traditionally shifting cultivators as they have lost access to forest resources. Meanwhile, in Sarawak, road construction and logging activities in area adjacent to forest had contributed to river siltation and further disrupted the process of fish proliferation.

Fostering economic growth through transportation connectivity in the sub region is important, nevertheless the consequences for GHG emissions need to be considered, infrastructure should also be resilient to anticipate climate change impacts and its development have to be sustainable to avoid natural capital degradation.

The above discussion on the relationship between economic activities and environment in Borneo in association with transport connectivity is part of a larger study under the ASEAN-Canada Research Fellowship on potential solutions of green growth for answering the dilemma of economic growth versus environmental protection in West Borneo Economic Corridor.

This blog post has been written by Paramitha Yanindraputri. Paramitha is currently Research Coordinator for Skills to Succeed Indonesia in Save the Children, and Research Fellow in Urban Development Studies at the University of Indonesia, as well as Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Alternative livelihoods for sustainable growth? – Ecotourism in Wakatobi National Park

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 27, 2014
A divemaster, and one of the very few fishermen on Tomia working in ecotourism, returns from bringing a client out on a dive.

A divemaster, and one of the very few fishermen on Tomia working in ecotourism, returns from bringing a client out on a dive.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have gained enormous traction during the past few decades as a means to tackle concerning trends in overfishing and marine resource degradation in Indonesia. A common management strategy found in most of these MPAs is the development of alternative livelihoods that aim to wean resource users away from exploitative activities, the most important of which being fishing. Resource users are encouraged, by means of economic incentives, to shift their livelihood strategies towards more sustainable ones such as ecotourism or seaweed farming in the hopes of not only reducing fishing pressure on the local marine ecosystem, but to also promote sustainable growth within the region. However, the implementation of such alternative livelihood initiatives are not so straightforward when we consider how these projects almost always take place within dynamic and complex socio-ecological systems, each of which being unique with its own set of local specificities.

The objective of this research project is to study the principal factors that affect either the success or failure of alternative livelihood strategies within several Indonesian MPAs. The preliminary results from our fieldwork, which is currently being undertaken in several Indonesian MPAs, has already shed light on several key factors that highlight the difficulties in successfully developing alternative livelihoods within such highly complex socio-ecological spaces. For instance, in Wakatobi National Park (WNP), there is a strong push by the local government to increase the importance of ecotourism in the predominantly fishery based economies of local communities within the park. Although community members readily express their interest in the idea of ecotourism, very few are actually taking concrete steps to enter the industry. According to government and NGO officials, this lack of “willingness” is one of the main challenges facing ecotourism development in WNP. Efforts to counteract this are already being undertaken through workshops that aim to increase awareness about potential ecotourism benefits and to offer training for several tourism-related activities. However, as things stand, there is a severe lack of local capacity for ecotourism.

With fishing so tightly woven in the cultural identities of Wakatobi communities, fishermen are very hesitant to leave the one industry they have depended on their entire lives for another that has yet to show any real concrete benefits for the local community. This finding conforms with the work of other researchers that has criticized the common assumption amongst marine resource managers that fishermen are readily willing to give up fishing for another livelihood activity.

Despite the hindering factor outlined above, along with a few others such as poor transportation and local government corruption, the efforts WNP managers have made to establish an adaptive co-management style framework within the park is a positive step towards the long term goals of ecotourism development. By giving greater authority to local community groups in the management of ecotourism in their respective areas, the hope is that the future development of the industry will be able proceed even without outside assistance from NGOs and the government.

This blog post has been written by Gilles Maillet. Gilles is a GIS Specialist at Yarmouth Active Transportation, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Natural Disasters in Kon Tum Province: Some Signs of Climate Change

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014

Kon Tum is a mountainous province located in the North of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Its western part share borders with Laos and Cambodia. Kon Tum’s terrain is divided by many undulating hills and narrow valleys, lower from north to south and from east to west. The province is included in the Se San River system, thus the watershed area consists of three major rivers such as the Tra Khuc, Thu Bon and Vu Gia.

Kon Tum’s climate has similar traits of not only tropical climate of the southern monsoon Vietnam but also plateau climate. Rainfall distribution changes overtime, with heavy rainfall in July and August (rainy season lasts from May to October). The dry season lasts from December to April. These factors contribute to creating a different set of characteristics of the typical natural disasters that are usually experienced in various provinces in Vietnam, such as droughts; storms, tropical depressions and floods and landslides.

According to the Hydro-Meteorology Station of Kon Tum, annual average temperature has increased from 0.5­­oC to 0.7oC for the period 1980-2009 thus contributing to scorching hot weather over a longer period of time. Moreover, it is relatively obvious that there has been reduced rainfall and increased evaporation during the rainy season, thereby contributing to the severe drought and increased fire risks. Rainfall and its distribution have been very different over time and space. The difference in rainfall between communes in the province has increased dramatically (1.350 mm – 1.450 mm for the period 1995-2010)¹ and the total annual rainfall decreased approximately 2 percent over the last 30 years.

Notably, natural disasters have recently occurred with more unusual and radical trends. Facts have shown that natural disasters such as floods and drought have occurred frequently, in particular flash floods in the rainy season and the dangerous weather phenomena including thunderstorms, tornadoes, etc. In 2009, 5 typhoons and 4 tropical depressions appeared in the South China Sea with Typhoon Ketsana (known in the Vietnam “No.9”) taking a strong toll on Kon Tum’s infrastructure and production activities.²

These developments therefore raise the following questions: Is the climate change responsible for the recent increase of natural disasters in the province that has led to skyrocketing cost by the disasters borne by the local communities? It can be said that it is too early to conclude that the natural disasters in the province caused entirely by climate change. However, it is undoubtedly true that those signs of climate change in Kon Tum are more apparent and might have negative impacts on the lives of local people as well as this province’s development in upcoming years.

The looking for signs of climate change in Kon Tum enables to have more comprehensive analysis in the research on the effects of natural disasters on local people’s agricultural production activities. Natural disasters and climate change have close relationship and are both biggest challenges for the development of not only Kon Tum but also the whole the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle Area.

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¹Source: Department of Natural Resources, Kon Tum.
²The most heavily affected areas in Kon Tum is Tu Mo Rong, Mang Ri, Dak Na, Dak Sao, Dak Ha, Te Xang, Dak To Kan.
 
 

This blog post has been written by Anh Tuan Nguyen. Anh Tuan is currently a PhD candidate in International Economic Affairs at the Graduate Academy of Social Sciences in Vietnam, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

What can ASEAN do? ASEAN People’s Forum recommends ASEAN adopt “environment” pillar

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014
 “Salween not for Sale” demonstration during the ASEAN People's Forum. Other demonstration during the Forum included a call for the safe return of disappeared activist Sombath Somphone from Laos, and the presentation of banners calling for greater attention to LGBT rights across ASEAN.

“Salween not for Sale” demonstration during the ASEAN People’s Forum. Other demonstrations during the Forum included a call for the safe return of disappeared activist Sombath Somphone from Laos, and the presentation of banners calling for greater attention to LGBT rights across ASEAN.

Leading up to the 2014 ASEAN Summit,[1] the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) was held in Yangon, Myanmar from 21-23 March 2014.[2] The APF is an independent meeting parallel to the summit, and this year it was a venue for large plenary presentations alongside the 35 workshops on issues of critical importance for the region.

By day three over 3000 participants—including individuals from non-government organizations, embassies, youth, independent civil society members, researchers, and academics—had registered. This exceeded the organizer’s 1200 person aim and represents the largest turnout since APF’s inception in 2005. The overwhelming interest also fuelled conversation and enthusiasm throughout the meeting.

As a forum participant conducting research on transboundary environmental issues, the statements and issues raised in workshops posed significant counterpoints to the standard notions of development and transboundary cooperation under the so-called “ASEAN Way.”[3]

The ASEAN Way can be described as a kind of regional cooperation which seeks to avoid conflict by privileging state sovereignty or national interest. Within this approach, questions remain regarding what role civil society can play or advocate for, and if national governments are the best representative of environmental issues in a system that has primarily emphasized the acceleration and expansion of regional economic development.

One of the most anticipated outcomes of the APF is the “People’s Declaration,” a set of recommendations that are made to the leaders meeting for the ASEAN Summit.[4] An important component of the 2014 recommendations include the call for an additional environment pillar.[5]

Environmental concerns were raised within the APF’s workshop session titled “Investment in Myanmar: Repetitive Experiences with Other ASEAN Countries? Challenging for Peace and Self-determination of Local Communities.” Participants discussed how to contend with ASEAN’s policy of non-interference in cases of transboundary development and investment. Presentations focused on, for instance, the Dawei Special Economic Zone and the Shwe Gas Pipeline, both proposed in Myanmar but with environmental and social impacts to and investment from Thailand.

At the end of this session, the moderator summarized what many of the individual presenters had highlighted, mainly that “We need to regulate across borders. We need a fourth environment pillar for ASEAN.”[6]

While ASEAN has taken a proactive role in promoting regional energy development, achieving sustainable growth requires the capacity to evaluate and respond to impacts that cross national borders. My research will evaluate the opportunities for cross-border strategic environmental assessment (SEA), and investigate the barriers and challenges to its widespread implementation in ASEAN. As part of on-going research, I will be examining cases of transboundary energy development, such as Dawei.

Photo 2 ASEAN Youth from APF 2014

A demonstration by the ASEAN Youth that opened the ASEAN People’s Forum on March 21, 2014.

An important component of this research includes analysis of the policy discussions and demonstrations that take place at regional meetings, such as the APF or the ASEAN Summit. Instead of solely focusing on interviews with government delegates or policy documents, I focus on the gaps and interactions embodied in these meetings in order to better understand the negotiations and contestations by and among ASEAN civil societies and governments over pressing environmental issues which cross national borders.

 

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[1] This year the ASEAN Summit will be held in Naypyidaw, Myanmar from 9-11 May 2014.
[2] While I use “APF” the full name is the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF).
[3] For discussion of the ASEAN Way, see also: Ke, Jian and Qi Gao. 2013. Only One Mekong: Developing Transboundary EIA Procedures of Mekong River Basin, Pace Environmental Law Review 30(3). http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/pelr/vol30/iss3/3
Acharya, Amitav. 2001. Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order. Routledge.
[4] The declaration in full: http://aseanpeople.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Official-Statement-of-ACSCAPF-2014.docx
[5] The three existing ASEAN pillars include: political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation.
[6] Quoted from transcript of workshop March 22, 2015.

 

This blog post has been written by Vanessa Lamb. Vanessa is a Post-doctoral Associate at the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) in Toronto, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Economics, Rights and the Salween: markets versus people or markets for the people?

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014

A recent publication by the Asia-Pacific Water Forum recognizes the significance of water for economic and environmental security and calls for an improvement to the management of natural resources to minimize economic and human losses in the Asian region. ASEAN’s natural resource policies should focus on human and energy security issues both long term (i.e. ensuring sufficient energy to power economic growth) and short term in nature (i.e. building the capacity to react to fluctuations in supply or demand). Some governments have touted large-scale hydropower infrastructure projects as a viable solution to these challenges in light of rising industrial demand in ASEAN. The 13 hydro dam projects on the Nu/Salween River, one of the longest free-flowing rivers in Southeast Asia running through China, Thailand and Myanmar, are altogether expected to generate more than 15,000 megawatts of electricity.

But not everything is smooth sailing. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has warned that communities living along the river at the proposed Hat Gyi dam site bordering Myanmar and Thailand will be directly affected by the infrastructure project. More worryingly, studies of hydro dams around the world suggest an even greater number of downstream communities experience alterations in aquaculture and floodplain agriculture and flooding with the construction of such dam projects.[1] Many of the ethnic minority communities by the Hat Gyi site have been entrenched in long-lasting conflict with the Myanmar government about natural resources, corroborating the need for a management approach to the dam issue that incorporates public participation and appropriate compensation for environmental and human injury or loss arising from the project. Similarly, Canada has had its own share of conflict between oil pipeline proponents and affected First Nations communities, demonstrating the international scope of these issues.[2]

Fortunately, both law and economics may provide recourse to affected communities as well as help to secure energy resources for economic development. The UN has a number of instruments governing the rights of indigenous communities; however, minority groups have seemingly fewer resources.[3] Economic theory, particularly valuation of environmental goods and services, can be constructive in the Hat Gyi scenario whereby it creates a price, or “monetizes”, the Salween’s water resources. Monetization, while contested by economic experts[4], may facilitate discussions with decision-makers in a language relevant to the economic development discourse and provide a means to incorporate non-market values into the determination of appropriate financial returns on natural resources. Tangible tools include Canada’s Department of Natural Resources’ guidelines on participation of aboriginal communities in the country’s natural resource sector; and the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment’s recommendations on water valuation methods and applicable situations.

Ultimately, however, no law or economic tool will be necessary and sufficient for compensating for potential losses or changes faced by riparian communities in the quest for economic development. Above all, infrastructure projects that may have adverse impacts on the people within a country’s borders should entail a requirement for transparent, well-governed and meaningful redistribution process to all parties affected.

In light of these circumstances, my project under the ASEAN-Canada Research Fellowship seeks to conduct an economic valuation of the Salween’s water resources along the Thai-Myanmar. By integrating advanced environmental economic methodologies with multi-disciplinary methods, the project hopes to contribute to the knowledge and acceptance of integrating local community knowledge, participation and value perceptions in market mechanisms that determine natural resource development along ASEAN trans-boundary waterways.

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[1] See B.D. Richter et al, 2010 in Water Alternatives Journal.
[2] See Kinder Morgan’s pipeline proposal, Chevron’s Kitimat LNG project; and the Alberta Bakken oilfield proposal.
[3] Colchester 2000 enunciates a number of pieces of international law relating to this, such as Article 27 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. (World Commission on Dams Thematic Review – Social Issues I.2, Dams Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Minorities)
[4] See F. Foster, 2003; Pearce, 1999; and H.E. Daly and K.N. Townsend, 1993.

 

This blog post has been written by Liliana Camacho. Liliana is an economist and policy advisor with the federal Department of Environment in Canada, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Preparing for Emissions Trading Schemes in Indonesia and Thailand: Progress and Challenges

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014

Both Indonesia and Thailand are in the process of developing voluntary Emissions Trading Schemes (ETS) as one of many potential methods for mitigating the countries’ increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Indonesia aims to launch its voluntary ETS by the end of this year while Thailand plans to commence voluntary emissions trading in 2015. Depending on the experiences of these voluntary ETS – as well as the progress of other GHG emissions reduction programs – Indonesia and Thailand will further assess the potential for implementing mandatory ETS.

In Indonesia, the National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) is preparing a domestic Nusantara Carbon Scheme (Skema Karbon Nusantara) which grants 1 UKN (Indonesian carbon unit) per ton of CO2 reduction to qualifying projects. A separate Joint Committee in Jakarta is responsible for developing a Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM) with Japan, which contributes technical assistance to Indonesian JCM projects that can thereafter generate emissions credits to sell to the Japanese market. Indonesia has also joined the World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR)to explore various carbon market designs and instruments that may influence the country’s decision to engage in a multilateral carbon market.

In Thailand, the Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization (TGO) has partnered with the World Bank to develop a trading scheme for energy efficiency certificates in an Energy Performance Certificate Scheme (EPC). TGO has also launched a Thailand Carbon Offsetting Program (T-COP) and a Thailand Voluntary Emission Reduction (T-VER) Program, both of which aim to encourage private sector and individual participation in emissions reduction initiatives.

While the scope of the voluntary ETS – whether it concerns sector or jurisdiction – has yet to be defined in either country, what is clear is that the governments of Indonesia and Thailand are already working alongside local and international organizations on a number of carbon market-readiness activities that can help pave the way for a voluntary or mandatory ETS.

However, many challenges remain for ETS development in Indonesia and Thailand. Firstly, in these countries where economic growth, poverty reduction and income inequality dominate development priorities, ETS will not jump to a higher rung on the national agenda unless the market becomes more stable. Skeptics questioning the value of carbon markets point to the oversupply and low prices of certified emissions reduction (CER) credits that have been generated from Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects, along with questionable emissions reductions and pervasive uncertainties about the future of the international carbon market following the end of the latest Kyoto commitment period in December 2012. While Indonesia and Thailand have opted to explore the potentials of carbon trading regardless, they still require greater technical support and stronger regulatory environments to build and sustain domestic carbon markets.

Research conducted under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership examines a range of government policies and programmes that are intended to bolster carbon market development in Indonesia and Thailand and potentially support a voluntary or mandatory ETS in the near future. Using ETS as a framework, the study aims to contribute to discussions about the prospects and challenges of creating and sustaining carbon markets in Indonesia and Thailand in the wake of post-Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) pessimism and uncertainties about the future of carbon markets more generally.

The outcomes of Indonesia and Thailand’s ETS have significant implications on regional and international carbon markets. Successful programs in Thailand and Indonesia can complement carbon market developments in Malaysia and Vietnam, and potentially generate greater interest in carbon trading among other ASEAN countries.

This blog post has been written by Shelly Hsieh. Shelly is a post-graduate Research Fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Not Giving Up: A Closer Look at Indonesian Palm Oil Companies’ Corporate Diplomacy

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014

Is the development of palm oil industry in Indonesia(and Malaysia) a blessing or a curse? Or both of them?

Since the last two decades, palm oil has increasingly become more significant for these two countries. Rising demands from China and India have driven the development of palm oil industry further. Now, Indonesia and Malaysia supply around 90% of certified palm oil (CPO) in the global market.

Globally, proponents of the palm oil industry have hailed palm oil as an important factor that contributes significantly to the food security of people in the developing countries. The proponents also argued that palm oil is an ideal crop for the developing countries in the tropics. This positive view is also popular among the ranks of the government of Indonesia, who also see palm oil as an important commodity that will bring tremendous benefits for the welfare of its people.

However, for many others, the development of palm oil industry in Indonesia is portrayed as a disaster. In its report, Greenpeace argued that the palm oil sector was the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia during 2009-2011. It accounts for about a quarter (300,000 hectares) of forest loss, which contributed significantly to global carbon emmissions. Apart from the enviromental impacts, many also raised concerns about the negative impacts of the expansion of palm oil industry in the social aspects, from land conflicts to human rights abuses.

As the industry grows, demand for more control for its business practices is also growing. Global and local NGOs are stepping up their pressure on the government to prevent further damage allegedly caused by the expansion of palm oil industry. Apart from pressurising the government, NGOs are also attempting to influence the market and try to disrupt the demand from environmentally and socially problematic palm oil companies. Greenpeace, for example, frequently directs their criticisms towards global companies who bought palm oil from ‘dirty’ sources in Indonesia.

My research, conducted under the ASEAN Canada Junior Fellow scheme, attempts to understand how Indonesian palm oil companies are responding to such development. What kind of corporate diplomacy is employed? While the research is focusing more on Indonesia’s case, it also tries to look at their counterparts, the Malaysian palm oil companies.

Preliminary research has found that Indonesian palm oil companies frequently responded to the pressures by accusing them as part of a global ‘black campaign’ against palm oil. According to the narrative (which I identify as “trade war narrative”), campaigns by NGOs to put more controls to the palm oil industry are supported by countries which are producing rival vegetable oils (soybean and rapeseed). The next rounds of the research will try to understand the construction of such narrative and how the narrative is projected through various channels.

This blog post has been written by Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad.  Shofwan is Executive Secretary of the ASEAN Study Center and lecturer in the Department of International Relations of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Indonesia. He is also Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Transboundary Cooperation for Conservation in the Heart of Borneo: Case Study of the Border between Indonesia and Malaysia

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014

Ecosystems should not be divided by administrative or political boundaries, given their interconnected links amongst each other. Without careful consideration of these interconnectivities, policies and interventions on natural resources may bring about unintended consequences at both the domestic and international levels. In light of these circumstances, my research examines transboundary cooperation for conservation in West-Kalimantan, Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia. The cooperation is not only important for conserving biodiversity but also in potentially improving local livelihoods and economic growth in the region. That said, however, varying institutional and social-economic conditions between the two countries could hinder the progress of cooperation.

Transboundary cooperation in West Kalimantan and Sarawak came into formal existence in 1993 when the two governments agreed on “Joint Cooperation in Developing a Transfrontier Reserve”. The cooperation has also been supported mainly from the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). In 1993 for instance, ITTO initiated a project and provided grant assistance for establishing the transfrontier reserve along the border of Indonesia and Malaysia. In 2001, ITTO along with Indonesia Ministry of Forestry and the World Wild Fund (WWF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the involvement of community on transboundary management.

However, promoting conservation and development in border areas is not an easy task. Priorities, funding and management capacity vary between the partner nations. Government agencies and private sector companies in both Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance, have different scenarios on the expansion of protected areas, continued logging, large-scale agricultural development, increased smallholder agriculture and also infrastructure and ecotourism development. These problems have obstructed efforts to enhance the level of cooperation. Cultural differences have sometimes also made cooperation more complicated.

Identifying further challenges and opportunities, as well as understanding stakeholders’ interests in the area would help to foster and strengthen transboundary cooperation. As the case study indicates, the transboundary conservation effort involves several strategies such as ecotourism and joint task force. Since it operates at the regional, national, and local levels, implementation of these strategiesneed to consider multiple levels of policy.

This blog post has been written by Ali Muhyidin.  Ali is a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo, associate lecturer at University of Indonesia and Binus University, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Livelihoods in Myanmar: Unproductive if land-based, destructive if forests-based

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014

This blog post presents my preliminary findings from a study that was conducted in Tualzaang and Ngalzaang villages of Tedim Township in Chin State of Myanmar. The two villages are selected based on the types of resources mostly used for livelihoods and the study mainly focuses on land and forest resources.

In Tualzaang village, most households engage in farm work especially by growing maize (of local variety) as staple crop and groundnut as cash crop. Unlike many other villages in Chin State, farmers of Tualzaang village cultivate on freehold lands and most principal households own 3-4 plots of land. Extended households ensure access to land through social ties and rarely through formal purchase or rental. The shifting cycle of cultivated land is more than 15 years compared with the 6-7 years cycle practiced in other parts of the region, thereby making the farming system semi-permanent. Most households are self-sufficient only for about 4 months through their own maize production. Other resources available in Tualzaang include mangoes, fig fruits, gooseberries, fresh water fish, pine trees, and firewood, etc. Most households have separate plots of land for firewood, but there is no common practice for sustainable production.

In Ngalzaang village, farm lands are nominally freehold, but all are managed by village authorities. The village authorities first designate respective plots for farm land and allow land owners to choose their preferred plots. Then the rest are randomly allocated among all other households of the village. Most households in this village grow maize and upland rice alternately and the shifting cycle is about 6-7 years. In cases of both maize and upland rice, no household repeats cultivation on the same land since arable land is still abundant for this village. Most households are food-sufficient for 6 months through their own production. Available forest resources in this village include teak and other hard woods, wild elephant foot yam, various wild plants especially orchids, honey, and wild animals, etc. As in Tualzaang Village, all households in Ngalzaang also have separate plots of land for firewood, but the difference is that they also have a productive and sustainable practice in collecting firewood.

In both villages, villagers are not convinced about the standing rules and regulations as to access to land and the exploitation of forest resources. The villagers themselves have realized that their uses of land and forests are neither productive nor sustainable. In addition, coping strategies (for food and income) take longer than major livelihood activities that there is a vicious cycle of food insufficiency since cash income earned through the coping strategies is mainly used for purchasing food. Where people depend on forest resources as their major income source, there is no measure of conservation or reproduction or value addition. Therefore, most forest resources are increasingly threatened by the risk of extinction without any increase in income. However, the relationship and coordination among government departments are still limited while there is increased collaboration between government departments and development agencies.

This blog post has been written by Cin Khan En Do Pau (John).  John is Actions Coordination Director for the Center for Resources Mobilization, Research Fellow at RCSD-Chiang Mai University (2012–13) and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Once the Land is Gone: Periurban New Towns as Vectors of Socioeconomic Integration

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on December 11, 2013

For nearly three decades now, national and municipal governments throughout the ASEAN have encouraged the implementation of new masterplanned communities on the periphery of large urban centers. This is despite the repeated warnings of scholars and urban analysts for whom this model of urban development generates more problems than it brings benefits to the region’s rapidly urbanizing territories and societies. As discussed in an earlier blog post, this critical perspective emphasizes the destabilizing effects that so-called “new towns” have on pre-existing socioeconomic dynamics and their role in the impoverishment and marginalization of periurban people.

For the most part, these warnings are rooted in studies of land acquisition processes and in analyses of farming households’ fate in the early years after the land is gone. While important, the focus on the first step in the land redevelopment process ignores the opportunities for socioeconomic integration that might—and actually do—emerge after the construction of a new town. While I do not dispute the view that new towns are problematic for ASEAN’s future urbanism, I contend that a longer-term perspective on the relationship between new towns and periurban populations can help scholars to move beyond the mere critic of these projects and toward the formulation of more effective policies to mitigate their negative impacts on surrounding populations.

This proposition derives from the exploratory case study of the livelihood trajectories of sixteen households living in two periurban villages of Hanoi. During the late 1990s, these households lost their agricultural land for the construction of two of Vietnam’s first new town projects. Echoing earlier research, I found that these people struggled considerably during the first years following the expropriation. The difficulties met by these people in their transition out of agriculture stemmed from inadequate qualifications and from the lack of state support. In interviews, many ex-farmers lamented that they have been let down by a communist state which, up to the reallocation of their agricultural land, had supported their livelihoods by giving them access to land on which they could grow food.

Yet, three to four years after their land was gone most households in our two research sites had re-established sustainable livelihoods. To do so, they tapped into the residential lands available next to their main residence to build makeshift buildings which they rent out to seasonal migrants and workers looking for cheap accommodation at commuting distance from Hanoi’s city center. Looking back, the households that we interviewed assess this post-agrarian income earning activity as less strenuous and more stable than rice farming. Most of them also hold a very positive view of the new towns built next to their villages which they see as beautiful, clean, and modern places that have embellished the face of their localities.

The resilience of ex-farming families in our two case studies and their positive perception of new town developments can certainly not be generalized to the rest of Hanoi or, for that matter, Vietnam. Yet, the fact that such positive stories exist at all on the outskirts of ASEAN cities must be taken into account before claiming, as many critiques of the new town model of urban development have done, that the planned city sweeps the poor away.

This blog post has been written by Danielle Labbe. Danielle is Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Montreal and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

The End of Cheap Rice: A call for social safety nets?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on August 30, 2013

Recently, the Overseas Development Institution (ODI)released a report on the situation of rice prices in the world market. Since 2000, rice prices have more than doubled and have risen by almost 120% in real terms. This steady increase in prices was caused by a myriad of factors. Policies by major exporting and importing countries contributed but the fundamental drivers are the increased cost of production inputs such as fertiliser, diesel and labour. It was highlighted in the report that the increase in rural wages was a crucial factor given that an estimated 1.3 billion of Asia’s poor and vulnerable people depended on rural labour for their livelihoods. In India, the rural labour force continues to grow 1.5 per cent, equivalent to 4 million workers per year. Similarly, Bangladesh experiences an increase of 1 million rural workers each year. 

In Asia, two of the largest producers of rice in the region – India and Thailand – have a combined stock of at least 48 million tonnes. In the case of Thailand, exporters are bearing the cost since their rice is more expensive in the world market. Similarly, consumers are affected by its increasing price. On the other hand, India recently implemented its Food Security Bill that seeks to decrease the number of its hungry and malnourished citizens. To date, it is the largest food assistance scheme implemented in terms of costs. The Thai and Indian cases are clear examples of the increasing costs in producing rise. With this, farmers may opt to produce other crops that are more cost efficient and profitable at the same time. Another implication of this situation is the migration of rural workers to areas or sectors where there are better paid jobs. This will further exacerbate the phenomenon of “greying farmers” in the region wherein there can be a possible labour shortage in agriculture in the future if the trend persists.

The situation is a challenge to the food security of Asian countries. Rice is an indispensable crop in the region since it is the main source of caloric intake for the region’s population. Given that the region’s population is increasing alongside with other demand drivers such as rapid urbanisation and improving incomes, governments need to think carefully of the policies they must implement to address their population’s food security concerns. The trend in the application of social safety nets (e.g. food aid, direct transfers) is a way to address this concern but requires efficient institutions and processes to support their implementation. On the other hand, social safety nets are risky in the sense that they are populist policies and are difficult to reverse in the future. In this case, governments must be clear about their policy objectives and the need for a strict timeline for implementation. The success of implementing such policies requires a huge investment on their part and on their capacity to make them work and benefit a wide range of stakeholders.

China’s Dual-Track Approach to the Protection of Civilians

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security,Uncategorized by NTSblog on August 28, 2013
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As of March 2013, up to 70,000 people have been killed in the internal conflict of Syria since March 2011, 2 million internally displaced and 900,000 fleeing abroad. In addition to displacement, serious violations of human rights have been widespread, perpetrated by both the government troops and rebel groups. Women and children have been exceptionally vulnerable. The humanitarian consequences in Syria highlight the urgency of the protection of civilians in armed conflicts (POC) – which seeks to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. The primary responsibility to implement POC rests with the governments concerned and the international community has the responsibility to assist.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China’s support is essential for the concerted international effort to resolve conflict and ensure protection for civilians. For instance, China has been criticized for its veto against three Security Council draft resolutions on Syria that condemned the use of force against of civilians and urged for fulfilling the responsibility to protect civilians.  Syria is not the only POC-related case that China has vetoed or threatened to veto. In 2007, China vetoed a draft resolution on the situation in Myanmar that urged the authorities to stop troops from attacking civilians. As a result, China has been accused of protecting regimes that perpetrate or tolerate human rights abuses.

However, this accusation does not fully reflect China’s attitude to POC. In fact, China is developing a dual-track approach to POC. It remains highly cautious about endorsing intrusive measures, such as setting up no-fly zones, still less military operations without consent from the host country. In the Security Council open debates on POC, China has defended the Westphalian principles – respect for sovereignty and non-interference. The Chinese representatives have stated that prevention is the fundamental solution to POC-related issues. Peaceful means are preferred and excessive pressure would only complicate the situation. It has also emphasised that lack of development constitutes a key root cause of many conflicts.

China has also actively facilitated the peace processes of many conflicts, through both multilateral and bilateral channels. China actively supported peace efforts under the UN auspices, such as good offices and peacekeeping operations. Ibrahim Gambari, who closely involved in the peace process in Myanmar, said China helped persuade the military government to engage in conversations with him. With regard to Sudan, the Chinese President Hu Jintao and senior diplomats managed to persuade the Sudanese side to cooperate with international peace efforts. Gambari noted that the engineering team of the Chinese peacekeeping force China also supported mediation efforts concerning the Syrian crisis by Kofi Annan, the UN Special Envoy, and backed his peace plan.

China’s concern about sovereignty is largely caused by the Taiwan question and the secessionist problems in Xinjiang and Tibet. Hence, it always adopts a traditional understanding of sovereignty. The growth of national power has to some extent reduced such a concern. and resulted in the increasing need and expectation for greater Chinese contribution to global affairs. Hence, the dual-track approach is a balance between the misgiving about the erosion of sovereignty and its growing national power.

The hazards of Fukushima: a more radioactive future?

Posted in Uncategorized by NTSblog on August 27, 2013
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There is increasing concern about the leakage of radioactive water from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant and rightly so. In addition to the previously reported 300 tons of radioactive groundwater that has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean everyday (most probably since 2011), there is now confirmation that  300 tons more of highly radioactive water has also leaked into groundwater over the past month. The Asia-Pacific region would have to be more prepared to accept a more radioactive future and to consider important aspects of domestic nuclear energy governance in Japan.

The Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority has announced that the radioactive water leak is being raised from being an ‘anomaly’ (Level 1) to a ‘serious incident’ (Level 3) in the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale  (INES). A ‘serious incident’ refers to ‘exposure in excess of ten times the statutory annual limit for workers’ with relatively low health hazard from exposure to radiation.This rating however has yet to be confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Among the most confronting and alarmist of warnings from the scientific community is the impact of the Pacific Ocean currents on the circulation of the radioactive water from Fukushima.  Imagine a continuously directed movement of ocean water flowing for thousands of kilometres circulating the world’s oceans and marine life. Radioactive materials maybe diluted over time in this vast ocean but  there are still more studies that need to be carried out to confirm the radioactive contamination of the marine environment and marine species in the northern Pacific Ocean (or even beyond).

Second, the radiation dose of the water that was recently reported exceeds the average annual global limit for nuclear workers. It is so toxic that within 10 hours of exposure, anyone in proximity to the leak would likely suffer from radiation sickness including nausea and a drop in white blood cells.

Third, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) is now looking for help from the international community to stabilize and decommission its damaged reactors, when they should have asked for help right from the start. TEPCO’s reluctance to call out for help at the outset of the 2011 meltdown has led to the dire consequence of putting the Japanese nuclear energy sector in limbo.

Part of his attempt to renew nuclear energy to reboot Japan’s economy and consequently to save face, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now calling this a national concern, and has announced that a ‘swift and multi-faceted’ government strategy will be carried out to assist TEPCO. But more so, this should have been an international effort right from the start. Leaving the decommissioning of the reactor to its operator is not the most practical direction that the disaster’s managers took. Given the difficulties that TEPCO has been experiencing right from the 2011 meltdown (and even before that), TEPCO should not have been allowed to shoulder the responsibility of solely decommissioning the three damaged reactors. This begs the question whether external actors and the rest of the nuclear energy community should have extended its expertise immediately to deal with the disaster, even without TEPCO’s appeal for help. What would be worse to contemplate is that the Japanese nuclear energy community is just not prepared to deal with this kind of nuclear disaster.

Too much rice in Asia can be damaging

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on August 7, 2013

In a recent article by The Wall Street Journal, it stated that “Asia is awash with rice. Such a statement contradicts the region’s status a few years ago when the global food price spikes occurred. During the 2007-2008 period, the rice supply was limited and disrupted by the implementation of export bans by major exporting countries such as India and Thailand. However, according to the International Grains Council, world rice stockpiles are expected to increase by 2 per cent this year. At the same time, favourable weather and government support to encourage increased production has resulted to a bumper crop. On the other hand, demand has weakened in major rice importing countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Currently, India and Thailand have 48 million tonnes (combined) of rice stockpiled in its warehouses.

This should be good news for consumers since an oversupply should lead to a decrease in the prices. Food prices may have decreased but they still remain high compared to their pre-2007 prices. The World Bank Food Price Watch has noted that the price of rice (Thai 5% broken rice) has sustained monthly decreases and stands 4 per cent below February levels. Despite this, most consumers are still not able to experience this positive change brought about by an oversupply of rice in the region. For instance, consumers in Thailand are still paying more for the rice in the market since the government does not want to sell the rice procured from farmers at a lower price. At the same time, hunger is still prevalent in rice exporting countries such as India and Pakistan. In the 2012 Global Hunger Index report, India and Pakistan has scores of 22.9 and 19.7, respectively. The former’s score is classified as alarming while the latter is serious.

The decline in rice prices also has serious implications for smallholder rice farmers. First and foremost, this implies a decrease in income. Diversifying to high value crops may take time and requires further investments on the part of the farmers. This is further exacerbated by the fact that access to credit and information to improve farming practices are limited. Chances of improving their productivity are slim. Second, an often neglected fact is that farmers are consumers too. The decline in income also leads to the reduced consumption of other goods and services such as education and health. Hence, the decline in prices may not be favourable for farmers as well since there are repercussions to their welfare.
The rising volume of rice stocks may be good for the attainment of food security in Asia. However, the issues of physical and economic access still prevail. This brings about a great balancing act for governments to take into consideration the plight of the smallholders and small farmers of rice and at the same time, make food economically accessible to consumers. The implementation of producer and consumer subsidies can be tempting for such situations but these require careful planning and targeting. Poorly targeted subsidies may not help the poor in the end and distort market prices and agricultural production. In the end, government may also incur an unhealthy fiscal bill. The current situation in the Asian region highlights the delicacy of both producers and consumers to government policies and interventions. It warrants a systematic approach that would cater to the welfare of both groups and not just “band-aid” solutions.

This blog post has been written by Maria Carmencita S. Morales. Maria Carmencita is an Associate Research Fellow at the RSIS Centre for Non–Traditional Security (NTS) Studies.

Stepping Up Co-operation on Transboundary Rivers

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on August 1, 2013

THE GROWING trend of countries seeking to catalyze development through the construction of hydro-electric dams has become a contentious and destabilising issue. This was highlighted by two recent events in two major river basins namely the Nile and the Mekong.

In May 2013, Ethiopia started diverting waters of the Blue Nile in May 2013 to fill the reservoir behind its USD4.7 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Ethiopia, as one of the world’s poorest countries ranking 173 out of 185 countries in terms of its Human Development Index (HDI) score in 2013, aimed to harness the river and become Africa’s leading power exporter. The dam construction is also an attempt by Ethiopia to assert greater control over its water resources and not be held hostage by Egypt. Egypt has long exercised almost exclusive rights over the use of Nile water by two agreements that it signed with Great Britain in 1929 and with Sudan in 1959 respectively. Upstream countries resented these agreements as it barred them from undertaking large-scale projects without Egypt’s consent and demanded a new deal that would allow them greater share of the Nile water. Egypt however considered such demands as a security threat as it relied on the Nile River for more than 90 per cent of its water needs. Egypt’s uncompromising position on the issue is such that former President Anwar Sadat famously declared in 1979 that “the only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.” In light of Ethiopia’s ongoing dam construction, Egyptian leaders have reportedly discussed buzzing the dam site with fighter jets, destroying the dam by covert military action, and supporting rebel groups fighting the Ethiopian regime.

In Southeast Asia, Laos PDR’s plan to transform itself into the ‘hydroelectric battery of Southeast Asia’ through the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams on the mainstream Mekong River has caused concerns among downstream countries namely Cambodia and Vietnam. These countries worry that such dams could affect the river’s freshwater fishes and livelihoods. Indeed, the Mekong River has been identified as a hotspot for freshwater fishes with over 1,000 species, second only to the Amazon. Notwithstanding their opposition, Laos started the construction of the first dam in Xayaburi Province in November 2012.

Although institutions such as the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) have been established to improve co-operation and co-ordination among riparian countries, Ethiopia and Laos’ unilateral pursuit of hydro-electric dam projects highlighted their ineffectiveness. Given rising energy demands due to increasing population growth and expanding economy in both river basins, it is inevitable that more countries would sought to harness the Nile and the Mekong Rivers. However, the continuance of a unilateral approach to such projects could potentially destabilise both river basins. It is therefore important that both the NBI and the MRC promote equitable water sharing among riparian countries. Once this is done, mechanisms related to prior consultation whereby governments mutually decide whether or not projects go forward should be enhanced so as to prevent riparian countries from unilaterally undertaking dam building projects. Such efforts would go a long way in ensuring mutual benefits among riparian countries.

This blog is contributed by Mr PK Hangzo, Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Direct Cash Transfers: Why They Remain Essential in Indonesia’s Fuel Subsidy Cuts

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on July 17, 2013
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The Indonesian government has recently cut fuel subsidies and raised fuel prices. Similar to the 2005 and 2008 fuel price hikes, the government provided unconditional direct cash transfers to poor households with the aim of helping them cope with the impacts of such price increases.

The recent decision to deploy the IDR 9.33 trillion (SGD 1.18 billion) worth of temporary direct cash transfers (BLSM) was controversial. Oppositions discern vested political interests as such disbursements inevitably heighten popular support for the ruling party. Such measures are also perceived to nurture hand-out mentalities and increase dependencies instead of empowering poor people to get out of poverty definitively. Questionable survey methods, lack of accuracy in identifying beneficiaries, protests and chaotic incidents during disbursement in some areas, and irresponsible use of the money given are among other criticisms directed towards this initiative.

While all these concerns are not baseless, the elimination of direct cash transfers in the face of fuel price increase is unthinkable. Despite some irregularities, the 2005 and 2008 direct cash transfers (BLTs) have set a precedent for subsequent social protection programs aimed at cushioning the impacts of fuel price rise. In March 2007, although possible statistical errors were acknowledged, the percentage of poor households was successfully stunted at 16.58% from a previous estimated rise to 22%. Contrary to the belief that the recipients would spend their money on cigarettes or alcohol, a large majority of them turned out to use the extra cash to buy rice. There was also lack of evidence that pointed to complacency and reduced labour force participation. In general, the distributed cash had resulted in stronger purchasing power and benefited the poor to meeting their daily needs.

The current disbursement of BLSMs is clearly modelled after the success of previous cash transfers. In comparison to medium to long-term social protection programs, such as job creation through funding for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), direct cash transfer is indeed very effective in mitigating the immediate sting of fuel price rises. Its winning advantage lies in its ability to temporarily curb swelling economic and social grievances while other measures are being taken to control the damage resulting from price changes. The 4-month disbursement period is drawn based on confidence that impacts of inflation would become insignificant in the fourth month. To date, it has successfully averted widespread protests, riots, and other destabilising occurrences.

In this light, it is apparent that direct cash transfers are indispensable in minimising aversion to price reforms. Admittedly, there is a wide room for improvements in terms of logistics and implementation. As far as the purpose is concerned, however, oppositions attempting to problematise these measures and label them as politically-charged initiatives would likely find their efforts futile. Fuel subsidies may further be reduced in the future and the expectation for extra cash would hold among poor households. What is critical therefore is in ensuring that such cash transfer programs are crafted within a wider long-term poverty eradication strategy and improvements are pursued to attain maximum impact.

This blog post has been written by Margareth Sembiring. She is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non–Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

A ‘Win-Win’ Scenario for Land Deals

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on June 26, 2013

The increase in food staples prices in 2006 was followed by different measures and policies meant to stabilize prices and ensure the supply of food as seen through the different regions of the world. One controversial policy undertaken by food insecure or net food importing countries was ‘farmland acquisition’. This involves purchase of both the ownership and use rights through leases or concessions whether short or long term. Reasons for acquiring land consist of achieving a stable supply of food, the production of biofuels and forestry products and the increasing scarcity of natural resources. Land acquisitions attracted a lot of attention due to its implications on the food security of the host as well as the investing country and its impact on the livelihoods and welfare of small farmers. 

The issue resurfaced when the result of a year-long investigation by Global Witness was released last 13 May on the alleged involvement of a private bank and an international organisation in funding Vietnamese firms that are establishing a rubber plantations in  Laos and Cambodia. The study showed that the operations of these firms were causing widespread evictions, illegal logging and food insecurity. It is just one of the many cases that presents the costs attached to acquisition of agricultural land by foreign investors.

On paper, foreign investments in agriculture are expected to generate jobs and incomes and facilitate the transfer of knowledge and modern farming techniques to increase agricultural productivity. A recent report by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) asserts that there are benefits from such arrangements. Particularly, deals in Uganda and Senegal were the success stories where both parties benefitted. In these countries, foreign investors considered the farmers and local communities as “partners” in the implementation of the projects.

The rise in farmland acquisition has been contentious and complex since it is intertwined with other issues such as food security, property rights and to some extent, land reform. Most developing governments welcome foreign investments on their farmlands because of the potential socio-economic benefits and a solution to their struggling agricultural sectors. However, the real challenge for them is to create an effective policy framework that would maximise the benefits from the deal and lead to a sustained inclusive growth. At the same time, the objective of achieving food security should also be paramount. In particular, it should include the participation of inputs of the most vulnerable to the land deals – smallholder farmers and local communities.

An inclusive policy on farmland acquisitions can be implemented on the ground by both national and local governments. Specifically, the latter can play as a mediator between the smallholder farmers and foreign investors. Dialogues and consultations between both parties will not only increase transparency but also facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge. On a broader scope, national governments can act as a watchdog and ensure that the rights of the smallholder farmers and local communities are respected. An effective monitoring system is crucial for realising the benefits brought about by the investments. In this case, the ‘win-win’ scenario is largely hinged on the role of the policymakers.

 

This blog post has been written by Maria Carmencita S. Morales. Maria Carmencita is an Associate Research Fellow at the RSIS Centre for Non–Traditional Security (NTS) Studies.

Hydropower, Economic Growth and Inequality in Cambodia

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 15, 2013
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Cambodia imports all of its petroleum products, which are the main source of energy for power generation in the industrial, transport, residential and commercial sectors. With such a high dependence on oil, the price of electricity in Cambodia is the highest in the Southeast Asian region. As such, the massive demand for electrical power and infrastructure demand is unaffordable for the Cambodian Government. In light of these circumstances, the Royal Government has decided to encourage and create necessary conditions to attract private sector investment in the power industry. Through this condition, all potential hydropower projects are being developed with the support of investment from foreign companies, particularly Chinese companies.

Amongst the range of energy sources utilised to faciliate economic growth, hydroelectricity is a cheap and sustainable energy source. In the long term, the improvement of power supply and reduction of power price could be significant because of its benefits for economic growth and employment through absorbing the Foreign Direct Investment. Moreover, unemployment in Cambodia can potentially be reduced by increasing of foreign direct investment in Cambodia. Lower electricity prices can encourage the growth of small and medium enterprise in Cambodia, which contribute substantially to economic growth and poverty reduction in Cambodia.

That said, however, there are about 90,000 people of ethnic minority backgrounds living in the middle Se San Basin in Cambodia and Vietnam down-stream from the Yali Falls Dam, who engage in subsistence farming as their main occupation (Halcrow, 1998). The Se San River supports a rich variety of plant and animal life, which provide local people with water for drinking, washing and irrigation as well as other  resources particularly for Cambodian side, where livelihoods almost totally rely on access to natural resources from aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The previous livelihood systems might not be able to be sustained for these effected people. Moreover, these impacts have been serious for indigenous people living along the Se San River. In the case of Yali Falls, flood waves as a result of the initial operational tests of this project have resulted in a loss of lives, property, livestock and crops. The villagers have also stopped fishing due to the reduced fish population in the river. Before the dam was constructed, they could get between 2 to 20 kg of fish per day from this river for domestic consumption and sale (about 2 USD per kg).  The dam has made them lose their income from fish and increase their spending to buy meat for domestic consumption. As such, the impact of hydropower dam should be minimized in order to reduce the inequality between the downstream and upstream community. The government and developers of hydropower projects should provide more support to the affected communities in recovering their livelihood from the resettlement.

Research conducted under the ASEAN-Canada Junior Fellowship will analyze the costs and benefits of hydropower in terms of economic, social and environmental circumstances in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The research focuses on analyzing the improvement of hydropower dams on affected communities and contributes to the economic development in region with less inequality.

This blog post has been written by Kesa Ly. Kesa is a Research and Development Advisor at Life With Dignity and Research Fellow at M-POWER, and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

SME Development and Management in Myanmar

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 14, 2013
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Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) play an essential role in the economic development of Southeast Asian countries. Generally, the SME sector accounts for more than 90% of all firms as well as the biggest employment source contributing for over three quarters of the workforce especially for the women and the young. As such, the SME sector will remain the back bone of most of the economies in the region for some time. Supportive measures and encouragement for SME development is therefore urgently needed at both the sub-regional and national level. As such, an SME development strategy can be regarded as one of the pillars of a developing country’s national development strategy.

In Myanmar, SMEs contribute to about 90% of total enterprises and about 70% of the total work force is employed in SMEs. Although SMEs dominate every sector of the economy, supportive policy measures are still lacking in Myanmar. The status of SMEs in Myanmar among South East Asian countries is relatively low due to its low productivity, shortage of capital, outdated technology and poor market access. Moreover, there are no laws in Myanmar that pertain to SMEs.

Although SMEs can be found in every sector of the country, their legal status and statistics are available only in the manufacturing sector accounting for more than 40,000 firms and 92% of total domestic firm in Myanmar.

Among the SMEs in Myanmar, food-processing industries account more than 60% of total firms, which largely operate based on “learning by doing” in production as well as marketing. Food-processing companies include rice mills, oil mills, powdering machines, sugar mills, bean & pulses processors, ice factories and confectionaries, which make up about 90% of food-processing industries. In addition to this, rice mills make up half the number of food processing firms in Myanmar. As Myanmar adopted market oriented system in 1988 and encouraged privatization, the private manufacturing firm increased three fold during 1988/89 to 2011/12.

SMEs of Myanmar can be basically classified as the following: (1) Traditional SMEs; (2) Import substituted SMEs (Active SMEs); (3) Agricultural and resource based export oriented SMEs (Modern SMEs). That said, most of Myanmar’s SMEs are traditional SMEs, which constitute more than 80% of the total number. Import substituted SMEs are mostly concerned with food and beverage, household utilities, plastic goods, basic electronic goods etc. They are located in the main cities and account for probably less than 10% of the total. A few export oriented industries like  modern rice mills, bean & pulses processing, fish and prawn processing, wood-based factories and garment factories have emerged recently in Yangon  and Mandalay under market oriented system.

As such, SMEs development in Myanmar is mainly concerned with the transformation of traditional SMEs into active SMEs and then eventually into modern SMEs. SMEs in Myanmar still face various problems such as lack of financing, low level of technologies, and unequal playing field with Foreign Direct Investment firms[1].

Myanmar desperately needs to solve all these problems in order to gain SMEs development. And in-depth study on how Myanmar can overcome these barriers and effective policy recommendations for ways to maximize the growth of SMEs is urgently needed.


[1] Survey result conducted by ASEAN Canada Junior Research Fellow from Myanmar.

 

This blog post has been written by Nang Saw Nandar Hlaing. Nandar is a researcher with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (UMFCCI), and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Exploiting the potential of developing the CLV Development Triangle

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 14, 2013
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The Development Triangle Area comprises of 13 provinces with a total area of 143.9 thousand square kilometers, population of approximately 7 million people (as of 2012) and population density of 48. Interestingly, most provinces share the same natural environment, culture and ethnic groups. Moreover, the Triangle is located in an area that is of economic, political and strategic importance to the three countries.

The CLV Development Triangle has abundant natural resources. It is located in Indochina’s central highlands. Fertile farmlands – up to 600,000 hectares – in this region have received investments for developing industrial tree planting areas, which is seen to be a profitable venture.  However, many fertile farmlands continue to be fallowed, have a lack of water for farming during the dry season and lack suitable cultivation methods.

There is a large area of natural forest with abundant and diverse systems of plants and animals. These forests contain many kinds of valuable wood – high in quality and primary nature reserve wood (total natural area of forest land is about 8.87 million hectares). The area conserves the unique species of flora and animal systems of the various countries and the wider region. Currently, however, indiscriminate exploitation of forest resources – activities such as illegal logging and poaching – have not been closely controlled and managed. Therefore, the benefits of natural forest resource development and genetic code preservation need to be urgently acknowledged and protected.

The CLV Development Triangle is also rich in water resources, including surface water and underground water, as this areas is the source of the major rivers in the three countries. In particular, a characteristic of the headwater river is high watershed slope and large amount of water, which has attracted interests to develop hydropower. Moreover, the groundwater reserve in this area is relatively large and plays an important role in daily serving and production activity needs of inhabitants. However, provinces in Cambodia and Laos have, to date, not utilized hydropower effectively. Electricity networks for local communities are still limited, and many areas still do not even have electricity for lighting. Moreover, there are many shortcomings and limitations in the irrigation systems and groundwater exploitation which support residents’ agricultural and animal husbandry activities.

In addition, there are vast reserves of mineral resources in the area that are untapped – including bauxite, gems, gold, aluminum, zinc, etc – which have attracted the attention of investors. However, the exploitation largely by foreign investors is rampant, spontaneous and has caused serious consequences for the ecology of the region.

Ecotourism and cultural tourism of ethnic minorities is also extremely remarkable here. Unique original culture have been conserved and developed by ethnic groups. Besides, there are many primitive natural conversation areas where have unique biodiversity. However, these potentials have not been seen sufficient investment and development.

Finally, the development triangle has many potential benefits as a base for developing efficient commodity futures market, which would promote socio-economic development and improve residents’ quality of life. However, such potential has so far been utilized spontaneously for planned development purposes. The question is how to not only develop the economic benefits of natural resources, but also maintain the sustainable development of this region in the future.

This blog post has been written by Hoang Thi My Nhi. My Nhi is a PhD candidate at the Vietnam National University, a researcher in the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS), and a  Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN–Canada Research Partnership.

For more information on the ASEAN–Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Local Politics and the Limits of Micro-Regionalism in Border Areas

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 14, 2013
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The cross-border cooperation between West Kalimantan in Indonesia and Sarawak in Malaysia shows rich evidence on how the dynamic interaction between the local and central governments has a great effect in determining the future of regional integration in the region. As a region that is far from the center of economic development in their respective countries, the successful cross-border cooperation between West Kalimantan and Sarawak can be seen as a success for ASEAN countries in overcoming development gaps within and across countries. Furthermore, successful cross-border cooperation might be seen as the emergence of the so-called micro-regionalism, which is defined as a cross-border integration within combination of two or more territorial elements that are contagious or linked by the seas ‘below the national level’ and ‘across national borders.

Theoretically speaking, the existence of cross-border cooperation mechanism between sub-national actors can foster deeper cross-border cooperation through the creation of more coordinated policies among political elites across countries in the border areas.  Furthermore, the existence of sub-regional institutional mechanisms as a top-down initiative from central governments should have fostered deeper cross-border cooperation in the border areas. The decentralization process experienced at the sub-national level may also foster micro-regionalism in the border regions by increasing the role of local governments in managing cross-border cooperation with their counterparts. Besides, the emergence of cross-border production networks due to the enhanced private sector involvement, and the increased economic cross-border activities is also the primary mover of the emergence of micro-regional cooperation in the border areas.

Sarawak Infrastructure in the border areas (road after Tebedu)

Sarawak Infrastructure in the border areas (road after Tebedu)

Despite the existence of cross-border cooperation mechanisms like Sosek Malindo, institutions for sub-regional integration like BIMP EAGA, the decentralization process, the greater business actor involvement, and the increased trade border activities which are arguably the prerequisite for the emerging of micro-regionalism, the emergence of the so-called micro-regionalism remains limited in this border region. This research finds that local politics, political antagonism between the local and central elites, as well as defective decentralization have hindered the emergence of micro-regionalism.

West Kalimantan Infrastructure in the border areas (road leading to Entikong)

West Kalimantan Infrastructure in the border areas (road leading to Entikong)

In West Kalimantan, due to sovereignty issues is still appealing within the local politics and the perception of inferiority toward Sarawak economic growth, the local political elites tend to see Sarawak’s massive development as a threat rather than an opportunity thus create a barrier for the local elites to deepen cross-border cooperation. Furthermore, this feeling is intensified with the perception that the central government does not have the political will to develop the border areas in West Kalimantan thus creating political antagonism between local and national governments. In fact, this perception appears due to the decentralization process that does not give the local government a greater authority to conduct cross border cooperation. This makes decision-making mechanisms too bureaucratic compare with Malaysian counterpart to coordinate the development policy to foster cross-border cooperation.

This blog post has been written by Mochammad Faisal Karim. Karim is an Expert Staff to a Member of Parliament in Committee on Finance, National Development, Banking, and Non-Banking Institutions in Indonesia and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

ASEAN Bond Market Initiative: A Quick Report on the Credit Guarantee Investment Fund

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 14, 2013
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The ASEAN Bond Initiative (ABMI), like the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation, was formed in the context of the aftermath of the Asian crisis.  The mechanism was established in 2003 to promote long-term investment and financial stability by helping member countries tap into regional saving pools, while avoiding currency and maturity mismatches, as seen during the 1997 crisis.  These objectives were to be fulfilled through a multipronged strategy which addresses various issues, such as supply and demand of local bonds, cross-border transaction and settlement, and credit rating system.

The 2008 global crisis accelerated the ABMI dynamic.  Being aware of the fragility and interconnection of the global economy, leaders from ASEAN+3 countries acknowledged the pressing importance of building sustainable economic growth in the region.  As a result, a New AMBI Roadmap was adopted in 2008 to give the mechanism clearer objectives, including promoting the issuance of local currency-denominated bonds and improving the necessary infrastructure for the bond markets.   In 2012, these goals were streamlined and concretized by the New Roadmap+ to achieve more tangible outcomes and address with relevant issues in the global finance.  At the 10th anniversary in 2013, the ABMI is at its vibrant stage and has contributed to the steady development of the regional bond market.

Among the various programs under the ABMI, the Credit Guarantee Investment Fund (CGIF) stands out as one that received close attention from member governments.  Established in 2010 as part of the New Roadmap, the CGIF is to provide guarantees on corporate bonds issued in regional markets.  The pool of US$700 million-paid-up-capital available to the fund, contributed by ASEAN+3 and the ADB, speaks well for the strong commitment given to this program.  Most recently in April 2013, the CGIF provided its first guarantee to the issuance of Thai-baht bonds at the value of Bt2.8 billion by Noble Group, a Singaporean–based commodities trading corporation.  This guarantee would allow Noble Group to diversify its borrowing and tap into the growing Thai bond market, while creating investment opportunities for local investors in Thailand.

Looking more closely at this development, the CGIF, and the ABMI in general, do not devoid of challenges.  First, regional bond market still have to compete with bank lending and local bond market as sources of corporate borrowing.  The case of Thai Union Frozen, whose deal with the CGIF in 2012 did not materialize reportedly due to the higher costs in issuing bonds in the Singaporean market compared to borrowing at home, illustrates this point.  This phenomenon reflects a fundamental problem in promoting regional bond market in a largely bank-based financial environment and existing advantages of big local companies in accessing domestic funds.  Second, the fund’s financial and organizational capacity can pose certain limitation to its performance.  Although the size of US$700 million is not insignificant, with the average deal size of US$75-100 million[1], the CGIF could only guarantee a limited number of companies and could hardly afford a default.  This concern is seen connected to its careful selection criteria that would require competent staff and a time-consuming approval process.  But this is a work in progress.  So far the CGIF is working toward building its organizational capacity and expanding its investment portfolio.  How it overcomes these challenges and contributes to regional financial integration should be followed closely by future research.


[1] The Thai Union Frozen deal was about US$ 75 million and the Noble Group deal was approximately US$ 92 million (calculating from the rate of Bht32 to US$1).

This blog post has been written by Supanai Sookmark. Supanai is an instructor at Carleton University in Ottawa and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Governing South China Sea Affairs: Will Cooperation and Joint Development Affect Peace?

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 13, 2013
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Since disputes that occurred in the 1980s,  affairs in the South China Sea have reflected and validated the notion of anarchy from a realist perspective. Governance over dispute settlements and other matters in the region has been absent, while each claimant tends to enforce a unilateral policy to secure its national interests. The ASEAN-facilitated effort to find a solution among the claimants in the disputed region has so far been modest in achievement.

ASEAN’s relative success in bringing the claimants into negotiation forum is an important aspect for building peace, but there are certain factors to be resolved if the claimants are determined to find peaceful settlement. First, the challenge to form a regulation (i.e. the Code of Conduct) that is acceptable to all of the claimants. In order to cope with this, compromises need to be made and incentives for compliance and cooperation need to be provided. Second, the absence mutual confidence that has been constraining diplomacy between the claimants. The options to bridge the mutual distrusts among the claimants are limited by insecurity complex generated by the balance of power in the region.  A respected leadership may be required as the bridge in the absence of mutual confidence.

In the effort to conclude an agreement, provide incentives for compliance, and build confidence, sufficient resources are fundamental. China and ASEAN has to work together and exert all possible resources, both internal and external. The on-going regional economic integration in East Asia (internal resources) can be expected to extend to South China Sea development for as long as the claimants are willing to accept and cooperate. In addition, the international community is more likely to be willing to support peaceful settlement to everyone’s benefit instead of allowing the conflict to cause strike to the regional economy. This support should be treated as opportunity for creating ways of solution to the dispute. If ASEAN and China can work together to do this, the world can expect to see economic integration also flourish in the South China Sea.

This blog post has been written by Meidi Kosandi. Meidi is a PhD candidate in International Relations at Ritsumeikan University, Japan and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Tobacco Control: Prioritising Public Health over Free-Trade

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on June 11, 2013
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Public health should not be undermined by economic priorities, especially priorities that are dictated by the tobacco industry. Tobacco control efforts in Southeast Asia face alarming challenges with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Even though the TPP only involves four ASEAN member countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam), the tobacco industry’s strong lobby presence particularly on intellectual property (IP) negotiations can possibly undermine whatever progress ASEAN has made in banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS). ASEAN countries have imposed bans on TAPS except for Indonesia and the Philippines. Aside from Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines, ASEAN countries have also banned publicity for tobacco companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

A cigarette pack is the simplest but most crucial form of marketing tobacco and a cigarette brand. The tobacco industry will fight long and hard to keep cigarette packs appealing to the public in the guise of protecting their IP rights. The tobacco industry has been aggressive in protecting their IP rights to legally counter stringent tobacco control policies in Australia and Singapore under the framework of trade agreements such as the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. It is then not surprising that Thailand’s new graphic health warning (GHW) regulation to be implemented in October 2013 has already met strong opposition from tobacco companies. Thailand will have the largest GHWs in the world, covering 85 per cent of the front and back of cigarette packages. Currently, Brunei has the largest GHWs in tobacco products in ASEAN (75 per cent), followed by Thailand (55 per cent), Singapore (50 per cent) and Malaysia (50 per cent).  By November 2013, Vietnam will also require GHWs (50 per cent) on tobacco packages. Indonesia’s ‘fresh’ tobacco control law introduced in January 2013 is still relatively weak, with regulations still pending. As noted in a previous blog, ASEAN critically needs leadership to go ‘plain’ as Australia did.

With social media, marketing tobacco across borders has never been easier, even in countries with strict tobacco control regulations and even without free-trade agreements. Tobacco companies are also exploiting CSR through charities and ‘sustainable’ tobacco farming to gain political leverage and promote tobacco. Indonesia and the Philippines still allow TAPS at points-of-sale (POS) such as convenience stores and road side stalls, and in social media along with Myanmar and Vietnam. The ASEAN Focal Points on Tobacco Control (AFPTC) has emphasised that ASEAN has to ‘step-up’ the implementation of comprehensive bans on TAPS and the harmonisation of cross-border tobacco advertising through all media platforms, including the internet.

These challenges can be overcome through strict regulation and monitoring by ASEAN governments. Tobacco control policies with ‘teeth’ are not only prudent but also imperative if they are to be effective. The implementation of ASEAN member-states’ commitments to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) (including non-signatory Indonesia as noted in a previous blog) warrants extremely strong political will and less interference on public health policy formulation from the tobacco industry. Negotiators in the TPP have to acknowledge that the FCTC requires that multilateral agreements be compatible with the FCTC including taxation and price measures. Tobacco products should thus be excluded in free-trade agreements to discourage industry opposition to government policies on tobacco control, particularly on banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to reduce demand.

This blog post has been written by Gianna Gayle AmulShe is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non—Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Improving the Environmental Standards of China’s Growing Overseas Investment

China’s rapid economic growth and its growing demand for resources have increased its investment footprints across the world. Its outbound direct investment (ODI) was estimated at USD115 billion in 2012 and is projected to reach USD172 billion by 2017, making the country the second-largest overseas direct investor after the US.  However, China’s overseas investment in mega-projects such as hydropower dams, an estimated 308 dam projects in 70 countries as of August 2012, is not without problems. In some cases, such projects have aggravated armed conflicts. Myanmar offers an apt example. Hydroelectric dam projects in provinces like Kachin State has escalated tensions in 2011 between the Myanmar Army and the armed opposition group, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Construction of these dams often proceeded under questionable circumstances such as lack of consultation of ethnic minorities inhabiting the areas and lack of transparency on the potential environmental and social impacts. The Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division offers another example. Operated jointly by China’s Wanbao Mining Limited and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), the project was subjected to mass protest in August 2012 due to environmental pollution, forced removals and unfair compensation. Subsequent crackdown injured nearly 100 villagers.

The lack of environmental regulations of China’s overseas investment is hardly surprising because such regulations continue to  remain weak within China itself. Issues related to environmental pollution are often characterised by official apathy, opacity, cover-ups, and outright denial. For instance, Beijing-based lawyer Dong Zhengwei’s request on 30 January 2013 for full disclosure of the findings of a comprehensive study of land pollution conducted by relevant government ministries from 2006 to 2010 was rejected because it is a “state secret”. Also, after decades of official apathy, the Chinese government finally admitted in February 2013 of the existence of a new phenomenon of “cancer villages”, more than a decade after more than 400 such villages have been identified.

China can no longer afford to ignore the environmental and societal impacts of its overseas investment. Absent strict environmental standards, such investments could inflame tensions in countries with histories of internal armed conflicts such as Myanmar and parts of Africa, another region with huge Chinese investments. In a positive sign, China’s Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Environmental Protection jointly issued the ‘Guidelines for Environmental Protection in Foreign Investment and Cooperation’ on 18 February 2013. The Guidelines aim to “direct enterprises in China to further regularize their environmental protection behaviours in foreign investment and cooperation, guide them to actively perform their social responsibilities of environmental protection, and promote the sustainable development of foreign investment and cooperation”. The issuance of the Guidelines is timely. However it is a voluntary guideline meaning companies are not required by law to abide by them. It is imperative that such guidelines be made mandatory for all Chinese companies venturing abroad so China’s overseas investments can result in a win-win solution that balances economic development and environmental protection.

This blog post has been written by Mr PK Hangzo. He is Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU)).

ASEAN’s New Towns: Housing the Middle-Class Urbanity through Rural Dispossession

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on June 3, 2013
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Half of ASEAN’s 600 million people now live in urban areas, a figure expected to continue to increase in the coming decades. To accommodate this rising urban population, public planning agencies throughout the region encourage a rapid—but controlled—expansion of urban activities, built forms, and populations into the urban hinterland. While this strategy is not new in the region, it is changing with the widespread adoption of planning policies favouring the construction new so-called new towns; i.e.; large-scale, planned, suburban redevelopments geared towards middle and upper-middle-class urban households.

While they contribute to accommodate growing urban populations and while they benefit various real estate economic actors, these large residential redevelopments put intense pressure on pre-existing populations, who must adapt to rapid socio-spatial changes. At the urban periphery of Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok and, more recently Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh, new town developments entail forced acquisitions of large tracts of land, the displacements of populations, a profound land and housing market restructuring, and the afflux of suburbanizing dwellers into erstwhile rural places.

The capacity of pre-existing populations to adapt to these profound social, economic and spatial transformations is limited. Land expropriations, in particular, have been shown to disrupt the everyday life, social networks and livelihoods of erstwhile agrarian households. While many households on the edge of large Southeast Asian cities have already diversified their livelihood into off-farm activities, a significant proportion continues to depend on agricultural land. Despite land compensations, the most vulnerable segment of this population (women, the elderly and the less educated) struggle to find adequate livelihood alternatives once they are dispossessed of the land on which they sustained their living.

The negative effects of land dispossessions are worsened by the exclusionary designs, amenities and management styles of ASEAN new towns. Physical barriers, such as poor road connections or guarded gates, limit movement between the new and old periurban places and this, in turn, restrains social and economic interaction between incoming suburban dwellers and pre-existing periurban households.

Moreover, newly built amenities and services in periurban residential developments (schools, medical clinics, community centres, etc.) are often privately managed and, given the concomitant high fees these charge, are generally out of reach for the poorer population. In some cases, this socio-spatial segregation is reinforced by surveillance mechanisms that prevent periurban villagers and migrants from practicing traditional urban economic activities (e.g., street vending) and from using public spaces in the new suburban neighbourhoods.

Throughout the ASEAN, the construction of new towns tends to marginalize populations living on the peripheries rather than providing them an entry point into the urban economy. Weak physical and functional linkages and limited opportunities for socio-economic interaction result in the gradual fragmentation of periurban landscapes, economies and populations. This lack of integration widens social gaps between wealthier suburbanizing dwellers and the thousands of villagers and domestic migrants “left behind” by the urban encroachment process.

 

This blog post has been written by Danielle Labbe. Danielle is Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Montreal and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Road Infrastructure and Food (In)Security in Indonesia

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on May 31, 2013
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Physical access to food constitutes one of the four pillars of food security. Among the many factors that affect physical access to food, road infrastructure plays a critical role. High-performing road networks will enable effective transportation systems, and eventually lead to more cost-effective food supply chains, lower food prices and better guarantees of food availability for consumers.

In Indonesia, the lack of roads and poor road conditions in many rural areas are major drivers to food insecurity. Geographical isolation results in low farm gate prices and low income for small farmers. The difficulty in accessing these places also gives rise to high transportation costs for commodities coming in and going out and results in higher food prices in the markets.

Regardless of the fact that over 80% of villages in Indonesia are accessible by four-wheeled vehicles, road coverage and road quality outside the islands of Java and Bali are comparatively much worse. Road conditions in many rural areas are deplorable, and lack of commitment to road maintenance is one of the main contributing factors. The district governments that are in charge of rural roads reportedly gain more benefits from constructing new roads, leading to funding for construction but relatively little for maintenance. Current available funds for the latter are only 5.9% of what is needed to maintain road quality. Furthermore, the highly complex road construction financing system that involves central, provincial, and district governments opens the way for corrupt practices and fund misappropriation.

The considerable negative consequences that this condition has for food access and food security are exacerbated by frequent climate-related incidences in a number of rural spaces. Since the beginning of the year, Indonesia has been ravaged by more than 30 occurrences of landslides; many of which have resulted in road blockages. In January, landslide in Cicalengka paralysed commercial activities in five villages as road accesses were completely severed. In April in Wonosobo, landslides and poor road conditions effectively isolated one village and impeded emergency assistance efforts. The apparent vulnerability towards environmental changes clearly aggravates the existing food insecurity resulting from poor road infrastructure.

Considering the criticality of road access in ensuring food security, it is imperative for the government to perform a thorough review into the current road infrastructure arrangements. The problems associated with sub-standard road quality and meagre resources for road maintenance are compounded by changing climatic conditions. Climate change is altering precipitation and storm patterns in Indonesia in ways that lead to greater soil erosion, landslides and flooding in some impacted areas. Road planning, construction and maintenance strategies need to take these climate realities into consideration, which entails collaboration with climate experts and risk modellers. All such reviews, whether climate-related or not, will bring about difficult political decisions on strategic infrastructure planning, existing funding system, and corrupt practices at multiple governmental levels. 

As food commodities move across different parts of Indonesia, it is essential for food security coverage to be extended throughout the entire archipelago. To this end, efforts towards narrowing the gap in road infrastructure between places within and outside the islands of Java and Bali need to be carried out.

Road infrastructure is vital for food access, and securing the lines to food access is key to providing greater assurance for Indonesian food security.  

 This blog post has been written by Margareth Sembiring. She is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non–Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Achieving Food Security along with Regional Integration

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on May 29, 2013
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The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is the ASEAN countries’ commitment to regional cooperation and integration. A Blueprint was adopted at the 13th ASEAN Summit on 20 November 2007. In particular, it aims for the free movement of goods, services, investment, labour and capital by 2015. Though largely focusing on enhanced intra-regional trade, there is little discussion on its impact on national objectives such as food security.

Despite the importance of food security at a regional level, it has been traditionally viewed as a national imperative. In the case of ASEAN, members are divided by the lines of food self-sufficiency and food self-reliance. Food self-sufficiency leans more in favour of the production of various food items by domestic producers while the latter considers trade as an important factor in supplying local demand. Given these two approaches, one of the challenges of the AEC is to aggregate the interests of its members and help them achieve their objectives.  

There has been a substantial achievement in the reduction of tariffs for the movement of goods but little else is known whether agricultural trade has increased in the past years. In 2009, agricultural exports of ASEAN countries only amounted to 10% of total exports while imports constituted only 6%. If agricultural trade was enhanced, what might be the potential impacts? First and foremost, its enhancement could facilitate economic growth to the creation of jobs and redistributes income especially to the poor. In the case of ASEAN, this is important since most of the member countries rely on the agricultural sector as a major contributor to their gross domestic product (GDP) and at the same time, it employs a large population of their workforce. Second, the agricultural sector can increase domestic supplies to meet the local demand. Third, it reduces overall supply variability.

Ultimately, the realization of the benefits of trade for food security depends on the policies and capacity of the member countries. There are costs and benefits to each policy action. However, benefits of regional cooperation can be maximised if complimented by national policies that are also attuned to regional objectives. This is due to the fact that national policies have repercussions at the regional level such as it has been in the case of the recent global food crisis. Similarly, other existing frameworks such as the ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework, ASEAN Food Security Reserve and ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve should be seen as complements to the AEC and not as independent. Hence, ASEAN leaders should keep in mind that the full implementation of the AEC does not only entail enhanced cooperation in regional integration but also as a means to attain food security.  

This blog post has been written by Maria Carmencita S. Morales. Maria Carmencita is an Associate Research Fellow at the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies.

Social and cultural development in the Development Triangle: Challenges faced by Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 19, 2013
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Socio-cultural development in the Development Triangle Area of mainland Southeast Asia – comprising of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – continues to face several challenges despite recent support from ASEAN and other international organizations. Countries in the Development Triangle’s vary in terms of their geography, topography, social norms, religions, and nationalist characteristics. Such a diverse range of factors have to some extent also affected the general development of the region. While such diversity is also evident in other Southeast Asian countries, the Development Triangle Area countries are still considered as “bottomland” and lags far behind other countries in Southeast Asia.

Given growing social problems (such as cross-border crimes and environmental degradation), countries in the Development Triangle have recently established a consistent plan for ensuring that their basic development is equitable development. Equitable development does not only seek to address economic issues, but also socio-cultural aspects, such as increase investments in health, education and social services. Doing so would enhance the capacity of individual workers, improve the ability to develop and implement policies, enhance fairness in society, and build social security networks to eliminate poverty amongst marginalised communities amidst the conventional economic development process.

The problem that remains is how to sustain high growth while reducing the societal inequalities, which have been a result of inequitable growth, and in turn, increasing inequitable access to income and social services.

Over the last decade, thanks to cooperation among the three countries, the support of ASEAN as well as external funding of international donor countries, such as Japan and Canada, the CLV Development Triangle Area has had significant achievements. For example, there has been increasing living standards, reduced poverty levels, upgraded social services, improved educational levels, and heightened social order and security.

However, if compared with development levels of other countries in the region, the Development Triangle Area needs more internal efforts and continued effective support from organizations and donor countries.

Policies with a long-term strategic vision should be recommended to guide regional development in order to accelerate the development of the region’s assets, and subsequently facilitate equitable development to narrow the developmental gaps amongst ASEAN countries.

 

This blog post has been written by Hoang Thi My Nhi. My Nhi is a PhD candidate at the Vietnam National University, a researcher in the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS), and a  Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN–Canada Research Partnership.

For more information on the ASEAN–Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Transitional Justice in Asia II

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 16, 2013
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Amnesty International issued a report last month, Time to Face the Past: Justice for Past Abuses in Indonesia’s Aceh Province, that urges for meaningful progress in seeking accountability for human rights violations committed during the conflict in Aceh from 1989 to 2004. Earlier this year, the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh handed out the verdict for the two defendants accused of several accounts of international crimes; the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution (A/HRC/19/L.2) that encourages accountability and reconciliation for the Sri Lankan civil war. Some Asian countries face the challenge of seeking reconciliation and accountability for past international crimes as they are emerging from conflicts or large-scale violence.

Transitional justice (TJ) refers to mechanisms and processes that redress past systematic human rights violations. Justice is conceived in a broader sense in the field of transitional justice, which includes not only prosecution of perpetrators but also the telling of truth regarding past abuses, reparation, reconciliation and reform. It is considered by many people as an important step towards democracy and rule of law.

In the independence war of Bangladesh in 1971, over a million people were killed and tens of thousands of women raped. There were serious civilian casualties and wide-spread violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law in the final stages of the clashes in 2009. During the Aceh conflict, there had been wide-spread violations of human rights, such as extra-judicial killing, rape and torture. The pursuit of transitional justice for these crimes has been a mixed experience. The Bangladeshi tribunal has convicted four leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) who allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani Army in committing human rights violations. The Sri Lankan government appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to look back at the conflict and the commission produced a report with recommendations for reconciliation. There have been some prosecutions and reparations in relation to the human rights abuses during the Aceh conflict.

However, these activities are controversial and far from enough to achieve the objective of accountability and reconciliation. The war crime trials resulted in violent unrest in Bangladesh, with JI supporters questioning the credibility of the tribunal and the death penalty, while others demanded a harsher sentence. There have been criticisms of flaws and political interference in the trial processes. The implementation of the LLRC recommendations has been negligible. The Amnesty International’s report demonstrates that the exercise of justice in Aceh has made little progress.

Two issues are highlighted in the controversies and criticisms: an unbalanced approach to TJ and lack of people’s participation in the process. Complementary measures such as truth-telling and reparation have yet to happen in the case of Bangladesh. In addition, there has not been sufficient victim engagement in the trial processes. Sri Lanka’s progress in rebuilding infrastructure and resettling of displaced people has been acknowledged in the UNHRC resolution, but more work is needed in the areas of justice and reconciliation. In Aceh, victims and survivors have been denied truth and justice.

Transitional justice is a spectrum of judicial and non-judicial measures which are complementary. People should be the focus since they bear the brunt of abuses and violence. A integrated and people-oriented approach would be more effective in achieving justice and reconciliation.

Waste picking to waste managing in Asian cities

In a recent NTS Alert on urban vulnerabilities, it was noted that the informal economic sector plays a significant role in supporting the formal economic sector and thus deserves greater attention in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction initiatives. Waste-pickers make up one such section in the informal sector and are commonly found in cities of developing countries.

Similar to other members of the informal sector, many waste-pickers have moved from rural to urban areas in search of employment, but have largely ended up living in slum areas or even in garbage landfills. These individuals make a living from collecting items such as used plastic cups, bottles and scrap steel from the landfills to sell to recycling plants.

However, such a practice is not sustainable in the long run. First, the practice does little to get waste-pickers out of the poverty cycle and the social and health risks associated with it. A vivid example of this would be the landslide that occurred in the Payatas landfill in Philippines in 2000. Secondly,  it is not an optimal use of energy as a substantial proportion of the trash (up to 40 per cent in the case of Jakarta) collected cannot be recycled as it is contaminated with other waste. Third, the practice does not tackle the root causes of waste management, which include the lack of proper recycling and composting facilities, ineffective coordination of waste disposal companies and limited public awareness and action on reducing waste.

As such, while landfills will continue to be a necessity for many of these developing Asian cities in the short to medium term, there is a need to complement it with other waste management solutions namely recycling measures and – more recently – converting waste into biogas as a source of energy.  Not only will this reduce dependency on conventional sources of energy but also reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, potentially engage waste-pickers to manage the process and reduce electricity bills for the poor. More importantly, governments such as in Indonesia and the Philippines have already began the process of giving more attention to waste management at the policy level.

While these developments are commendable, there is still a long way to go in empowering waste-pickers to secure better health and social welfare. So far, much of the social and health needs of waste-pickers are also currently being met by NGOs. Some have created social enterprises that produce upcycled bags and accessories from the trash collected by the waste-pickers. Others have sought to take on a more advocacy role in lobbying governments for better workers’ rights, such as the Alliance for Indian Waster-pickers’ efforts that has recently voiced their requests to have waste-pickers registered so as to be applicable for state welfare benefits.

Given the immense task at hand, such incremental change must be sustained for the long term, rather than just based on donor project funding. More must also be done in introducing waste-pickers to attaining new skills to be able to have alternative economic livelihood options. An inability to progress to this level would likely leave this informal sector workers to continue to be doing (literally) the dirty work that no one else wants to do.

This blog post has been written by Sofiah JamilSofiah is an Adjunct Research Associate at the RSIS Centre for Non—Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, and a PhD candidate at the Australian National University.

Avoiding Pandemic Fatigue: Financing Pandemic Preparedness and Response

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on May 15, 2013
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Pandemic fatigue is avoidable but inevitable. Existing mechanisms for financing pandemic preparedness may not be sufficient in the event of a pandemic outbreak especially with health security threats emerging from a lethal SARS-related novel coronavirus in the Middle East and an H7N9 outbreak in China.

At the global level, there is the WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework which includes ‘sustainable and innovative financing mechanisms’ to compensate the lack of donations to the WHO PIP vaccine stockpile. Since 2012, organisations, including influenza vaccine, diagnostic and pharmaceutical manufacturers using the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) have contributed USD 18 million to the WHO through a partnership contribution mechanism under the framework. In December 2012, the WHO signed an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to ensure the availability of pandemic vaccines and antivirals to developing countries in real time (10% of vaccines as they come off the production line and 10 million treatment courses of antiviral medicine).  Funding for the WHO’s operations however, has been drastically cut for the past two years due to budget reductions in donor countries, forcing massive lay-offs of WHO staff in its headquarters and in key global health hubs. Sending a WHO team to China to monitor and assess the H7N9 outbreak, for example, was hampered because of budget limitations.

At the regional level, there is the nascent ASEAN Multi-sectoral Pandemic Preparedness and Response Framework Action Plan which embeds pandemic response into the region’s disaster and emergency management platform – the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). This came about with the financial support of the USAID Technical Assistance and Training Facility (TATF) for ASEAN which amounted to USD26million dollars (from 2007-2012). As of writing, no new funding has been announced for the further operationalisation of the action plan. In addition, there is the ASEAN Regional Stockpile of Antivirals against potential pandemic influenza for ASEAN. The USD58.85 million earmarked for the regional stockpile from 2006 to 2013 was granted by  the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF) and later on by the Japan Trust Fund on Health Initiative.

Notably, most of the relevant funding have either ended in 2012 or are closing this year.  Thus, a new stimulus may have presented itself with the threats of H7N9 and the novel coronavirus but a new surge for funding would be critical if the frameworks, action plans or stockpiles are expected to adequately function and meet the demands for pandemic response. One solution is to tap into the resources of global foundations and multilateral initiatives which can offset bilateral assistance gaps, if not further support pandemic preparedness and response in the region. The Rockefeller Foundation for example has already funded a number of initiatives for such objective, including a disease surveillance network initiative to increase the capacity of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (2007-2011) amounting to USD 280,000. Donors and national governments however need to have an integrated and coordinated strategy. Surge in funding would not matter if objectives overlap and when local health infrastructures are compromised when comprehensive programs are sacrificed for disease-specific programmes to meet donor priorities. Ensuring the effectiveness of current aid for pandemic preparedness and evidence-based interventions can help lay out how funding can be more consistent in the long term.

This blog post has been written by Gianna Gayle AmulShe is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non—Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Hubs for Cross Border Education: Singapore and Malaysia Carve out their Niche

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 10, 2013
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Cross border education refers to the movement of people and research across national borders for academic purposes. Within the Southeast Asian region, Singapore and Malaysia have actively promoted themselves as hubs for cross border education.

While these two countries aim to attract foreign students and academics, their strengths, strategies and motivations differ.

Singapore holds an enviable reputation for providing quality tertiary education. In the 2012 QS ranking of Asian Universities, the National University of Singapore came in 2nd while Nanyang Technological University came in 17th. Comparatively, the University of Malaya was ranked 35th.

The Singapore government plays a very active role in promoting Singapore as an education hub. It enjoys a healthy budgetary surplus and can afford to invest in human resource, infrastructure, and advertising. Under the Global Schoolhouse programme, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) forms partnerships with leading foreign institutions and recruits foreign talent. The Singapore government also monitors closely, entry criteria, degree requirements, and remuneration for academics.

Singapore seeks explicitly to develop academic programmes that serve the needs of its economy, and to retain foreign talent on home soil.

While Singapore may enjoy a better reputation for quality education, Malaysia edges out on affordability. As an indication, the National University of Singapore charges foreign students approximately 9,500 USD per annum for its BA programmes. The University of Malaya on the other hand, charges a significantly lower rate of approximately 2,000 USD.

The Malaysian government has spearheaded the supply of lower cost education. Its investment arm established Educity in Johore, a 350 acre campus that would eventually house 8 foreign linked universities. Cost savings are gained through the sharing of facilities, as well as teaching and administrative resources.

Notably, Malaysia has built up a unique reputation in the education of Islamic finance. Unlike conventional banking, Islamic banking complies with Muslim shariah law and abides by two key principles: the avoidance of usury, and the fair division of risks and returns. The Financial Times reports that Islamic finance is growing at remarkable speed. This has fuelled demand for knowledge and expertise in this area, which the Malaysian tertiary education system is able to meet.

Similar to Singapore, Malaysia aims to focus on academic fields that serve national socioeconomic goals: banking and finance, engineering, and health sciences. One nuanced difference is that while the Singapore government has announced that student numbers and GDP share are not its emphasis, the Malaysian government has made no such statement.

Singapore and Malaysia have each carved out a niche in the market for cross border education. The former’s selling points include: quality education, sound infrastructure, and job opportunities. Dissimilarly, the latter’s selling points include: affordability and specialised knowledge in Islamic finance.

As the two countries appeal to different demand needs, they do not appear to be in direct competition with each other. Besides as the market pie for cross border education continues to expand, each is likely to have its fill.

This blog post has been written by Diane Lek. Diane is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and is a  Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership.

For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Is Religious Environmentalism Sustainable?

Faith-based organisations (FBOs) are increasingly acknowledged as important partners in implementing policies and initiatives at the community level.  Such community-based policies or initiatives have to date, covered a range of themes including social problems (eg. crime and drug abuse), meeting basic developmental needs (eg. healthcare, education and livelihood options) and more recently,  disaster management and environmental issues. As a follow-up to a previous blog post on the role of FBOs in disaster preparedness, this blog post will focus on FBOs participation in environmental protection.

There are two primary ways in which FBOs play a significant role in addressing environmental issues. First, religious leaders serve as important mediums in highlighting environmental principles from a religious perspective, and thereby, influence their congregations. Secondly, FBOs are important mobilisers, through which their members participate in environmental activities and also serve to further disseminate information to wider society.

Effective FBO participation in environmental issues, however, faces several challenges. One main challenge is the lack of buy-in or opposition from within some sections of the religious communities themselves, which is contributed by various factors. First, there are theological debates in some religious communities on the extent to which environmental protection is espoused in the religion. In Christianity, for instance, there has been vigorous debate over religious text that emphasise man’s responsibility towards nature versus man’s dominance over nature. A second factor contributing to the lack of buy-in is  the limited emphasis of environmental principles in conventional religious education, where the emphasis on rituals over-rides a more holistic understanding of human’s relationship with God that incorporates nature. As such, many religious environmental initiatives have yet to gain a substantial level of institutional praxis, whereby environmental principles are mainstreamed into the religious communities’ operations and processes.

A second challenge would be the lack of financial and organisational capacities in FBOs. Long-term financial capacity is a major concern, as many of these initiatives are ad-hoc projects that depend on short-term donor funding. In addition to this, effective leadership and management of these environmental initiatives is crucial. Such limitations have also been cited in existing non-religious environmental initiatives.

This issue of lack of funds is also linked to a third challenge, which is the fact that has not been fully examined in current discourses on religious environmentalism is the extent to which economic/material motivations are significant in facilitating these environmental activities. An example of this would be the increasing utilisation of wakaf land (i.e. endowments made under Islamic law) in Indonesia for tree-planting activities, as a means of supporting reforestation efforts. What is particularly interesting is the fact that the type of trees chosen to be planted are highly commercially-valued trees such as teak, which after 5 to 7 years, would be chopped down to be sold.

On the one hand, some degree of economic incentive is needed to finance and sustain these tree-planting activities. On the other hand, there may be the possibility that such material motivations outweigh the spiritual motivations for environmental protection. Should the latter occur, it would potentially reflect a case of green washing, but this time in the name of God. Not only would such an outcome demonstrate the lack of effective environmental education, but also affect the credibility of religious institutions.

This blog post has been written by Sofiah JamilSofiah is an Adjunct Research Associate at the RSIS Centre for Non—Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, and a PhD candidate at the Australian National University.

Utility, Morality, and Stability: Perceptions of Inequality in Indonesia

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 8, 2013
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Inequality, along with its myriad manifestations and various indicators, has garnered greater attention within recent international and regional policy debates. For example, UN agencies, academic institutions, and civil society organizations are engaged in a global discussion on if and how inequality may become an explicit target within the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda. Proponents argue that striving to reach individual developmental targets (e.g., access to drinking water) without addressing structural issues will inhibit the realization of the vision behind the Millennium Declaration.

At a regional level, ASEAN and the OECD collaborated to prepare the Southeast Asian Economic Outlook, 2013 which contains a thematic focus on narrowing development gaps. The Outlook takes a multi-dimensional approach to evaluating inequality vis-a-vis a six-point matrix called the Narrowing Development Gap Indicators (NDGIs). Within ASEAN, although poverty rates and the human resource development gap have declined, they remain significant. Both the infrastructure and the trade and investment gaps grew which brings to question whether the region is economically growing at its full potential.

Under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, an assessment of perceptions on domestic and regional inequality, and also the process of ASEAN integration, has been conducted in Indonesia. Overall, twenty-two interviews were held with government officials, legislators, the ASEAN Secretariat, international organizations, and civil society.

Within Indonesia, the debate on income inequality is rich, lively, and varied. As the data is analyzed, patterns on strategic preferences and effective policy mechanisms will be presented. But the current area of interest is found in what is not being said.

First and foremost, the most noticeable absence from conversations is any expression of a moralistic imperative to address inequality. The distinct lack of a Rawlsian argument is striking: the need to address inequality based on principles of fairness in order to build a society in which differences in outcome are justifiable. A utilitarian argument is the dominant narrative; inequality must be addressed in order to avoid the least desirable outcome: instability.

Secondly, the topic of taxation has not been mentioned explicitly in discussions on effective policy mechanism to reduce inequality. There is extensive rhetoric on utilizing government spending to introduce a comprehensive social safety net for the poor, yet mentioned of taxation targeted at the wealthier middle class is lacking. If taxation was discussed, it fell under the guise of economic nationalism in relation to taxation of foreign companies. Interestingly, broad and effective taxation was the first recommendation in the OECD-ASEAN Outlook.

The absence of these two topics from interview discussions may simply be the result of the survey design. But as research moves to the Philippines these issues may become interesting points of comparison. The Philippines has reduced income inequality in recent years and has been aggressive in devising inclusive growth models.

This blog post has been written by Matthew Bock. Matthew is an Analyst and Technical Advisor based in Indonesia and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

The Passage of Indian National Food Security Bill: A Means to Winning 2014 Election?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on April 29, 2013
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The much-debated Indian National Food Security Bill (NFSB) is set to be passed in the second part of the Budget Session of the Parliament Standing Committee in late April. Controversy surrounding the Bill has persisted since it was first tabled in December 2011. The NFSB is aimed at providing 5kg of wheat at Rs 3/kg, rice at Rs 2/kg, and millets at Rs 1/kg per person per month to 67% of Indian 1.24 billion population.

Critics have pointed out that the immense budget needed to implement the Bill would render it financially unviable. The existing inefficient distribution systems as observed in the ongoing food subsidy initiative Public Distribution System (PDS), and the less-than-satisfactory deliveries of other aid programs, such as the anganwadi schemes for mother and child, have drawn further scepticisms. Another source of consternation is the possibility of the government emerging as a major foodgrains buyer and price regulator. The legally binding nature of the Bill would compel the government to take necessary measures that may disrupt existing market mechanisms.

Amidst the contention, the Union Cabinet’s recent approval of the Bill and the full support from Prof K.V. Thomas, the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, are remarkable. Prof Thomas expressed his confidence in the sustainability of the Bill by elaborating on India’s abundant foodgrains production and the prediction of an increase of yields in the coming years. He further cited the Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI) as an anticipatory measure against rising number of population. While his statement provides certain degree of assurance on supply, it does not address the main criticisms, particularly on financial viability and distribution systems, directed towards the Bill. It is not surprising, therefore, that the imminent passage of the Bill has increasingly been seen as a mere politically-charged election-winning strategy.

Political factors indeed serve as one of the major driving forces behind the Bill. It is the flagship of the 2009 campaign promises of the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA). The Congress, headed by Sonia Gandhi, therefore has a big stake in the passage of the Bill. The initial political trepidation was evident in the proposed Act being passed back and forth between the government, the Congress leadership, and the National Advisory. More importantly, Sharad Pawar, the Agriculture Minister and the chairman of Nationalist Congress Party, has opposed the Bill. He argued that with only 34% of Indian population living Below the Poverty Line, the 67% of total population coverage is ill-targeted. Considering that the Bill is inextricably linked with agriculture, Pawar’s lack of support is certainly intriguing.

The passage of the Bill regardless of all the irregularities therefore is suggestive of ruling party’s populist pandering. While the Bill may prove to serve as a big vote-getter in the 2014 election, whether or not it would truly benefit the 217 million of Indian malnourished is less than clear. With the absence of a comprehensive strategy aimed at addressing the many potential pitfalls, the upcoming government would undoubtedly face enormous tasks in turning the Bill into reality. Should the Gandhi-led party continue to stay in power, the success or failure of the NFSB would be an important determinant to its fate in the subsequent election.

This blog post has been written by Margareth Sembiring. She is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non–Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Reviewing and Evaluating Industrial Policies: Small-Medium enterprise (SMEs) development in CLMV Countries

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on April 25, 2013
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Recently, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar had successfully changed its political system to become a democratic presidential system. In addition, Myanmar has been transforming its economic system into a market-oriented economic system. Prompt and active political and economic reforms have particularly been made since the formation of the new democratic government in March 2011.

These political and economic reforms are vital for Myanmar, which despite being an agricultural country with vast amounts of natural resources, has been regarded as a least developing country by international organizations. Myanmar cannot and should not rely solely on agriculture if it wishes to raise its level of development. It is therefore necessary for countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar to focus on industrial development while scaling up agricultural development efforts. As such, Myanmar’s new government has proposed five-year national development plan and it also prepared industrial development plan which is the main engine of growth to industrialization.

As part of my research, I conducted a survey (from January to February 2013) to evaluate industrial policies of small and medium enterprises development in CLMV countries on the extent to which they take into account policy changes. The survey revealed that investment capital is an essential need for the development of SME’s in Myanmar. Other important factors are technology and upgraded industries.

On 9th January, the Central Committee and Work Committee for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises was formed at the state level. It comprises of 27 members, out of which 20 are ministers. The Committee is geared to enhance SME development as a central part of national economic development and the advancement of socio-economic well-being of Myanmar citizens. The committee represents about 99.4% of SMEs in Myanmar, which equates to 126,237 registered SMEs nation-wide. Committee members have agreed to the following duties and responsibilities: –

  • Draft laws, regulations and procedures for SMEs development and submit them to the central committee for their enactment;
  • Collect, analyze and report data and information for encouraging small and medium enterprises:
  • Remove obstacles in works for small and medium enterprises development;
  • Place emphasis on market development to ensure wide market chain;
  • Nurture sufficient number of skilled workers and create job opportunities;
  • Make contact and coordinate with local and foreign organizations to be able to receive financial and technical assistance;
  • Ensure development of micro credit business through Small and Medium Enterprises Bank;
  • Set up subcommittees and groups for respective sectors of small and medium enterprises as necessary.

By fulfilling these new responsibilities, it is hoped that Myanmar will be able to industrialize based on the growth of its SMEs. During the month of February 2013, there have been several meetings and discussions amongst government officials and the private sector, as part of a public-private consultation process concerned with development policies and laws pertaining to SMEs. These policies and laws emphasize the importance of result-oriented activities, which would thus facilitate means for upgrading industrial policies to incorporate and mainstream the role of SMEs in Myanmar.

This blog post has been written by Nang Saw Nandar Hlaing. Nandar is a researcher with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (UMFCCI), and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Hydropower and Equitable Economic Growth in the Mekong River Region

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on April 24, 2013
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In a bid to meet the increasing demand for electricity in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand to support economic growth, several hydropower dams have been constructed along the Mekong river, with many more in the pipeline. In Cambodia, there is the potential to harness  hydropower capacity of up to 8,000 MW from 43 potential sites for dams, which are in the planning stages of construction. In Laos, the potential of hydropower development is around 26,000 MW. These hydropower projects, however, have to potential to destroy wetland econsystems, seriously threaten the quality and security of water and affect other water-related resources, such as fish as sources of livelihood and the quality of arable land for agricultural products. There are about 60 million people live in Lower Mekong Basin Countries, who rely on these resources and services that will suffer. Moreover, when the services of this ecosystem are lost, it is often the poor who are most affected.Traditional livelihood systems will likely be adversely affected and thus a grave concern for indigenous people living along the Se San, Se Kong and Srey Pok rivers. In the case of Yali Falls, Cambodians have died as a result of floods caused by test operations of hydroelectric projects, and property has been lost. There has also been an increased spread of diseases that might be related to deteriorating water quality, coupled with the general deteriorating health of Cambodians. Since then, Cambodians feel a sense of insecurity as they do not know when the next flood will occur.

In order to measure the impact of dams, which can assist in reducing inequality in the country as well as the region, hydropower development policies should be given further consideration in terms of flood prevention or mitigation, the provision of irrigation for agricultural development, water supply  for domestic, municipal and industrial use as well as the improvement of conditions necessary for navigation, fishing, tourism or leisure activities. In terms of policies related to involuntary resettlement, displaced people should be engaged in the resettlement process in order to get productivity and resume responsibility for their lives. By participating in the resettlement schemes, the communities will have the chance to raise their concerns and preferences for finding alternative living areas that they find as being conducive supporting their livelihood needs. Furthermore, providing appropriate compensation packages to the resettled people should be implemented so as to ensure that they are able to recover their livelihood options in the short term.

It is with this context in mind, that my research under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, will examine the improvements made in hydropower development policies in the Mekong Region to reduce the impact of hydropower dam on the affected communities. It is believed that such improvements will contribute to the economic development in the region without increasing inequality. Finally, the findings of this research will respond to the ASEAN-Canada plan of action by providing evidence-based policy improvements.

This blog post has been written by Kesa Ly. Kesa is a Research and Development Advisor at Life With Dignity and Research Fellow at M-POWER, and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Re-examining the ‘Rise of the South:’ The Need for a Paradigm Shift

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 18, 2013
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Summary: The 2013 Human Development Report highlights the complex and often contradicting dynamics of paths to human development and offers a critical note into the ‘rise of the South’ and how novel exclusive regional institutions may not work in an interdependent world.

The Human Development Reports (HDR), published since 1990 are critical updates on the progress of human development across regions and the country rankings, and at the same time, active endorsement of the human-centred development paradigm that the UN imbibes. Entitled ‘The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,’ the 2013 HDR came out more as a surprise and evoked a sense of both optimism and confusion. The exercise of using the notion of the North-South divide seems contradictory to the UN paradigm of human development. Such conflicting messages highlight the complexity of issues in achieving human development.

One issue is equality. The Report boasts of the accelerated rate of progress in low and medium HDI countries. However, this simply cannot be the basis of less inequality contrary to the report’s assessment that ‘the world is becoming less unequal,’ since it also noted the ‘wide disparities’ and rising ‘income inequality’ within and between countries. This highlights how country-based assessments can be impractical tools for measuring human development, more so, equality.

Another issue is the generalisation of the ‘South.’ The Report notes that not all developing countries are on the ‘rise’. This paints a picture that, given those countries that the Report highlighted that are rising and the least developed countries (LDCs) not ‘participating fully in the rise of the South’, the Report may have misused the term ‘South.’ Which ‘South’ is it referring to then? The use of binary terms to denote the developed and developing status of countries may not be useful for a paradigm of human development (which differs more so within countries). Dividing the world into the North and South has been wilfully debunked by the UN in the 1990s when it came up with the first Human Development Report. In the report, the use of the ‘South’ as a term comes heavily loaded with interpretations that used to be in the purview of those focused on economic development and growth indicators.

Finally, the HDR highlights that institutions such as a new ‘South Commission,’ are necessary to ‘facilitate regional integration and South-South relationships.’ The existing institutions at the international and regional level already make the system complex and some may already be outdated. However, new institutions may not be necessary.  New institutions may unfurl the ties that already bind countries together and reverse the trend of current trends of multilateral cooperation and collaboration, for example, any progress made by ASEAN and its offspring extra-regional institutions. Reinventing the wheel and promoting the exclusivity for ‘South-South’ relations may not be the best path to pursue. However, a long sought-after shift in paradigm about development frameworks and norms to address the challenges of ‘enhancing equity, enabling participation, confronting environmental change and managing demographic change’ is definitely in order.

This blog post was written by Gianna Gayle Amul. She is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Transitional Justice in Asia I

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 3, 2013
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In February, the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh sentenced two Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders for crimes committed during the independence war of 1971. Over a million people had been killed and tens of thousands of women raped during the war. The crimes were allegedly committed by the Pakistani army and its collaborator, Jamaat-e-Islami.

The court decisions resulted in serious clashes. JI supporters questioned the credibility of the tribunal while others demanded a harsher sentence. The resulting violence calls into question the effectiveness of transitional justice – the mechanisms and processes to redress past large-scale human rights abuses. It also provides a lesson for similar efforts in other countries to end impunity and reconcile social division, such as Sri Lanka.

The conflict between the Sri Lankan government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) spanned from 1983 until 2009. There were serious civilian casualties and wide-spread violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law in the final stages of the clashes in 2009, such as rape, extrajudicial killings, shelling civilian and humanitarian targets, and using civilians as shields. Both parties to the conflict have been accused of committing these crimes, with the government side allegedly bearing the major responsibility. Since the end of the war in May 2009, there have been calls to bring perpetrators of the mass crimes to justice. The recent UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution (A/HRC/19/L.2) that encourages reconciliation and accountability for the Sri Lankan civil war represents the latest effort in this direction.

Seeking accountability constitutes an essential element of transitional justice – the processes and mechanisms that seek to redress past large-scale abuses, both judicial and non-judicial. Judicial processes of transitional justice end impunity and can stand as an impediment to future attempts of mass atrocities. The culture of impunity undermines the effectiveness of domestic and international laws in preventing atrocity crimes as it allows criminals to go unpunished and thus breeds risks of mass atrocities. Hence, ending impunity constitutes an essential aspect of preventing massive abuses, such as genocide and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, given the fact that post-crisis societies are usually still in complicate and delicate situation, a balanced approach to transitional justice is needed so as to achieve the goal of justice, reconciliation and rule of law. First, the judicial process should comply with international standards. The recent unrest in Bangladesh demonstrates that inconsistencies and politicisation of the judicial process could deepen division and fuel violence.

Second, transitional justice also includes non-judicial measures, such as truth-seeking and institutional reform. The social division in Bangladesh has deepened partly because meaningful development of such measures has yet to occur. Hence, the effort to pursue transitional justice in Sri Lanka should balance between judicial and non-judicial measures. Moreover, other complimentary measures, such as infrastructure construction, resettlement of displaced people and rehabilitation of ex-combatants, are conducive for social reconciliation, which in turn can facilitate the transitional justice process.

Sri Lankan society has been seriously divided by the protracted civil war, and investigation and prosecution of human rights violations during the war are essential for reconciliation as noted in the latest UNHRC resolution. However, it must be pursued in a balanced and consistent manner to achieve the intended goals.

The political-economy of ASEAN sub-regional cooperation in border areas

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on April 1, 2013
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As an economically vibrant region, Southeast Asia has been experiencing economic integration for decades through building a robust yet soft regional cooperation known as ASEAN. Besides enlarging its economic integration through open regionalism such as ASEAN+3, ASEAN countries have also initiated sub-regionalisation integration efforts. Sub-regionalisation means “those processes of growing regional interconnectedness that occur between local governments either in provincial or regency level.”

For ASEAN, sub-regional cooperation is seen as an alternative and powerful mechanism to foster deeper economic integration through cross-border cooperation conducted by sub-national actors.

This research aims to systematically analyse sub-regionalization in Southeast Asia. Despite the growing importance of sub-regional cooperation in ASEAN, there are few studies which systematically analyse this process. Thus, this research attempts to explain why some sub-regional cooperation appears to be more successful than the other?

The first field research was conducted on January 2013 in Indonesia’s Kalimantan and Malaysia’s Sarawak. Thirty-two policy makers from both the national and local levels were interviewed.

There are several findings that shed the light on the process of sub-regional cooperation in the border areas of Kalimantan.

The first preliminary finding is that the possibility of a sub-regional mechanism has emerged as a new level of governance within ASEAN, which allows the process of economic integration to benefit people in the border area.

In the case of sub-regional cooperation in border areas in Kalimantan, sub-national governments have an existing mechanism for dialogue between local elites, namely, Malindo Socio-Economic Cooperation. Through this mechanism, local elites at the sub-national level can enjoy a political space in which negotiation and dialogue can take place.

However, there are several constraints as the mechanism has occasionally faltered. Malindo Socio-Economic Cooperation’s organizational structure and decision-making mechanisms are too bureaucratic thus making it inefficient. Moreover, there is no clear mechanism that integrates policy and implementation made by Malindo Socio-Economic cooperation, BIMP-EAGA (Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines East Asia Growth Area), and ASEAN.

The second finding is on the dynamic relations between the local and the national government at the sub-regional level. In line with literature on sub-regionalism, the key finding from the field suggests that the process of sub-regional integration conducted by the local government usually has stagnated due to conflicting political interest and the lack of policy coordination between local and national governments.

The third finding is the tendency for more developed countries to be actively involved in sub-regional cooperation than less developed ones. But literature shows that sub-regional projects are more likely to be promoted by the weaker states to enhance their economic capacity. In our case, it seems that the local elites in Malaysia’s Sarawak, with an approximate GDP of around $11,000, are keen to boost sub-regional integration compared to local elites in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan. This finding is a theoretical puzzle that needs to be addressed.

 

This blog post has been written by Mochammad Faisal Karim. Karim is an Expert Staff to a Member of Parliament in Committee on Finance, National Development, Banking, and Non-Banking Institutions in Indonesia and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Asia, the Millennium Development Goals, and the post-2015 development agenda

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) period draws to a close, the global community is reflecting on their outcomes and looking ahead to the post-2015 development agenda. Significant progress has been made on some of the eight MDGs since they were established in the year 2000, but this has been uneven geographically. For example, the World Bank estimated that the goal to halve the incidence of extreme poverty (MDG1) was achieved globally in 2010, but Sub-Saharan Africa has only made moderate progress towards this goal[1].

Assessing the outcomes of the MDGs has highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the goals themselves. In terms of its successes, the MDGs boldly strived to attain progress in a broad range of critical issue areas which were unevenly prioritised across the world. The goals were simplified so that they could be understood by the masses. Simultaneously, the MDGs provided a platform for comprehensive partnerships between a range of stakeholders including NGOs, companies and governments in countries in various stages of development.

Nonetheless, the MDGs were not without their shortcomings. A widely-held criticism is the lack of participation in the formation of the goals, which led to an agenda driven by the UN and donor countries. It was argued that some countries and regions were inherently disadvantaged by their capacity to respond to MDG priority areas and indeed measure their progress. The UN was also criticised for not adequately addressing climate change in the MDG targets.

Asia made significant progress in the area of poverty reduction, with remarkable success in industrialising countries such as China and India boosting the global average. Nonetheless, the region is still home to the largest proportion of world’s poor and fragile countries will still require substantial aid to progress in coming years. Progress towards the goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition was less apparent and remains a major challenge. In terms of education, Asia made some progress in terms of the number of enrolments and the completion of schooling, but did not quite meet the target. The region is not on track to meet the target on child mortality, and there is significant room for improvements in terms of maternal health.

As the MDGs draw to a close and consultations for the post-2015 development agenda take place in 2013, Asian stakeholders should consider key factors to facilitate continued progress. Given the differing stages of development in the region, universal goals should allow for individual states to address their most pressing challenges within the broader issue areas. Asia’s worrying expansion of inequality in terms of income and access to public services needs to be accounted for in the region’s development agenda. Finally, sustainability goals in the post-2015 agenda will need to find a delicate balance in the need for resource consumption to pursue economic growth and protecting the Asia’s fragile environment.


[1] Note that Sub-Saharan Africa needed a growth rate 28 times its historical average during the MDG period to achieve the target of halving poverty.

Mind the Gap: Perceptions on ASEAN Inequality

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on March 27, 2013
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The ten member nations of ASEAN are seeking to build a community, as envisaged in the ASEAN Vision 2020:

…To transform ASEAN into a stable, prosperous, and highly competitive region with equitable economic development, and reduced poverty and socio-economic disparities.

Realizing this vision faces challenges from integrating highly disparate political systems and unequal economies: the GDP per capita of Singapore, a wealthy free-market city-state, is over 20 times that of Laos, a newer ASEAN member governed by a socialist party.

Within ASEAN, national policy makers and the Secretariat have been pro-active in addressing inequality by introducing the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI), currently mid-way through Work Plan II (2009 – 2015). The IAI includes mechanisms to narrow the development gap between Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV) with the wealthier ASEAN-6.

Under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, a mixed methodology of quantitative surveys and semi-structured interviews is being conducted with policy makers linked to ASEAN integration. The research objective is to understand perceptions on inequality within ASEAN and how these perceptions impact policy outcomes. The base assumption is that discourse on ASEAN inequality remains focused on equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Background research indicates that since the Asian Financial Crisis (1997-98), two trends on inequality have been moving in opposite directions. Inequality between ASEAN members has been declining; CLMV are ‘catching up’ to the ASEAN-6. But relative income inequality within most ASEAN countries is rising as national elites capture more of the wealth. Overall, however, ASEAN members have lower domestic inequality levels in comparison to many countries in Africa or Latin America.

Inequality continues to rise in wealthier ASEAN nations such as Singapore and Malaysia, as well as low-income economies such as Cambodia and Laos. Conversely, countries of lower-middle income status, i.e., Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, have been able to reduce inequality slightly – within this group, Indonesia is the exception. Superficially, this runs counter to predictions based on the Kuznets curve: least developed agrarian and highly-developed service economies should have lower/declining inequality while industrial and manufacturing based economies should have higher/rising inequality.

Thus far, research interviews have revealed that managing inequality is paramount, which aligns with literature on perceptions of inequality in Asia. Without real or perceived shared benefits from regional integration, the probability of regional instability will rise. The message is clear: mind the gap.

There is a disconnect between regional policy forums and national legislators, which comes as no surprise. But this disconnect has impacts on policy outcomes. At a regional level, equality of opportunity relates to supporting CLMV so they may participate fully in the ASEAN process; the outcome is building ‘soft’ infrastructure through capacity building. At a national level, equality of opportunity relates to the ability of national economies to engage in regional markets; the outcome is to build ‘hard’ infrastructure.

Moving forward, this research will continue to explore perceptions of inequality and find institutional mechanisms suitable for transforming regional integration into inclusive, sustainable growth.

This blog post has been written by Matthew Bock. Matthew is an Analyst and Technical Advisor based in Indonesia and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

East Asian Economic Integration and South China Sea Disputes

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on March 27, 2013
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Economic integration in East Asia is deepening in the 21st century. Trade among countries in the region has been growing in double digits yearly since the inception of the China-ASEAN FTA in 2010. Investment flows among countries in the region has also been growing significantly.

Theoretically, the ongoing economic integration in East Asia should have some positive impacts to the maintenance of peace in the region. Increasing interdependence is expected to reduce conflict potentials among states according to classical liberals. It generates incentives for peace and cooperation on the one hand, and increases costs and risks of conflict on the other hand.

However, this has not been the case in the South China Sea disputes. Despite deepening integration in the region, disputes settlement among the claimants remains an unresolved agenda. Dialogues between ASEAN and China on the Code of Conduct of the parties have so far been producing only limited progress. Tensions between China and ASEAN claimants remain high on this particular issue.

Several ideas had been discussed to solve the problem. Joint development and exploration as one alternative solution to spill the ongoing integration over onto the area, as functionalism argues, and put aside political and sovereignty claims has been discussed since the 1980s. This implies that ASEAN and China are ready for development and cooperation. The major obstacles to further progress in joint development are the absence of detailed agreement (Djalal, 2000; Townsend-Gault, 1998), lack of compliance to the 1991 Declaration (Djalal, 2000), and the parties independent act (Hyer, 1995) and negotiating behaviour. Informal negotiation through track-2 dialogues progressed, but only with little impact, if not none.

Economic integration so far has taken different track of development from the settlement of the South China Sea issues. Whether or not the integration will spillover onto the economic cooperation and development in the disputed South China Sea is yet to be seen. The chance for cooperation is there, but the actualization will depend on how both China and ASEAN manage the issue.

This blog post has been written by Meidi Kosandi. Meidi is a PhD candidate in International Relations at Ritsumeikan University, Japan and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

The Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation and Regional Integration

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on March 26, 2013
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When I was in Bangkok during the last two weeks of February 2013, there was much media and public attention on the ASEAN Economic Community.  As part of overarching regional objectives to be in effect in 2015, it is quite understandable why citizens of member countries would like to learn more about this regional project and how it would affect their lives.  Researching on the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM), a mechanism to provide financial safety-net to ASEAN and its three counterparts, namely China, Japan, and South Korea (or the ASEAN+3), allows me to explore how this cooperation fits in and contributes to the process of regional integration.

To date my research has focused on understanding how the CMIM has evolved and what we could learn from this evolution about regional cooperation under the framework of ASEAN+3.  Evidence from written works on the CMIM and my interviews with Thai officials and scholars points to an incremental and cautious approach, which is largely a product of the preference for pragmatism and respect for national autonomy held among Southeast and East Asian policymakers.  The ten-year lapse between the birth of the CMI (Chiang Mai Initiative) in 2000 as a framework for bilateral swap arrangements among ASEAN+3 countries and when the CMIM became effective as a multi-lateralized mechanism in 2010 attests to the gradualism and caution underlying ASEAN+3 cooperation.  Central to this process of negotiation was the related issues of financial contribution and voting power, which took about two years to complete after an agreement for the CMIM was reached in 2007.  In 2010, another incremental step was made to establish the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) to monitor regional economies and provide decision-making for the CMIM.  While the AMRO’s corporate status may limit its authority (compared to an international organization like the IMF), the private standing could put member countries at ease with regard to its potentially-intrusive surveillance role.  Pragmatic intention can also be seen in AMRO’s small size (11 staffs in 2011), making it relatively easy for member governments to agree on funding, while leaving opportunity to grow to future development.

As I continue to examine the financial and monetary cooperation in East Asia and their impact on regional integration, an observation can be made.  While the evolution of the CMIM has its own dynamics and rationale, the interest among ASEAN countries in forming an economic community could help inspire efforts to institutionalize the CMIM.  At the governmental level, this means more willingness to make the CMIM really work for member countries, as seen in a move in 2012 to increase its total size (from US$ 120 billion to US$240 billion) and the IMF de-linked portion (from 20% to 30% in 2012 and possibly to 40% in 2014).  However, lesser development has been made at the societal level as the CMIM continues to be known rather exclusively among policymakers and technocrats.  Implications of the CMIM’s technical nature on public perception of regional integration will need to be explored further.

This blog post has been written by Supanai Sookmark. Supanai is an instructor at Carleton University in Ottawa and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Cross-border Education Within ASEAN: A Double-edged Sword

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on March 26, 2013
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Cross border education, which refers to the movement of people and research across national borders for academic purposes, has gained increasing prominence within ASEAN in recent years.

Collectively, ASEAN leaders have stressed the importance of cross border education within Southeast Asia. The Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community (2009-2015) for example, listed several joint initiatives to promote cross border education within ASEAN.  Member states agreed to facilitate staff and student exchanges, create research clusters, and institute ‘semesters abroad’ programmes among ASEAN educational institutions.

Importantly, the Declaration stated that these initiatives were conceived primarily to develop ASEAN human resource so as to create a knowledge based economy, as well as to build an ‘ASEAN identity based on friendship and cooperation’. Clearly, member states view cross border education within ASEAN as a means to promote balanced economic development and cultural integration in the region.

The contributions that education makes to development are well researched. Education raises human capital and accordingly, labour productivity. It allows individuals to acquire marketable capacities, hence reduce reliance on continual external aid. Connectedly, education alleviates poverty as it gives the poor access to employment opportunities. Tertiary education in particular, drives innovation and increases the number of scientists and engineers in a given population.

Cross border education initiatives in particular, have the potential to further facilitate pursuit of the above developmental goals. It provides less developed countries with opportunities to acquire relevant, applicable knowledge from more developed countries. It gives students from less developed countries access to higher quality tertiary education. It also offers researchers from less developed countries, options to participate in research projects that they would otherwise lack the resources to conduct independently.

ASEAN member states have introduced jointly, a series of cross border education initiatives. In 1995 for example, they formed the ASEAN University Network to advance regional co-operation among universities in the region. The AUN administers scholarship applications, credit transfers and quality assessments for ASEAN students and educational institutions.

Independently, some ASEAN member states have also sought to promote themselves as hubs for cross border education. Singapore implemented the Global Schoolhouse Initiative, Malaysia set up two tertiary education hubs, Educity Iskandar Malaysia, and Kuala Lumpur Education City, while Thailand implemented a research network covering the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Whether these joint and independent cross-border education initiatives contribute to balanced growth and integration within ASEAN however, remains questionable.

Crucially, cross border education tends to absorb the most capable individuals. Sending countries may experience severe brain drain should these individuals choose not to return home. Also, granted the relatively low number of scholarships offered, cross border education plays a negligible role in improving poorer populations’ access to education.

While cross border education participants who have chosen not to return home can remit a portion of their salaries, more needs to be done. Regional education policies need to be refined, to ensure that cross border participants take on some role in sharing knowledge with, or investing in their home country.

This blog post has been written by Diane Lek. Diane is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and is a  Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership.

For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

Unveiling the Cloak of Secrecy in the Defence Sector

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on March 22, 2013
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On January 2013, Transparency International (TI) released the first ever global analysis of corruption in the defence sector. Known as the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, it analyses what 82 countries do to reduce corruption risks. The analysis reveals that 70 per cent of countries lack the tools to prevent corruption in the defence sector; 45 per cent has little or no oversight of defence policy; half of the countries assessed have minimal evidence of scrutiny of defence procurement and lacks transparency in their defence budgets. In all, the global cost of corruption in the defence sector is estimated to be a minimum of USD20 billion per year.
India, which was ranked by TI in the High Risk category, offers an interesting case study of how, in a fully functioning democratic country, the defence sector remained the domain of a handful of political and military elites and how corruption in arms procurement eroded people’s faith in them and the country’s military preparedness. India is now the world’s largest importer of conventional weapons. Its share of global arms imports reached 10 per cent during 2007-2011 and it increased to 12 per cent during 2008-2012. However, increasing imports of weapon systems has not been matched by institutional oversight allowing individuals to benefit from it. The scandal over the purchase of 400 artillery from Sweden in the 1980s was considered a watershed moment as it involve those from India’s highest political office and it led to the electoral defeat of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress Party in 1989. In March 2001, news portal Tehelka’s“Operation West End” exposed corruption’s pervasiveness among India’s military and political elites and the nexus that existed between them and arms dealers known as ‘middlemen’.

India will continue to spend huge amount of money on arms acquisition. Indeed, as part of its modernisation plans, the country is expected to spend more than USD100 billion on weapon systems over the next 15 years. By 2015, India would have spent USD43 billion on “one of the largest procurement cycles in the world.” The scale of defense spending makes the scope for kickbacks considerable, and increases the need for vigilance against corruption.This calls for more transparency and accountability through, for example, improving public access to information about defence budgets and procurement. Also, law-makers should have stronger controls and oversight, and the tools with which to cut down corruption. Putting stronger measures in place would not only improve India’s security but it will also save the country billions of dollars.

Empowering Southeast Asia’s informal sector in times of disaster

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on March 20, 2013
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The recent Jakarta floods are yet another testament of the vulnerabilities faced by Southeast Asia’s megacities in recent years. Storms and deluges have destroyed infrastructure and property in centres of economic activity while disrupting the livelihoods of many of their inhabitants.

Such disasters pose a threat to the economies of Southeast Asia and to ASEAN-level initiatives to promote growth, given the heavy economic losses. Damage from the 2011 floods around Bangkok resulted in only 0.1 per cent annual growth for Thailand, while the recent Jakarta floods, according to Indonesia’s central bank, could potentially raise inflation by about 0.2 per cent.

The attention given to the economic ramifications of disasters has, however, not extended to the informal sector. Not only are people from the informal sector among the worst affected by floods, they also play an important role in supporting economic development. They form an integral element of the economies of those cities by making up 50–60 per cent of the workforce in many Southeast Asian cities and provide a range of products and services that support urban economies including affordable food and transportation. Megacities therefore face the challenge of mitigating urban disaster risks more generally and the vulnerabilities faced by the informal sector and the urban poor more specifically.

There are three primary challenges worth noting. Firstly, funding is a major setback, particularly with latest estimates suggesting that the Asia Pacific would need around US$40 billion per year up until 2050 for climate change adaptation (CCA) measures.

Secondly, while most plans currently provide for immediate disaster relief, not enough support is given to longer-term rehabilitation efforts. This is exacerbated by the fact that floods may take a considerable amount of time to subside. In the case of the floods in Thailand in July 2011 the waters did not fully subside until January 2012.

Thirdly, despite the establishment of comprehensive national policies, there are bureaucratic delays, such as at middle management levels of the civil service, which play an important role in implementing policies, but have perhaps not yet been accustomed to changes in the approaches of addressing long-standing issues related to poverty.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) play an important role in providing solutions and taking up tasks that national or local governments have not been able to implement. By first gaining the trust of poor communities, CSOs have been able to integrate the needs of the poor – namely healthcare, housing and employment – into CCA programmes. In Manila and Jakarta, CSOs have supported community recycling projects that provide waste-pickers with jobs and simultaneously address improper waste disposal that clogs drainage systems and in turn, increases the impact of flooding.

Effective mitigation of disasters in Southeast Asia’s megacities therefore requires not only better protection, but also empowerment of citizens involved in the urban informal sector. The failure to adopt a well-coordinated combination of technical, socio-economic and political capabilities will not only increase urban vulnerabilities but also result in lost opportunities to build national economies and, in turn, an economically strong Southeast Asia.

*A longer version of this blog post can be found  here.

Natural Catastrophes and Resilience

The increasing interconnection of evolving risks parallels the increasing fragility of systems and will prove to test the resiliency not only of sectors, but also of countries and entire regions. In a recent Workshop on Socio-economic Factors of Natural Catastrophe held last 21 February 2013 and organised by the NTU Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management (ICRM), it was apparent how important the meeting of different disciplines can shed light in understanding catastrophes. There are three key points that I took away from the workshop:

First, the workshop highlighted the importance of systematic categorization and evaluation of threats to assist in the design of resilient systems and inform the costs and benefits of mitigation. Focusing on macro-threats, a ‘threat taxonomy’ is a pragmatic tool to look at geopolitical conflict, political violence, natural, climatic, environmental and technological catastrophes, disease outbreaks, humanitarian crisis and externalities (which include space catastrophes). In addition, history, hypothetical scenarios and understanding exposures are three key elements to understanding system shocks that can be of practical use for both the business and government sectors.

Second, the workshop stressed on the significance of communicating risk that can spur individuals and organisations to focus on more localized data and high risk zones, assess risks and provide impetus for action.

Third, from a social science perspective, natural catastrophes can aggravate conflicts between groups by looking at national and ethnic identities that shape attitudes (such as prejudice) towards natural catastrophes. Policy makers need to be increasingly aware of such intergroup processes that can defy popular notions and theories on the natural tendency to empathize with victims of natural disasters. Policy makers also need to be aware of ‘sociotechnical vulnerability”- “the condition of continuous dissonance and frailty” derived from the interplay between technology and interactions in society.

The workshop and lessons from it were helpful in informing the knowledge structure on building resilience and must be shared and used to designing projects for climate change mitigation and adaptation, from the community to the national level.

U-turn of nuclear energy in SEA after Fukushima

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on February 20, 2013
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The immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011 witnessed a significant cooling down of the nuclear renaissance in Southeast Asia. Countries that had announced their nuclear plans immediately suspended or delayed the construction of their first nuclear power plant, such as Thailand and Malaysia; those that decided to continue their nuclear energy plans kept them low-key. As the reverberation of the Fukushima crisis gradually abates, nuclear power plans in the region have begun to resume again. Vietnam and Indonesia are forging ahead with their nuclear plans while the Philippines is reconsidering nuclear energy as an option.

The revival of the interest in nuclear energy is driven by the continued growth of the region’s energy demands and the pro-nuclear energy development despite the fact that the Fukushima crisis revealed the safety risks accompanying with nuclear energy. Indonesia and Vietnam already face the risk of serious power shortages, which threatens their economic development. moreover, the region relies on fossil fuels as primary energy sources while regional demands far exceed supplies, as a result of which the heavy dependence on energy imports presents a big challenge to the energy security. Besides renewable energy, nuclear energy provides an alternative to improve the region’s energy independence.

The recent developments in Japan as well as in the region help Southeast Asian governments justify their decision to resume their nuclear plans. Since May 2012, the Japanese government gradually reopened some of the nuclear reactors that were closed after the crisis. Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe supports use of nuclear energy in Japan. The investigation report of the Fukushima crisis noted that the disaster was man-made and should be preventable. This conclusion gives rise to the hope that possibility of nuclear accident is low as long as safety measures are strictly implemented. After the Fukushima crisis, nuclear safety has been frequently discussed at regional forums, such as such 2012 APEC and the 30th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting in Phnom Penh. Coordination and information sharing have been identified as key channels for enhancing nuclear safety in the region.

Although Singapore government is not pursuing nuclear energy as an alternative fuel for now given that current nuclear energy technologies are unsuitable, the reactivation of nuclear energy plans in neighboring countries would have important implications for the island state. Radiation released from the melted reactors in Fukushima was found as far as the US west coast. Given its proximity to the locations of the prospective nuclear power plants in Vietnam and Indonesia, Singapore will be threatened by nuclear radiation in case nuclear accident happens.

It is necessary to integrate Information sharing provides a key channel for Singapore to stay informed about development of nuclear energy in its neighbours. Moreover, the role of regional forums in coordinating nuclear safety should be utilized and strengthened. Singapore has taken steps towards in this direction, by hosting ASEM Seminar on nuclear safety in June 2012. Education is important as nuclear energy is still new to the public in this region. Since it is very likely to see the first nuclear reactors in the region in the near future, it is crucial for Singapore to get ready for the new development.

The January weather extremes: A new normal?

By J. Jackson Ewing and Sally Trethewie.

January 2013 saw countries across the globe affected by environmental extremes, including unprecedented hot and cold temperatures, heavy rains and acute haze events. Do these events signal the arrival of a ‘new normal’?

The recent weather extremes have been distressing for many. Australia suffered its hottest average temperatures on record, approaching 50 degrees Celsius in some locations. These temperatures, combined with high winds, contributed to devastating fires in several states.

For areas of Australia’s eastern coastline, heatwaves were followed by heavy rains that led to the second ‘hundred year flood’ in two years. Jakarta also experienced flooding, from which even the presidential palace was not spared.

Meanwhile areas of North and South America continued to battle through some of the worst droughts of the past century, threatening the livelihoods of farmers as well as domestic and international food supply.

On the other end of the spectrum, China recorded its coldest temperatures in 28 years and temperatures in western Russia have been roughly 6 degrees Celsius below average. Abnormally cold conditions also hit South Asia, contributing to over 200 deaths in northern India and at least 80 in Bangladesh.

The usually dry and mild-wintered Middle East also had a difficult January, having to deal with an atypical spate of snowstorms and heavy precipitation that led to flooding.

Beyond weather events, industrial and human activities led to further extreme environmental conditions, most notably in China – where Beijing experienced haze so extreme as to be described as ‘beyond index’.

While these events occurred concurrently, it would be misleading to group them under a single umbrella. Each had unique local characteristics and drivers.

Nevertheless, global climatic changes are more measureable, and human activities having more of an impact on climate and weather than ever before. In the words of leading climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, ‘the answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be’.

Outside of climate change, human impacts on environmental systems are accelerating, with often laudable developments such as industrialisation and urbanisation fomenting disruptive environmental challenges.

The events of January overwhelmed many physical and social systems that support everyday human activities. However, different locales showed varying levels of resilience.

Fluidity proved essential. Cities and countries whose physical infrastructure had built-in redundancies, and were equipped to adapt to more variables, were more able to cope.

Social infrastructure also proved important, and tools that equipped communities to respond cohesively were invaluable. Communications technologies such as mobile phones and social media platforms made a difference. These avenues for connectivity helped communities, governments and other responding parties to work cooperatively, a fundamental step in successfully adapting to abrupt or unpredicted environmental changes.

Such social efforts must proceed in tandem with greater physical preparedness to effectively confront the formidable environmental conditions likely to define the ‘new normal’ of the coming decades.

Tightening the Noose on Wildlife Trafficking

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on February 13, 2013
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Wild living resources, under appropriate governance and management, can provide livelihoods for many, in particular rural people. If done well, the sustainable use of wildlife also provides an incentive to conserve natural ecosystems. However, the problem arises when the level of exploitation is capable of heavily depleting wildlife populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Indeed, the world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains and driving extinction of animal species faster than they can adapt. Rhino poaching and illegal horn trade, for example, were reportedly at their highest levels in 2011. By the beginning of that year, there were an estimated 20,165 White Rhinoceros and 4,880 Black Rhinoceros in Africa. At least 1,997 rhinos were poached between 2006 and 2012 and over 4,000 rhino horns have been illegally exported from Africa since 2009. Elephant poaching also reached its highest levelsin a decade in 2011 with an average of 100 elephants per day was killed for ivory. Tiger population has also declined from more than 100,000 in the 1900s to 40,000 in the 1970s to 3,200 now.

Demands for wildlife products have risen in step with economic growth in consumer countries. Rhino horns for example are seen as highly desirable status symbols in parts of Asia, notably Vietnam, but also increasingly in China. It is also seen as the new delicacy of choice among Vietnam’s high-rollers. When the young, fashionable and rich gather to party, they spice up their drink with rhino horn powder. These status-conscious hedonists include men who believe that rhino horn can enhance their sexual performance. It is also believed to serve as hangover-curing tonic and to cure cancer and high fever and is used for expensive gifts to curry favour with elites. Tiger skins and bones are also in great demand for decorative or medicinal use. As a result of these, illegal tradein wildlife products has reached an estimated USD 7.8 to USD 10 billion per year.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) observed in its 2012 report observed that illicit wildlife trafficking compromises the security of countries as much of the trade in illegal wildlife products is run by criminal groups and the profits can be used to finance civil conflicts and terrorist-related activities. Illicit wildlife trafficking also destroys natural wealth by depleting species and in some cases leading to their extinction. In light of these, the report urges governments to acknowledge that the current global approach to fighting illicit wildlife trafficking is failing because governments do not give the issue high enough priority and have not succeeded in implementing an effective response – at either a national or an international level. The absence of an effective response hindered social and economic development, including potential economic loss for governments, and has consequences on the environment as well as national and international security. Protecting wildlife, especially the endangered ones,required governments to increase law enforcement, deterrence and reduce demand for endangered species products.

ASEAN’s Critical Infrastructure and Pandemic Preparedness

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on January 22, 2013
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With a myriad of existing ASEAN bodies established to address the threat of pandemics, ASEAN’s challenges lies on bridging capacity gaps in health systems among member states and ensuring the protection of critical infrastructure. ASEAN defines critical infrastructure as:

“The primary physical structures, technical facilities and systems which are socially, economically or operationally essential to the functioning of a society or community, both in routine circumstances and in the extreme circumstances of an emergency.”

A robust and sustainable framework must encapsulate the protection and strengthening of critical infrastructure and ensure the continuity of essential services in the region in the event not only of an outbreak of a pandemic but also of any disaster or emergency. The plans and strategies of the public and private sectors in such circumstances should complement each other and conform to a minimum standard of preparedness. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for example, has developed ISO 22301 on business continuity management systems to enable organizations, whether they are governments or businesses, to protect against, prepare for, respond to and recover when disruptions such as pandemics or natural disasters strike.

Such plans require resources, and the challenges of pandemic fatigue and donor fatigue looms at this stage when preparedness plans have already or are in the process of being drawn. For example, the UN Central Fund for Influenza Action’s (UNCFIA) budgets for 2008 and 2010 were huge (USD16.83  million and USD19.22 million, respectively) compared to the meager USD2.48 million budget for 2012.

These plans, however, would only matter if they are operational. Funding inconsistencies therefore impede the realisation of a long-term approach towards strengthening both health and non-health sectors for pandemics, natural disasters and emergencies. As a region home to developing countries and a plethora of risks to emerging infectious diseases and natural disasters anticipated every year, ASEAN must be able to allocate a continuous and efficient flow of resources, invest on health system strengthening and build up public and private sector partnerships. ASEAN must also be able to utilise the existing ASEAN Infrastructure Fund (AIF) not only to finance necessary infrastructure projects but also ensure that in building the region’s critical infrastructure. Through improving capacities in telecommunications, energy, transportation, food, water, sanitation and health and financial institutions, each member state would make strides towards better protection during difficult times and greater continuity of operation despite lack in human resources.

Australia’s Move to Plain: Stripping the Glamour of Tobacco

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on December 11, 2012
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Plain packaged tobacco products in Australia usher in the beginning of a new era for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).  With the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act (TPPA) and the Australian High Court’s ruling against the tobacco industry’s appeal to the unconstitutionality of the act, the tobacco control lobby for plain packaging in Southeast Asia now has a tough precedent that can be used to defend the constitutionality of similar laws that may be proposed. The EU at some point also considered plain packaging after the High Court’s verdict. This is comparable to Canada’s tough implementation of graphic warnings on tobacco products in 2001 after which 63 countries have followed suit.

The WHO Director General Margaret Chan has expressed her hopes that the Australian High Court’s evidence on the positive health impact of plain packaging can support efforts in other countries to develop and implement strong tobacco control measures and further reduce the tobacco industry’s influence on government.

The law effectively stripped tobacco of its glamour- banning brand colours, logos and design on packages. With larger graphic health warnings and brands in standard shape, location, color, font style and size, Australia made tobacco products packaging as filthy as their contents are. If Australia is tough enough to remove the tobacco industry’s ability to use packages to promote tobacco use, then it can also be done in Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore and Thailand can also move towards plain packaging. With its already strict tobacco control regulations, Singapore will be introducing new graphic and text health warnings, banning misleading descriptors and lowering maximum tar and nicotine limits by 2013. Thailand, the first Southeast Asian country to follow Singapore’s graphic warning regulations in 2005, has required tobacco producers to display statements about toxic or carcinogenic substances on cigarette labels covering 60% of each side of the package since January 2012. If Singapore and Thailand can drive the plain packaging agenda further to ASEAN, the region may see healthier generations unburdened by chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, heart attack, diabetes and lung diseases attributed to smoking tobacco. The socio-economic burden of the costs of treating NCDs has contributed to deepening health insecurities in the region. Taking a step further with plain packaging can potentially reverse this trend.

ASEAN rice exporters cartel: against the grain of regional cooperation

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on October 10, 2012
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The Thai-led proposal for five ASEAN countries to establish a regional rice exporters cartel is dividing the region’s rice sector stakeholders. Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos are expected to join Thailand in establishing an agreement by the end of 2012 to collectively increase rice export prices by 10 per cent annually. The group states that an increase in prices will benefit farmers and ensure the viability of the sector in Southeast Asia in the context of rising production costs and increasing competition from outside the region.

Many fear a conflict of interest with Southeast Asia’s rice importing countries, given that the cartel would likely solidify their role as rice ‘price-takers’. Thai domestic interventions to raise export prices indicate that the government believes it can drive up international rice prices on the basis of its rice quality and volumes. With exports down 46 per cent on last year in part due to competition from regional exporters, Thailand clearly requires the cooperation of Vietnam and other regional exporters for its pricing strategy to have a chance at success.

Simply on account of its exclusivity, the establishment of a rice exporters cartel will add fuel to the fire of distrust in the region’s rice trade. Lack of confidence in the market has in part prompted Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia to boost self-sufficiency in rice, despite the potential inefficiencies of this strategy. Furthermore, amidst the secrecy and opacity of the region’s rice sector, the potential for the cartel to control a large share of market information on prices and volumes is a sobering prospect for rice-importing nations; particularly those with low purchasing power.

Critics also question the feasibility of a successful rice cartel. The Thai Rice Exporters Association argues that varied standards of logistics and storage amongst the five proposed members will undermine its objectives, while the Asian Development Bank says the cartel would be unsustainable because the exporters would continue to compete with each other. Then there is the rice quality aspect: if all prices were elevated to a similar level, exporters with lesser quality rice could not compete with cartel members exporting higher quality rice at similar prices.

Discrepancies between the trading systems of proposed cartel members would further complicate operations, with mixed preferences for government-to-government (G2G) versus private deals, and varying degrees of government trade intervention. For example, Myanmar has sought to transition from government-controlled trade to a sector almost exclusively operated by private traders with minimal government oversight. Meanwhile, Thailand has reverted to an almost exclusive preference for G2G deals since the current intervention program launched in October 2011. This strategy, in combination with high prices, has arguably contributed to Thailand’s decline in rice exports.

Early reports indicated a geographically neutral cartel name, but more recent suggestions that the group will be called the ‘ASEAN Rice Federation’ in spite of its membership exclusivity. If it proceeds, the rice cartel will be launched amidst ongoing attempts to develop freer trade in Southeast Asia and just years ahead of the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. From any angle, it seems that a rice exporters cartel would undermine regional cooperation to improve international market conditions in the rice sector.

Human Trafficking: The Threat of Numbers

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on October 3, 2012
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According to US government statistics, there are 27 million victims of human trafficking in the world today, with 1.5 million more victims added every year. Despite the extent of the problem, people tend to turn a blind eye on the issue because it does not directly affect their lives. Civil society organizations have recognized how a transnational organized crime such as human trafficking is invisible to much of society. Organisations like Free the Slaves based in Washington and Emancipasia, a newly established organization based in Singapore, argue that human trafficking has become the crux of ‘modern slavery’ that extends from the sex and entertainment industry, agriculture, fishery, domestic service to construction and factory work.

Sylvia Lee, founder of Emancipasia, pointed out in a Brown Bag Seminar at the National Institute of Education on 19 September 2012, that on the supply side, the high incidence of poverty in many countries in Southeast Asia contributes to the main factor for the increase in the victims of human trafficking- men, women and children who are thrown into prostitution, forced labor and exploitation through deception and threats on their lives. On the demand side, Lee highlighted that the high consumer demand for commercial sex pushes the demand for human trafficked prostitutes while the demand for cheap products pushes the demand for cheap and even unpaid labor in the worst working conditions. Profits from exploitation of trafficked persons generated in Asia and the Pacific alone is estimated at USD 9.7 billion.

Lee highlighted that human trafficking has become an industry that maximizes profits with almost no risks involved. She noted that the lack of risk stems from the pitfalls of socio-cultural and legal frameworks that defy a consistent legal definition for human trafficking which has focused more on the movement rather than the exploitation. The lack of cooperation between countries to address human trafficking (whether origin, transit or destination country) adds to this lack of risk for the USD 32 billion industry. The corruption endemic in many societies also provides a loophole for the industry to stretch its web of influence over persons of authority including law enforcement personnel who are in many cases the perpetrators of human trafficking.

There is still lack of effective international cooperation and consensus on collecting reliable data or even a common legal definition of human trafficked persons. Difficulties in criminalizing or persecuting human traffickers and protecting and reintegrating the victims back in society confront policymakers and policy implementers in different countries (origin, transit, and destination). In a February 2012 report, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that it has globally provided assistance to individual trafficked persons on 5,498 occasions in 2011, 860 were in East Asia and the Pacific. Compare this statistic to the number of people being trafficked annually and it paints a dismal picture. There is always an opportunity for governments to cooperate more to act on human trafficking through encouraging transparency and accountability in the law enforcement sector; promoting awareness and vigilance in society about the modus operandi of traffickers and; sharing best practices in protecting and reintegrating trafficked victims.

Military Presence as a NTS Threat – the Case of Okinawa

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 2, 2012
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Amid the escalation of its territorial dispute with China over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Japan reached an agreement with the United States on deploying MV-22 Ospreys to the US military bases in Okinawa, despite vocal public opposition to the deployment. The aircraft was involved in a series of accidents and this has raised the local community’s concern for their own safety. The agreement between the two governments and the strong protests re-emphasise the tension between national security and human security in Okinawa.

Okinawa plays a disproportionate role in the US-Japan security alliance, hosting 25 percent of all US military facilities and half of the US personnel in Japan but accounting for less than 1 per cent of Japanese territory. The protests against Ospreys are only the latest manifestation of Okinawans’ resentment against the US military bases. The heavy US military footprint has caused many non-traditional security (NTS) threats to local people, including environmental pollution, economic vulnerabilities, and social insecurities. Aircraft noise poses serious health threats to residents near the air bases. In 2011, residents around the Kadena air base filed a class lawsuit over aircraft noise, seeking compensation and a ban on night flights. Live ammunition trainings in the jungles have caused forest fire and soil erosion. Besides, accidents and incidents resulted from undisciplined behaviors of some soldiers have also upset local community, such as the 1995 rape incident and the 2004 helicopter crash. Lack of economic resilience is another NTS issue facing Okinawa as the prefecture is heavily subsidized by the central government. The reliance on central budget has limited the autonomy and flexibility of local economic development, as part of the earmarked money comes with restrictions.

Having realised the negative consequences, the Japanese and US governments have agreed to address these NTS threats, such as reducing the number of US soldiers from 19,500 to 10,900 in the future, relocating the controversial Futenma Air base to a less crowded location and adjusting training and operation procedures. However, the implementation of these measures progresses very slowly. The difficulties of addressing these issues are primarily rooted in the strategic importance of Okinawa. Okinawa has played an essential role in the US military operations in Asia since the Cold War. The US rebalance to Asia has made the bases even more important given Okinawa’s location at the intersection of Northeast and Southeast Asia. The recent escalation of tension between Japan and China has reinforced Japan’s belief in the need of US bases for its national security. Moreover, the strategic importance of Okinawa has made the Japanese government caught between national security and public anger. Politicians in Japan tend to promise a stronger position on the base issue to win voter support but usually fail to deliver the promise once they are elected. For instance, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned as a result of failure to keep his word.

The US military presence in Okinawa has been intended for defending Japan’s security and US strategic interests in East Asia.. However, the controversy over the US bases show that local people’s freedom from NTS challenges has not been fully respected in the pursuit of Japan’s national security. As the concept of security has evolved to incorporate human security as one of its dimensions, the security of Japan means more than absence of conflict and invasion but also the protection of its people’s well-beings. The achievement of Japan’s traditional security should not be at the expense of Okinawans’ non-traditional security.

Transboundary haze: regional efforts may help, but the solution lies with Indonesia

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on September 28, 2012
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The National Environmental Agency has recently announced that it will implement a range of new measures to improve national air quality standards by 2020. These measures largely concern domestic sources of air pollution but will also address international causes of poor air quality; with a specific focus upon transboundary (TB) haze. This new policy is a step in the right direction, creating more effective ways of monitoring and measuring haze levels. Despite this progress, the extent to which Singapore can impact the trajectory of the haze is limited, and the crux of efforts to combat TB haze remains with Indonesia. In light of possibility that the fires and haze may worsen over time, and considering the difficulties Indonesia faces in addressing this problem, Singapore should amplify involvement in regional efforts to facilitate action in Indonesia.

The source of TB haze in the region is primarily forest fires in Indonesia, generally deliberately lit for the purposes of land clearing and soil rejuvenation for agriculture. Environmental conditions (including El Nino) impact the scale of the fires and the spread of the haze, notably the strength and direction of winds, and the incidence of rain. Research is currently being conducted to determine how climate change may affect the incidence and scale of fires in Indonesia. Although it is too early to determine exactly what these effects may be, it is likely that warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will exacerbate fires and increase haze levels. There is also evidence to suggest that climate change may influence the frequency and severity of the El Nino effect (although understanding of this relationship is immature).

As experienced in Singapore, repercussions of the haze include public health issues, tensions in diplomatic relations, and economic losses. Singapore has attempted to engage with Indonesia on this issue, notably through efforts in Jambi province, but success has been limited. ASEAN has also responded to this problem, developing various measures to address the problem. Despite bilateral and regional efforts, however, the haze continues to plague Singapore and the wider region almost annually. This is due to a combination of ASEAN’s limited organisational capacity to enforce policies, and Indonesia’s lack of capacity and will to address the root sources of the problem on a national level, or with regional or bilateral assistance. Factors that limit Indonesia’s will or capacity to address the problem include:

  • Growing demand for cash crops that are typically grown on deforested land, and make a significant contribution to Indonesia’s GDP
  • Difficulties in measuring externalities created by this type of agriculture, leading to the perception that the benefits of forest burning outweigh the incentives to stop
  • Geographical context, including the size of forested areas, and difficulties in monitoring forestry activities from the ground
  • Insufficient legal frameworks to create and enforce forestry policies on national and local levels
These assessments suggest that forest burning and the resultant haze are likely to continue and potentially worsen. Considering these projections, and the scale and scope of problems resulting from fires and haze, Singapore should redouble engagement efforts both regionally and with Indonesia directly.

Environmental Decision Making: Thinking alternatively in the face of inaction

In order to have a better world for us to live in and our descendants to enjoy, we need proactive environmental policymaking that can stop global environmental catastrophes. Although some renowned economists and climate skeptics talk in favor of “business-as-usual” strategies that undermine climate science, a more hands on approach is needed. Frank Ackerman’s Can We Afford the Future? The Economics of a Warming World analyzes this issue, and lays out the argument for a proactive approach in lucid style.

Ackerman strongly criticizes the stance taken by conventional economists and climate skeptics. He notes the need to “identify mistaken assumptions” on environmental decision making and offers an “alternative understanding of climate economics.” Despite being an economist, Ackerman looks ahead of his discipline and takes a skeptical look at approaches like Cost-benefit analysis, Market equilibrium, Free Market, Laissez-faire policies which has developed on a utopian ideal rather than real world. In addition, he criticizes some renowned economists, for their arbitrary statements in favor of “business-as-usual” strategies, such as William Nordhaus, Sheila Olmstead, Robert Stavins, Robert Haln, Paul Joskow, Richard Schmalensee and Milton Friedman. He also criticizes Bjorn Lomborg, Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, and a writer against active climate policies. According to Ackerman, Lomborg’s limitations are “questions of accuracy, bias, and authority; cost-benefit analysis of climate change versus other priorities; and understanding of economics.”

In terms of climate policy making, Ackerman notes that ethical and political judgments are also vital in complementing economic modeling. He offers four guiding principles on climate economics for the future: “Your grandchildren’s lives are important”; “We need to buy insurance for the planet”; “Climate damages are too valuable to have prices”; “Some costs are better that others”. Ackerman also criticizes the long process of developing better frameworks at the global level. Rather than wasting more time on negotiations and criticism, Ackerman proposes, we can start with one existing policy proposal.

This approach urges us to consider the costs associated with climate policies in a holistic manner, rather than only the present cost of the climate policy. We should think differently: like the way we think about giving high premium to the insurance company with a high interest rate or in case of early start to a destination to avoid delay and other uncertainties on the road or in case of investing in the financial market.

Ackerman’s style is thought provoking, and although he does not offer any revolutionary insight into the issue of climate change and society, his argument is forceful and easy to understand. He scores on the point that climate change is not value neutral and we ultimately have to pay for it in ways that are poorly understood by our economists. Although this informative book is to some extent US-centric, it will be enlightening for general readers as well as policy makers, policy advocates and climates skeptics. This book will also be an interesting read to non-specialists like students and people who are curious or interested in debates on climate change.

Breaking the Habit (II): Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on August 10, 2012
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Both the dilemma and the solution for lifestyle-related illnesses lie on political will and priorities. The tobacco industry can get smoke in the government’s eyes as it dangles a superficial economic boost – but at a high cost for the health of generations of its populace. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns about the tobacco industry’s interference in governments’ attempts at tobacco control, including: ‘exaggerating the economic importance of the industry’ and intimidating and threatening governments with lawsuits. Governments must stop being misled by the perceived economic potential of the tobacco industry.

Cradling the tobacco industry puts both the smoker and non-smoker’s health at risk. If multinational tobacco companies pour in foreign investments in a country and generate domestic employment and tax revenue, governments irrationally prioritize misperceived economic growth in the short term over public health concerns. Governments should recognize the high costs of health care for long-term tobacco-related illnesses to generations of their population and devise sustainable strategies for effective tobacco control. By implementing these policies, governments can help ensure that the expenses for cigarettes and for related health services needed to treat diseases attributed to a lifestyle that embraces smoking will flow instead to feed hungry mouths, ensure safe drinking water, send children to school or provide basic health care. Disturbingly, the poor smokes more, with 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers coming from low- and middle-income countries where the lack of awareness of the dangers of smoking and from easy access to cheap cigarettes is often prevalent.

The effectiveness of tobacco control initiatives to increase health security is highly dependent on the political will of national and local governments to strictly implement tobacco control policies that will essentially hurt the tobacco industry- from the tobacco farmers to manufacturers, to distributors and importers of tobacco products, to the tobacco advertising industry, down to the public relations and legal firms that consider big tobacco a cash cow industry. Effective tobacco control is also dependent on civil society and the private sector to engage in productive partnerships with government to promote awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and consumption. The task does not stop there, strictly implementing and monitoring tobacco control policies will eventually enable every individual’s right to breathe clean air- one unpolluted by toxic chemicals dangerously packed in one cigarette.

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Breaking the Habit (I): The Growing Pains of Achieving a Smoke-Free ASEAN

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on August 10, 2012
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Conflicting government and regional tobacco-control policies are part of the growing pains of achieving a smoke-free ASEAN. Despite global and regional initiatives, almost 20 per cent of tobacco-related deaths in the world occur in this region and tobacco consumption and the lifestyle associated with it poses a threat to health and human security.

It may be the habit that is the hardest to break but let’s face it, smoking kills. Globally, tobacco kills one person every six seconds according to the WHO. It kills more people every day but the irony of it is that tobacco-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and asthma among others are chronic or non-communicable diseases that can be prevented. With more than 125 million smokers (30 per cent of the ASEAN population), ASEAN is a viable target market for the tobacco industry and a potent locale for a health crisis.

As the leading cause of preventable death in the world, the gravity of the problem of tobacco use and consumption among the world’s population is undeniable. Tobacco control has slowly been included in the global health agenda since the detrimental long-term effects on one’s health were exposed in 1964. ASEAN in particular has considered tobacco use as a health crisis and has seen how smoking-related healthcare costs and the long-term health risks on both smoker and non-smoker (even the unborn child) weigh heavily on health security. This is evident as ASEAN health ministers’ apparently recommended that tobacco be excluded from the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) tariff list during their talks last July. However, it is unclear what will come out of this recommendation. On a positive note, the ASEAN Headquarters in Jakarta was recently declared as a smoke-free environment as part of the Towards a Smoke-Free ASEAN campaign. Do these initiatives give ample warning to the tobacco industry that ASEAN is serious in strictly abiding by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and implementing a smoke-free ASEAN? It did establish the ASEAN Focal Points on Tobacco Control with the aim to protect generations of the ASEAN community from the threats posed by tobacco on health, society, the economy and the environment. Regrettably, this is where the travails of effective implementation come into play.

This September, Jakarta will host one of the largest gatherings of the tobacco industry in Asia- the World Tobacco Asia 2012. Although ASEAN reported that Indonesia has declared seven smoke-free cities and two smoke-free provinces including Jakarta, its welcoming arms to multinational tobacco companies paint a conflicting picture. How could Indonesia declare Jakarta a smoke-free province and all the while host a tobacco exposition in the same province where a supposedly smoke-free ASEAN Headquarters is located? The organizers do know that Indonesia remains one of the few remaining countries which has not signed or ratified the FCTC. Given the millions of smokers in the region, this seems to be an exciting prospect for market expansion from a corporate standpoint but an atrocity from the perspective of health security.

These contradictions are part of the growing pains of achieving a smoke-free ASEAN. This is where tobacco industry interference has come into play and will be discussed in the next blog post.

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Quantifying Food Wastage or Measuring a Monster

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on July 17, 2012
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The wastage of food is one of the most significant yet under-recognised global issues in the effort to combat food insecurity. Policy makers and food industry stakeholders alike are aware that the implications of the estimated 30-50% global food wastage for energy, soil, water and human resources are significant. Just how significant is not clear: relatively little data is available on the intricacies of food wastage and its impact on the world’s food systems. Southeast Asia as a region suffers from a lack of information on food wastage along supply chains in key food commodities. In order to address the issue, developing accurate and relevant information on the scope and causes of food wastage is essential.

Estimates suggest that up to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions result from wasted food. Beyond the environmental implications of wasted land and water resources, food losses have significance for food availability. Food prices and availability may be affected in some countries by the wastage of food traded on international markets. At the local level, losses on small farms impact the farmers and villagers who consume the food they produce.

The reasons for food waste are situation specific, but two broad trends are apparent. In developing countries, most food waste occurs at the early stages of the supply chain such as harvesting, storage and transport, with very little consumer waste. In industrialised countries, most wastage is accounted for by consumer behaviour and government interventions which promote surplus production of particular food commodities. However, this broad divide fails to capture the nuances of food wastage in Southeast Asia; including the fundamentally differing trends found in urban and rural settings.

Several key causes of food losses and waste can be identified. Poor storage facilities and lack of infrastructure cause postharvest food losses, especially for fresh food including fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Inadequate processing facilities lead to unnecessary food losses, as does the prevalence of unsafe food. While some food processing and retailing companies have undertaken innovative steps to reuse wasted or unsold food, an attitude persists whereby disposal of food is perceived as being cheaper that using or re-using it. As Southeast Asia continues to experience the rise of corporate grocers beyond major urban areas this issue will become more pertinent. Finally, in industrialised countries and major urban centres, abundance and consumer attitudes lead to high food waste in households and the hospitality sector.

The FAO-supported Save Food Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction cites several food supply chain interventions to reduce food loss and waste, including improving production planning in alignment with markets and promoting resource-efficient production and processing practices.

Public actions to support supply chain interventions include creating an enabling policy and institutional environment, awareness raising and advocacy, and building partnerships and alliances between public and private sector stakeholders. With demand for food growing, and competition for scarce land and water resources intensifying, it is clear that actions such as these need to be taken to address the magnitude of food wasted. However, accurate estimates of extent of food wastage, the culpability of particular causes, and the efficacy of food supply chain interventions need to be ascertained first for effective and targeted action.

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Arms Trade Treaty: Why We Need It

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on July 12, 2012
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Delegates from 193 UN member states have gathered in New York since 2 July 2012 to attend a historic UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. The month-long conference aimed to establish an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate the export, import and transfer of conventional weapons. Considered a potentially ground-breaking “humanitarian treaty”, the ATT is really about arms transfer management. It would require ratifying countries not to authorised arms transfer if it is likely to be used to violate human-rights, undermine peace, prolong conflicts, or, if it is likely to be diverted to the black markets. It would also require them to publish their sales yearly and register arms brokers.

The conference is proof that the international community’s attitudes toward conventional weapons has changed. This category of weapons has long remained at the sidelines of arms control agreements due in large part to the long-standing preoccupations with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which is ‘chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons capable of a high order of destruction or causing mass casualties’. This preoccupation resulted in the establishment of a number of arms control treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) etc. Nothing of this kind existed for conventional weapons. The few existing mechanisms such as arms embargoes are fraught with limitations. A study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found that arms embargoes that have been introduced since 1990 have had limited impact on both arms flows to and the behaviour of embargoed targets. More recently, Oxfam estimated that between 2000 and 2010, and despite the 26 UN, regional, and multilateral arms embargoes in force during this period, USD2.2 billion worth of arms and ammunition was imported by countries under arms embargoes. A case in point is Syria. Despite an embargo, it was still able to import USD168 million worth of arms in the months before it began a crackdown on opposition activists. This, coupled with the attempted export of attack helicopters to Syria by Russia in June heightened the need for stricter international standards on arms transfers.

Conventional weapons are the primary or sole tools of violence in armed conflicts. Although they by themselves do not cause the conflicts in which they are used, they exacerbate and increase their lethality. Besides their use in armed conflicts, small arms and light weapons kill people on a daily basis in a variety of situations such as gang fights, homicides, suicides and random shootings. It was estimated that small arms and light weapons alone are responsible for the death of 500,000 people each year. It is therefore time to recognise conventional weapons as the “real WMDs” warranting the same level of regulations as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The conference on the Arms Trade Treaty thus represents an important move towards that direction. Establishing international standards on trade in conventional weapons through the Arms Trade Treaty could help curtail irresponsible arms sales or its transfer. This would enable the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts that are sustained by large scale, unregulated proliferation of conventional weapons.

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Rethinking Waste Management in Singapore

Singapore shines as a model for urban sustainable development. As the venue for three major international conferences related to sustainable development in early July 2012, Singapore’s commitment to sustainable urban development took on even more meaning given the events’ timing soon after the lacklustre outcome of the Rio+20 conference. That said, however, an emphasis on infrastructural development is only part of the solution. Addressing social apathy during the implementation of sustainable development policies at the grassroots level remains difficult.

One area where this is most evident in Singapore is the issue of waste management. While Singapore has been commended for its technological advances in waste water management, solid waste management, particularly in terms of recycling – has had several challenges. Although the rate of recycling has increased from 40% to 59% from 2000 to 2011, analysis of the breakdown of different types of waste indicates that much of the waste that is recycled comes from the industrial sector. Moreover, despite being among the top 5 wastes generated in Singapore, the recycling rate of plastics and food waste is still low. As such, while efforts to regulate recycling in industrial sectors have been successful, measures to improve recycling efforts amongst the mass public has been limited.

The Singapore government is investigating the paucity of environmental action in the public sphere but there are already some evident factors. Firstly, and most prominently, is the poor awareness on the specific conditions for recycling, such as the fact that items that are to be recycled cannot be contaminated with food waste. This has resulted in a proportion of items found in recycle bins are not recyclable.

Secondly, a culture of convenience creates a degree of complacency in recycling pro-actively. This is reflected in wide use of plastic utensils, which are still the preferred economic choice for Singapore food vendors, and the design of Singapore’s public housing, in which a single rubbish chute has made it easier for people to dispose of their waste, rather than separate recyclables from organic waste.

Finally, certain types of recycling have yet to find traction in some commercial sectors. For instance, composting of food waste has yet to take root in Singapore, whether at the household level, or in the hospitality/catering industry. Moreover, the lack of buy-in from the public has even driven some small pioneering companies out of business. As for plastics, they are not as lucrative as other recyclables like paper and tin cans.

These above mentioned factors thus contribute to inefficient recycling efforts in Singapore. It could be suggested that creating legislation to enforce a system of separating recyclables from organic waste, such as in Japan, would be the best option. Till then, environmental efforts in Singapore will continue to be, by and large, jaded by the culture of convenience and profitability.

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Trafficking in Persons: Importance of identifying what is and what is not

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 19, 2012
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Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is one of the most serious transnational crimes. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are believed to be trafficked across international borders each year and annual profits generated by TIP are estimated at USD32 billion. This makes it the second most profitable transnational crime in the world after drug trafficking.

Singapore has long argued that it does not have a serious TIP problem. However, it has developed renewed interests on the issue in recent years. According to Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, Singapore is “an attractive hub of economic activity with high people flows……and would be seen as an attractive destination country by human trafficking syndicates”. Although it is difficult to estimate the scope and scale of TIP in Singapore, it is probable that an unspecified number of the estimated 200,000 to 250,000 women and children who are trafficked from Southeast Asia each year could potentially have been destined for Singapore or could have transited through it. This probability is supported by US Department of State and ECPAT International reports that have identified Singapore as a destination and transit country for both sex and labour trafficking. Finally, Singapore has always taken pride in maintaining a reputation as a highly competitive, uncorrupt location with an excellent business environment. In contrast, its performance in reports that ranked countries based on their efforts to combat TIP is far from stellar. TIP is thus seen as detrimental to Singapore’s global image and reputation. As a result of these factors, Singapore established an Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP in 2010 and has also launched a National Plan of Action (NPA) on 21 March 2012 to guide the Taskforce in combating TIP.

Singapore’s efforts to combat TIP however risked becoming mired in confusion and its effectiveness compromised. This is because distinctions have not been made between exploitation in general and the exploitation outcome of trafficking. The failure to make this distinction could lead to TIP becoming a byword for exploitation in general. For example, one prominent advocate believes that confiscation of passports, intimidation and threat, non-payment of salaries, and wrongful confinement equals trafficking. Most importantly, she also asserts that exploited domestic workers are victims of trafficking. However, according to the UN Trafficking Protocol, trafficked victims are those who are recruited and transported by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception or of the abuse of power for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, and removal of organs. Thus, not all forms of exploitation and not everyone who endured exploitation are cases of TIP.

Effectively addressing TIP requires a clear distinction between exploitation and the exploitation outcome of trafficking. The failure to make such distinctions could compromise the effectiveness of the highly essential targeted responses and will lead to the wastage of valuable resources.

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Political reforms in Myanmar: What it meant for ethnic minorities

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on June 19, 2012
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Recent political reformsin Myanmar have generated strong interest and excitement around the world and understandably so. After decades of military rule, the country has finally warmed up to the idea of political reforms. Its first attempt at political reforms occurred in 2008 when the ruling military junta adopted a new constitution which allow for the establishment of a nominally civilian government with 25 per cent of parliamentary seats reserved for the military. This was followed by a general election in November 2010, the first in 20 years. Unsurprisingly, it was won by the regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Following this election, the military junta was officially disbanded and power was transferred to a new civilian government headed by President Thein Sein, a former general. Mr. Thein Sein’s government has since freed a number of political prisoners and made overtures to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi who was released from house arrest in 2010 and was subsequently elected to Parliament in April 2012. The international community has responded positively to Myanmar’s fledgling democratic transition. Leaders such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have all paid visits to the country in order to normalise relations and invest in Myanmar’s vast, largely untapped, natural resources.

However, one central issue still remains to be addressed–the question of ethnic minorities. Myanmar is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and has experienced a complex set of conflicts between the central government and ethnic minority groups. Ethnic grievances, and the resultant conflicts, are due mainly to the non-fulfillment of the promises of autonomy. At a conference in Panglong on 12 February 1947, representatives from ethnic minorities such as the Shan, Kachin and Chin, fearing domination by the majority Burmans, agreed to join the newly established Union of Burma in return for promises of full autonomy in internal administration. This demand was enshrined in the Panglong Agreement which declared that “full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas is accepted in principle”. This promise of autonomy however suffered a serious blow following the assassination on 19 July 1947 of Aung San, founder of the Union of Burma and one of the chief architects of the Panglong Agreement. The subsequent emergence of a military junta in the 1960s further dented any hope of autonomy for ethnic minorities. Civil wars ensued and more than 130,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of it.

The military junta always maintained a hard line approach towards ethnic minorities and their armed groups. Its attempt at finding solutions to the conflict were limited to signing ceasefire agreements. But ceasefire agreements do not offer a lasting solution as they are easily broken. Myanmar’s true and lasting peace hinges on resolving the issue of ethnic minorities. And the ongoing political reforms have yet to address this central issue.

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In Climate Change Negotiations, Less Is More

For a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”, the Rio+20 Conference suffers from a lack of expectations. The anticipated non-attendance of prominent heads of state, vague conference themes and painfully slow pace of negotiations have contributed to the prevalent view that most positive outcomes will emerge outside of state-level delegations. There is tacit acceptance that little progress will be made on climate change; hence the increased emphasis on sustainable development. This sacrifices both ambition and the possibility of meaningful consensus.

Despite strengthening evidence on the perils of climate change and benefits from sustainable development, achieving international consensus on specific goals has been difficult. An extremely comprehensive document – Agenda 21 – resulted from Rio ’92. However, the UNFCCC and the Convention on Biological Diversity, specific legal instruments aimed at achieving the Agenda 21 aspirations, have largely failed to do so. Rio+20, by aiming for another comprehensive document, is re-treading a well-worn path.

Avoiding difficult fracture points on climate change is not a solution if it results in another weak consensus. A whole chapter of Agenda 21 is devoted to addressing climate change, making it an important part of the sustainable development paradigm. The enormous benefits of binding international agreements are crucial to ensure political, private sector and civil society commitment to mitigating climate change. Considering the limited results achieved at recent Conferences of the Parties to the UNFCCC, a new approach is needed to change the form, without changing the substance, of climate change negotiation. Rio+20 should be the laboratory to test that new approach.

There are positive signs. Energy use – the dominant cause of climate change – is a Critical Issue at Rio+20. The conference, through the concept of green economy, emphasises energy efficiency over emission reduction. The voluntary commitments made by prominent developing economies at Copenhagen and Cancun were made in terms of carbon intensity, indicating that energy efficiency would be a far more acceptable parameter in climate change discussions. Apart from supply-side management, controlling fossil fuel consumption is recognised, even by industry, as necessary. Renewable energy requires the restructuring of energy infrastructure, creating negotiating roadblocks. Negotiating better energy utilisation within carbon-committed economies is more likely to yield results.

Rio+20 has highlighted low-carbon transport as a focus area. This focus on a particular sector of an economy is extremely important since it replaces the holistic aspirations of climate change negotiations with an incremental alternative. The benefits of such an approach include increased participation in negotiations, more flexibility and clarity in defining mitigation parameters, better monitoring of target realization, the space to focus on critical sectors and the reduction of sector-based protectionism. It must be extended to identify other sectors which are suited to sector-specific agreements.

Rio+20 should be used as an opportunity to create focused but binding commitments on nations (as the UNEP recommended). In the ever-broadening areas of climate change and sustainable development, the devil remains in the details. A measured approach to resolving some of those details would make this conference as worthwhile as its landmark predecessor.

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Rage in Rakhine: Democratization and the specter of latent conflict in Myanmar

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on June 8, 2012
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On 04 June 2012, authorities in the western state of Rakhine, Myanmar were roused by the reported massacre of 9 Rohingya Muslims by suspected Buddhist vigilantes. The incident marred the rosy picture presented by the Thein Sein government. Democratization appears on track in Myanmar with the conduct of relatively credible elections in April and “new freedom” even for the regime’s harshest critic—Aung San Suu Kyi. Strife between the Muslims and Buddhist in Rakhine illustrates the multiple drivers of conflict, on top of ethnic tensions with minorities (i.e the Karens in the east) and the pro-democracy movement centered in Yangon. The massacre illustrates that while democratization seems apace, the rule of law remains elusive.

Rohingya Muslims have been described as the “world’s most persecuted people”—existing for decades under the harsh military dictatorship in Myanmar. Within the dominant Burmese Buddhist state, Rohingyas are denied the most basic of rights such as travel, education, and even the number of children a couple can sire; prompting observers to dub the region, Mayanmar’s Gaza. The recent violence was in reprisal over the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by a gang of Rohingya men. It has been reported that the proximate cause of the incident was the distribution of inflammatory flyers targeted against the Rohingya hours before the Sunday evening incident.

Naypyidaw’s belated vow for “legal action” against the instigators had been met by tepid response and protests in Sittwe. The disjuncture between government response and the need for a nuanced understanding of the situation is painfully brought to light by the mishandling of the Myanmar state media, which referred to the Rohingya as “kalar”—foreigner.

Myanmar’s democracy project remains saddled by the lack of rule of law. Indeed, while policy had been recently rolled out to welcome back Rohingya refugees from neighboring Bangladesh, a fundamental issue remains unsettled. The Rohingyas remain excluded from the body politic. Recognition of minority rights is a keystone of substantive democratization beyond its procedural manifestations such as elections.

It is troubling that the Rohingya may resort to violence to counter the oppressive conditions imposed upon them—not against the state, but as a backlash against the majority Burmese population. Further incentivizing the use of political violence is the relative success enjoyed by armed and organized ethnic groups. To illustrate, the Karen National Union and its military wing exercise control over a swathe of eastern Myanmar, which includes functions of governance such as taxation and elections. As such, they are able to extract concessions from Naypyidaw and enjoy a semblance of relative autonomy.

And what of the prospects of the Rohingya mimicking the non-violent, electoral struggle waged by Aung San SuuKyi’s pro-democracy movement? An organized and politically-conscious Rohingya may dismiss non-violent struggle as a viable option only to the ethnic Burmese.

Simply put, the specter of conflict looms as the Rohingya is seemingly pushed to come to the belated realization of the Maoist dictum that “[political] power flows from the barrel of a gun”.

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Bickering Bangsamoros? Why Transparency is Insufficient for the Success of the GPH-MILF Negotiations

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 10, 2012
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The “straight and narrow”[1]path to a final peace agreement by the end of 2012 between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appears clear.Taking cues from public outcry over the aborted 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), steps have been made to make the negotiations more transparent to stakeholders. However, this optimism is tempered by the lingering potential for conflict. With renewed confidence in the GPH-MILF negotiations (after two successive exploratory talks in 2012), the potential flashpoint is less likely a result of the presupposed “Christian-Muslim” dialectic but the more obscured tendency for fissures within the Bangsamoro[2].

The conclusion of the 27th GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks (23-24 April 2012) led to the signing of the Decision Points on Principles, which puts forth the broad principles for greater political autonomy and resource-sharing sharing in favor of the MILF, subject to further negotiations. While the Decision Points are largely similar to the MOA-AD, the favorable response by stakeholders to the new initiative is an indicator of the increased transparency of the peace process.

Complementing these developments are apparent improvements in community security. Diminished perceptions of threat and insecurity along with the sense of empowerment enhance human security. In turn, this provides the groundswell of grassroots support for the GPH-MILF talks.

Expected animosities amongst communities ostensibly due to religio-politico identity (i.e. Muslim-Christian) have hardly manifested. A key point to note is that both government forces and the MILF have consistently upheld the ceasefire as seen in the absence of armed clashes in 2012. However, it must be stressed that these apparent improvements on the ground may overshadow the latent manifestations of conflict, far from the eyes of observers in Manila.

Clan conflicts or rido are not taken into account by GPH-MILF peace monitors. Illustrative of these latent conflicts is a series of clashes in April 2012 between families of MILF members and former Moro National Liberation Front rebels. It is just one example of how quality-of-life issues such as farming and land rights can incite conflict amongst the Bangsamoro.

Factionalism within the MILF, as seen in the breakaway of a major rebel unit (covering a specific geographic area) once led by the late Umbra Kato, is in fact a recurring event. More troubling is that the potential for fratricidal conflict is even more pronounced today. The recent demise of Abdulaziz Mimbantas, the MILF Vice Chairman for Military Affairs, brings with it the potential of a power struggle in the group’s highest echelons—reminiscent of the crisis triggered during the 2003 passing of MILF founder Hashim Salamat.

Simply put, the spillover of intramural violence in the MILF could very well trigger a cascade of conflict and insecurity in communities including Christian-dominated ones. Thus, steps must be taken by the GPH and MILF to rein in Bangsamoro bickering to prevent the emergence of humps towards the path to peace.


[1] President Benigno Aquino III’s 2010 electoral campaign was premised on the idea of a “DaangMatuwid” (Straight Path), which would do away with the corruption and policy obfuscation that purportedly besets Philippines politics.
[2] Bangsamoro, directly translated into “Moro Nation” is the ethno-politico concept used by Muslim secessionist rebels in Mindanao to distinguish themselves from the Philippine body politic.
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Over 15 million severely food insecure in Africa’s Sahel region

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on May 8, 2012
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A severe hunger crisis is emerging in Africa’s Sahel region, with an estimated 15 million currently threatened by food insecurity and a total of 23 million at risk. Reportedly 600 children are dying every day the area from undernourishment, and the United Nations has warned that one million children face potential severe malnutrition.

Drought and failed rains in the region have placed acute stress on food availability. The Sahel, which incorporates a dozen countries in a belt across Northern Africa, already faces long-term environmental constraints including desertification from over-farming and over-grazing. Countries affected by the current crisis include Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal.

In response to the hardship, millions of households across the region have applied necessary but perilous coping methods including the sale of valuable assets and livestock, keeping children home from school, decreasing food intakes, and including items such as wild leaves in their diet. Many of the communities affected are located in areas difficult for relief efforts to access, both geographically and logistically. The stress on food availability and access has been compounded by thorny political dynamics in the region and varying levels of ability between countries to deal with the situation. Furthermore, conflict in Mali has led to over 200,000 people fleeing the country in recent months to poorly resourced refugee camps in neighbouring Mauritania, while Chad must feed refugees that have fled from conflict in Darfur.

Almost a billion dollars has been sought in funding for relief programs since warnings of a potential humanitarian crisis were first raised in early 2012. The United Nations raised US$750 million from donors, while a grouping of four international NGOs – Save the Children, Oxfam, Action Against Hunger and World Vision – is well short of the funding pool of US$250 million dollars it seeks to raise for its crisis relief efforts.

Hundreds of nutrition rehabilitation treatment centres and programs have been established by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) along with these organisations in recent months. Beyond the emergency response, Medecins Sans Frontieres states that with malnutrition rates of 30 per cent in some areas of the Sahel, the current situation should be considered not only an isolated humanitarian crisis but a deep and enduring public health problem. It advocates an approach for long-term improvement that incorporates effective medical and nutrition measures into basic healthcare services, such as vaccinations, which are already in operation across the region.

An effective and immediate boost to the existing emergency response is critical, however, given concerns that the nutritional crisis could worsen dramatically over the next few months given that the next harvest will not come through until October 2012. The World Food Programme says that it has approximately three to four weeks to raise the US$450 million needed to fund its relief operations. Most United Nations agencies are likely to revise and launch new funding appeals to reach a new collective target of US$1.5 billion, given the complexity of slow and fast-onset crises happening simultaneously, and the aid groups are continuing their appeal.

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Transboundary Waters: Triggers of Conflict or Cooperation?

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on May 6, 2012
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A recent report by the National Intelligence Council of the US State Department released on 22 March 2012 offered grim assessment on the state of future water security. The report “Global Water Security” predicted that as water becomes scarcer, shared river basins will increasingly be used as leverage, a weapon or even as a means to further terrorist objectives in the next 10 years.

Such observation however is not new. Scholars such as Gleick (1993), Homer-Dixon (1994) and Chellaney (2007) have long argued that transboundary rivers could act as potential triggers for inter-state conflicts in the 21st century. This is due, in large part, to the complicated nature of shared river basins. As of 2002, the UN identified 263 major international river basins. These basins accounted for 40 per cent of the world’s population and 60 per cent of global freshwater flows. Most importantly, a total of 145 countries are riparian states to one or more of these basins making transboundary rivers notoriously difficult to manage.

Despite this, scholars such as Libiszewski (1995) and Wolf (1998) argued for the possibilities (and historic evidence) of cooperation between co-riparian states. Wolf et al (2003) noted that the only recorded incident of an outright war over water occurred more than 4000 years ago between two Mesopotamian city-states, Lagash and Umma, in modern-day Iraq. Historically, water tensions have led to more water-sharing agreements than violent conflicts. This was evidenced in the more than 3600 water-related treaties that were signed between 805 and 1984.

Signing of water treaties, however, does not necessarily translate into greater cooperation. What matters is the quality and scope of the treaties. For example, countries in South Asia managed their shared waters primarily through bilateral agreements which focussed almost exclusively on issues such as water quality, water quantity, navigation, hydropower, border issues, economic development etc. Although bilateral treaties help reduce chances of conflict between riparian states, its narrow focus did little to help manage water sustainably and prevent conflicts in the long run. In eastern Africa, despite the formation of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), member countries are still locked in a dispute over water sharing. Similar trends can also be observed in Central Asia where talks on water sharing among countries of the Aral Sea basin have come to a grinding halt.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) in Southeast Asia and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) in Europe are one of the few existing examples of successful regional cooperation over shared waters. Both river basin organizations are established through legally binding treaties which embraces not only the socio-economic needs of riparian states but also the entire river ecosystems through the adoption of an approach known as the Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). High degree of institutionalisation and engagement among riparian states makes the MRC and the ICPDR shining models of cooperation on transboundary rivers. The experiences of these river basin organizations showed that strong regional institutions are prerequisites for successful transboundary water cooperation. Most importantly, it demonstrated that sustainable management of water requires efforts that balances socio-economic needs of riparian states with river ecosystems.

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NIMBY rules for nuclear energy in East Asia post Fukushima?

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on April 17, 2012
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A year on after the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, managing Japan’s energy policies continues to be an uphill task. With critical immediate tasks of addressing an ailing economy, domestic demands to cease the use of nuclear energy, and spiked prices of energy imports, it is no wonder that revising of Japan’s nuclear energy structures and plans (let alone implementing it) remain a slow process.

The difficulty lies in juggling three main issues. First, anti-nuclear sentiments continue to gain ground in Japan as seen from the increasing numbers in mass protests, calls for local referenda to shut down nuclear power plants in their respective local vicinities, and efforts to provide ground-up alternative sources of information, given the perceived lack of transparency and mistrust towards top-down information. Such activities thus call for the need to diversify Japan’s energy mix.

Second, national plans to reform and strengthen Japan’s nuclear energy governance structures have been rather slow. Given that Japan’s nuclear energy governance had largely been under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, reform plans have included the need for more oversight from other governmental bodies such as the Ministry of Environment. This would culminate with the establishment of a new body – the Nuclear Regulatory Agency – which will play a central role in strengthening Japan’s domestic nuclear security measures. However, the NRA to date has yet to be formed. Moreover, a revision of Japan’s Energy Basic Plan is still being deliberated with four possible scenarios of nuclear energy taking up to 30% of Japan’s energy mix till 2030.

Third, developments at the international level create further complications for Japan to fully adhere to these domestic demands in the short term. The price of importing energy resources, particularly liquified natural gas (LNG), to substitute the short fall of energy from decommissioned nuclear power plants, increased sharply in the 2nd half of 2011. This greatly exacerbated the third issue – Japan’s already ailing economy, where experts speculate that the Japanese Yen is likely to depreciate further in the months to come while still recovering from the March 2011 tsunami.

That said, one of the economic lifelines for Japan is the development of nuclear technology elsewhere. While the use of nuclear energy is shunned domestically, the demand for Japanese nuclear technology and training to other countries developing their own nuclear energy facilities (such as Vietnam, Russia and Indonesia) remains a small but important source of income for Japan’s financial recovery. Ironically, this is despite the fact that Prime Minister Noda admitted that training for on-site workers at Fukushima had been “insufficient”.

Nevertheless, it is possible that as far as officials in the Ministry of Trade and Industry are concerned, such inflows of cash are desirable and necessary for Japan given the slump in other trade sectors such as agricultural/food exports and tourism.  As such, while the anti-nuclear bloc in Japan may have the upper hand domestically, it is likely to create greater challenges for anti-nuclear groups in the wider East Asian region.

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Regional Organisations – Making RtoP Implementation a Reality

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 13, 2012
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Widespread violations of human rights were reported during the crisis in Libya last year, some of which constitute crimes against humanity. The atrocious nature of the violence led to the adoption of two UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions (S/RES/1970 and S/RES/1973), imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and sanctions against the Gaddafi regime. The resolutions emphasised the Libyan authorities’ primary responsibility to protect (RtoP) its people against mass atrocities. This most recent invocation of RtoP highlights the important role of regional organisations in the implementation of RtoP.

Given that UNSC members still vary in the degree of their acceptance of RtoP, the passage of two RtoP-embedded resolutions on Libya demonstrates how regional organisations – African Union and Arab League – reconciled differences for timely response to the crisis. In the UNSC debate on the two resolutions, the representative from China, which usually opposes external interference, explicitly emphasised that China respected the position of relevant regional organisations and thus would not obstruct the adoption of the resolutions.

In the face of mass atrocities, the advantage of regional organisations with regards to implementing RtoP is geographic proximity and cultural affinity. Regional countries serve as the outposts to experience early signs of atrocious crises, such as outflow of refugees. Tens of thousands of Cambodians fled the persecution of the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1978 to Thailand and Vietnam. Collection and assessment of these early warning signals lays the foundation for timely and appropriate response. Moreover, similarities in culture and value make the country concerned more receptive to the good offices and mediation by regional organisations. For instance, the political solution of Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008 was brokered by Kofi Annan who was dispatched by the African Union. The regional involvement successfully averted further escalation of the situation.

In view of numerous internal conflicts across the Asia-Pacific, RtoP is relevant to the region regarding the prevention of mass atrocities. However, the attitude of regional countries towards RtoP is ambivalent. Regional arrangements such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) have been identified by RtoP experts as appropriate channels to promote and implement RtoP.

However, as the ARF is more a loose forum for communication rather than a binding institution, there are capacity and expertise gaps making it difficult for the ARF to play the key role of RtoP sponsor. For instance, the establishment of a regional early warning system is still under discussion and the expertise of the ARF with respect to preventive diplomacy and mediation need to be strengthened.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) represent a key force to fill in the capacity gap of regional arrangements. The position of CSOs between the government and the private sector makes it a bridge for communication. On the one hand, CSOs work closely with people on the ground and are thus more sensitive to the early warning signals; on the other hand, CSOs people provide expertise to policy-makers at the regional level. For instance, programs of the Asia Pacific Centre for the RtoP in the Philippines and Cambodia are facilitating community-based early warning efforts and keeping the appropriate authorities informed.

RtoP presents normative support for the prevention and stoppage of mass atrocities but it is still in its emerging phase. Regional organisations are appropriate avenues for promoting RtoP, and engagement with CSOs supplements the capacity deficiency of regional mechanisms in implementing the principle.

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Food insecurity heats up in the Gulf

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on April 5, 2012
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Having not fully recovered from global food prices hikes in 2007/08 and 2011, the import-dependent Persian Gulf region and nearby countries in the Middle East remain vulnerable to food insecurity. Ongoing land and water resource scarcity present a key challenge, in addition to conflict and political instability in some areas of the region. With just 2 per cent of land in the area of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) being arable, options to improve self-sufficiency through agricultural development are limited. Since the food price crisis, regional governments have instead pursued food security and price stability strategies through foreign land acquisition, food subsidy programmes and strategic food reserves. However, results from a recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institution (IFPRI) suggest that poverty and income inequality in the Arab world remain at critical levels and are likely more problematic than official figures indicate, with clear implications for food security.

One of the most urgent humanitarian situations is the GCC’s southern neighbour Yemen, with the World Food Programme estimating that one fifth of the country’s population of 24 million face severe hunger and require emergency food assistance. A further 5 million face moderate food insecurity. Hunger was formerly predominant in the country’s conflict zones, but has become widespread due to increased food and fuel prices, the lagging economy, drought and political instability.

One further emerging threat to the region’s food security is the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Egyptian livestock, which is a major food source for the Middle East. Current estimates suggest that there are nearly 100,000 suspected cases of foot and mouth and have been 9,000 livestock deaths since the outbreak in February 2012. Scientists are working to develop a vaccine and the Egyptian government is restricting the movement of livestock to reduce the risk of the disease spreading throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East.

In terms of strategies to address food insecurity in the Middle East, the IFPRI report found that unlike much of the developing world, Arab countries are best off pursuing economic growth led by the manufacturing and service sectors, rather than agriculture. At the recent conference on Water and Food Security in the Arabian Gulf, the UN Economic and Social Commissioner for Western Asia called for multidimensional food security and water security strategies for the GCC.  The private sector is also heeding the call for regional cooperation, with the head of the leading agribusiness group in Oman encouraging further technical research and government intervention in order to produce affordable, nutritious food.

With the GCC population expected to increase by 50 million in the next five years, global food prices likely facing further hikes in the short-to-medium term, and the ongoing severity of water resource scarcity, time is of the essence in Gulf countries’ pursuit to address the region’s food insecurity.

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s April? Myanmar’s 2011 By-Elections

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 3, 2012
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It was no April Fool’s Day. As polling stations closed across Myanmar on 01 April 2012, reports point to an electoral victory for Aung San Suu Kyi and her bid to represent the Kawhmu constituency south of Rangoon. It is but one of the many high points in the apparent expansion of political space in Myanmar; which started in early 2011 with a reinvigorated peace process. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether these developments indicate a commitment to democratization by the Thein Sein government—a fundamental shift in Myanmar politics.

The recently concluded elections have largely been uneventful and peaceful, with most reports of fraud (i.e. voter list manipulation and ballot tampering) limited to dissident-linked sources. Clearly, it appears that the open invitation of international observers have deterred any overt attempt to rig the elections and apparently indicates the sincerity of the military-backed ruling government.

But an alternative punchline to the by-election is that the powers-that-be in Naypyidaw had no incentive to cheat anyway. Numbers-wise, the 45 seats up for grabs would not significantly change the balance of political power in the capital. Even personalities sympathetic to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) are wary and cautious of a negative unintended consequence of the election result—of potentially giving the military-backed civilian government a democratic façade.

As early as February 2011, there was already some concern over the growing irrelevance of the Burmese dissident diaspora; coinciding with the apparent ability of Sein’s administration to directly and deftly engage foreign actors. Promises (explicit or otherwise) of the lifting of sanctions imposed by the EU and the US; and of other diplomatic rewards from ASEAN are indicative of this troubling development.

The NLD’s success with the ballot box does not automatically resolve the intractable conflict and political instability besetting Myanmar. The appearance of democratic progress—of procedural but not substantive democracy, can lead to an oversimplification of the underlying issues that drive insecurity and underdevelopment. Too much focus on the by-election tends to neglect the bifurcated struggle that exist in parallel in Myanmar: the urban-centered, ethnic Burmese-led movement vis-à-vis the ethno-nationalist armed groups on the rural fringes.

Both domestic (i.e. the NLD and its allies) and foreign stakeholders thus need to be even more vigilant in ensuring that democratization continues. First, the NLD’s newfound parliamentary presence should be leveraged upon as another venue for Suu Kyi to espouse policy alternatives—befitting its status as an opposition bloc. Second, the relative transparency of the electoral process should be promoted across issue areas; starting with moves to independently investigate alleged human rights violations by the incumbent government. Finally, the modicum of pluralism accorded to the NLD should be extended to non-Burmese ethnic groups to sustain the gains of the simultaneous peace initiatives currently being undertaken.

Overall, Aung San Suu Kyi’s election cannot be the end-all of democratization lest the joke be at the expense of Myanmar’s people.

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Visible “Invisible Children”: Indicator of a tenuous link between social media activism and efficacy?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 19, 2012
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As of this writing, Kony 2012 has had 82 million views in YouTube. Dubbed the “most viral” video in history, it presents 26 years of atrocities committed by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—which has been tagged by the United States as a “specially designated terrorist group”. Produced by Invisible Children (IC), Kony 2012 relies on striking imagery—of fear and deprivation experienced by Ugandan children, to elicit an emotional response.

Kony 2012’s domination of social media brought with it scathing critiques: the most recurring of which is the video’s purported oversimplification of the conflict and the LRA’s current inactivity in Uganda. Others claim that IC’s advocacy of further American intervention would only intensify conflict and prop up an abusive Ugandan armed forces. Nonetheless, what is clear is that Kony 2012 has succeeded in raising awareness about anissue that even known pundits have embarrassingly stumbled on. In short, Kony 2012 is a strong case of how to wage an effective viral marketing campaign.

What is unclear is whether the IC’s self-stated effort to “redefine propaganda” translates into political efficacy. While IC has helped create localized improvements in community security and well-being on the ground, its main value proposition is its Kony 2012 campaign. IC’s model of media, advocacy and development is too quick to point to its campaign as a causative factor in America’s decision to deploy military advisers to Uganda. Arguably, American involvement can be more readily explained as by a shift in geopolitical considerations in the region.

Of course, IC is not alone in ascribing tremendous efficacy to social media—which has often been cited as a critical enabler in the “Arab Spring”. But as post-uprising euphoria fades, it was clear that social media only played an ancillary role. International inaction over the current Syrian uprising shows the limits of social media (through portals such as the Syrian Media Center) in mobilizing international action. It is not as if there is a lack of gripping footage to evoke strong emotions.

Even if it can be proven that IC’s engagement of “culturemakers” and “policymakers” triggered American policy shift, would it not be thus disingenuous for the group to take the limelight? Would it not endanger the likelihood of success of other advocacy and pressure groups to utilize social media and viral marketing?

The appeal of any viral campaign is in its cultivation of an image of its bottom-up and crowd-sourced origins.   With the IC’s model all but laid out, it risks losing the degree of mystique and intentional obscurity a viral campaign needs. The direct linkage between the source and message saps the latter’s “virulence” and ultimately, its ability to propagate.

It must be stressed that the material aspects of conflict—of insecurity and deprivation, cannot be addressed simply by number of “likes” or Kony 2012 action kits sold. While wide-ranging atrocities can no longer remain invisible in this “Facebook age”, claims that there may never be another Rwanda are quite premature.

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“Silenced” Spoilers: Conflict prevention via local conditions in Central Mindanao.

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 1, 2012
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In 27 July 2008, a statement by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, that an agreement granting the secessionist group substantive concessions was a “done deal”—sparked off widespread clashes in Central Mindanao, which displaced 700,000 people. Fast forward to February 2012, it is surprising that a similar comment by Iqbal, that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III promised a parliamentary “sub-state” for the MILF, did not result in another cycle of GPH-MILF violence. Although appearing as mere verbal spats, the contestation for public opinion has very real impacts on human security: the safety and well-being of conflict-affected communities.

The usual spoilers of the peace process—the hardliner MILF commanders on the one hand and populist local government officials on the other; had their divisive discourse muted. These hardliners have used inflammatory discourse to legitimize the use of armed violence. Iqbal’s 2008 statement saw local government officials swiftly retorting with hawkish discourse. This subsequently led to the scuttling of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) and the outbreak of armed conflict in Central Mindanao.

With the same prize of political and economic autonomy at stake in 2012, the resounding silence can only be explained by the confluence of factors leading to improved security at the community-level. First, Iqbal’s statement comes at an opportune time, before the rice harvest season—which is often marked by incidents of rogue MILF rebels or unscrupulous government militia sortieing out and seizing produce from the respective supporters of the opposing camp. Such events, which sans the labels “MILF” or militia, are mere criminal acts; unnecessarily draw the mainstream MILF and Philippine security forces into conflict and unduly complicates the peace process. More importantly, the recidivist spoilers of the peace process, MILF Base Commanders Umbra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar who were wholly responsible for the violence in 2008, had also been taken out of the picture.

Second, further reinforcing the fortuitous prevailing circumstances and the disappearance of spoilers is the thickening of ceasefire monitoring mechanisms led by various parties such as the GPH-MILF, local civil society and international organizations—an overall process which had yet to fully take off before the MOA-AD debacle. Another key factor is the full deployment of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team, unlike in 2008. Simply put, the multiple facets and levels of conflict resolution have made both parties more cognizant of the strategic implications of their actions limiting the incentives for violence.

With the ceasefire in place, spoilers on the government side—populist local government officials, with vested economic interests are sapped of their voice. The insulation of vulnerable communities from threats to their lives and livelihood thus increase their resilience to such incitements to violence. Overall, the self-contained and reinforcing dynamic of local improvements to human security have sapped spoilers of their efficacy. Absence of a suspicious national discourse brings the prospects of a more conducive socio-political milieu that can lead to a GPH-MILF political settlement.

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Thai rice: with the Southeast Asian market in flux, where next for the world’s biggest exporter?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on February 10, 2012
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Power is shifting amongst Southeast Asian rice exporters, with current world -leader Thailand set to reduce its rice exports between 10 and 30 per cent this year. High prices are a large contributing factor to the anticipated fall in exports from 11 million tons in 2011 to 7 millions tons in 2012. The Thai Opposition and Thai Rice Exporters Association hold the Thai government’s costly rice scheme accountable for the high price of the country’s rice. In response, the government has purchased paddy rice at twice the pre-scheme market rate at approximately $472 US dollars per ton since October 2011.

Frustrated with its government, the Thai Rice Exporters Association has threatened that Myanmar could become the world’s leading exporter in coming years. While being highly inconceivable given that Myanmar’s years as the world’s largest rice exporter in the 1960s are well behind it, the statement highlights Myanmar’s strengthening as an exporter, having recently secured a deal with Indonesia for 200,000 tons per year. Some Thai rice exporters are turning their attention to cheaper quality rice across the border in Cambodia, which has the potential to boost production and aims to expand its exports in coming years to one million tons but currently lacks the processing capacity to achieve this goal.

Thailand’s exports to formerly leading importers Indonesia and the Philippines are waning as both countries move towards rice self-sufficiency. Indonesia recently sought to renege from a 300,000 metric ton per annum import deal with Thailand. Furthermore, Thailand is acutely aware of the implications of the Philippines slowing its rice imports. On a recent visit to the Philippines, Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appealed for the country to consider Thai rice as a means for food security and a source for emergency reserves.

With demand in Southeast Asia in flux, Thailand’s closest rice export competitor, Vietnam, is taking innovative approaches to seeking additional market share. Its latest export strategy is in Africa, the region with the fastest-growing rice consumption in the world. Vietnam is exporting not only milled rice but Mekong Delta rice variety seeds and farming practices to at least eight African nations.

The shift away from long-held rice trade patterns between Southeast Asian countries is one more indicator that the rice economy is in transition. Once its rice scheme is complete mid-2012, Thailand will need to urgently rethink its export strategy to remain competitive in and relevant to the world rice market.

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Changing Gears for Effective (Climate) Change

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on January 31, 2012
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In her fiery speech at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban in late 2011 (video above), youth leader Ms Anjali Appadurai, expressed the critical importance for Conference delegates to deliver a legally binding document with substantial limits on carbon emissions and sufficient funds for climate adaptation. Similar to previous UNFCCC meetings, such optimism by representatives of environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs) is often dampened by the incremental progress in the negotiating process.

Given the fact that it is highly unlikely that such a rate of incremental change will vary in the near future, ENGOs must reconsider their many approaches in influencing efforts to address climate change. Three main shifts in approaches must be considered:

The first shift for ENGOs to make is to recognise the fact that their role in the UNFCCC process is limited. While ENGOs have been able to increase their visibility and influence in the UNFCCC process over the years, they have been circumscribed by structural challenges within the UNFCCC process, where governments are ultimately the change-makers. Moreover, government actions in UNFCCC are limited by the some level of pragmatism as well as an unwillingness to commit finances and resources in the long term.

The second shift is to channel efforts in global level to the national and local level. To its credit, the UNFCCC process as seen positive moves in building adaptive capacity at the local level with the introduction of the Adaptation Hub – a forum to support the operationalisation of the Cancun Adaptation Framework at local and national levels. This is further strengthened by inter-city-led initiatives such as the Durban Adaptation Charter for Local Governments, and initiatives that highlight the importance of traditional/local knowledge in solutions for addressing climate change. In this regard, there are several avenues in which ENGOs can make solid and immediate change and progress to the lives of communities most vulnerable to environmental change.

The final shift is the need to explore other avenues for progress beyond the UNFCCC process. With funding issues being a major impediment to facilitating ENGOs’ work and upscaling small-scale initiatives, ENGOs should therefore devote more time to engaging and working with private corporations to support these efforts, rather than be opposed to them. In addition to this, ENGOs must be well equipped to integrate climate change issues with existing socio-economic concerns. In a recent ranking of NGOs,  NGOs that made it to the top 10 such as Care International and Oxfam have been able to demonstrate how their initiatives integrate and support concerns related to climate change. In doing so, ENGOs would be in a better position to inform and enhance other global environment-related initiatives, such as the upcoming Rio+20 (also known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) in June 2012.

Such strategies should therefore be considered seriously by ENGOs to ensure effective progress in climate governance.

*This blog post is an adapted version of the January 2012 edition of NTS Alert on ENGOs’ Bitter Pill: Adapting to Incremental Climate (Governance) Change.

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Radiophobia – Fear That Kills

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on December 8, 2011
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In the latest issue of the NTS Alert I tried to critically examine the safety of nuclear power projects. I argued that available scientific and historical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that, for generating large amounts of electricity, nuclear energy is the safest currently available option. Some readers might find this surprising or even shocking and that is because of the dominant belief that any amount of radiation is dangerous, unhealthy and ultimately deadly. This assumption is radiophobia – an irrational fear of radiation that was born out of the frightening times of the Cold War when for various military, budgetary and propaganda reasons populations on both sides of the Iron Curtain were made panically afraid of anything nuclear. Apart from the geopolitical logic of that time, some scientists suspect other factors behind the creation of radiophobia such as the interests of the fossil fuel industries and the desire of the international media to profit from scare stories.

25 years after Chernobyl and 2 decades after the end of the Cold War it is evident that the threat of radiation has been grossly exaggerated and that by the linear non-threshold hypothesis (LNT) assumption that supported it had been wrong. One prominent commentator compared the LNT to “suggesting that because a temperature of 200 degrees Celsius would kill 100 per cent of human beings, so a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius should kill 10 per cent of them.“ Studies have demonstrated that small levels of radiation are not only harmless but may even be healthy to human being. What seems truly dangerous about low levels of radiation (such as the ones that followed the Chernobyl disaster) is the panic they create, as was demonstrated by research undertaken by the UN and WHO.

Yet, despite all the above, the world continues to suffer from radiophobia as it was evident in the case of Fukushima. As my Alert tried to demonstrate, this must change or else even the safest and accident-free nuclear power plants will cause deaths through stress, fear and anxiety that they may potentially generate. What is urgently needed today is courage on the side of politicians and people in positions of authority to communicate to their communities that nuclear power is ultimately safe, as it has been constantly demonstrated by our half a century of experience with it. An important action could be basing radiological protection on the principle of a practical threshold. According to one of the world’s most prominent radiologists, doing so “would be an important step taken towards dealing with radiation rationally and towards regaining the public’s acceptance of radioactivity and radiation as blessings for mankind.“

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Australia’s Role in Southeast Asia’s Future Food Security: Bowl or Spoon?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on October 7, 2011
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One of the greatest challenges facing Southeast Asia in coming decades is the prospect of adequately feeding its population, which is expected to grow by 11% by 2050. Already, 60% of the world’s malnourished reside in Asia. Population growth coupled with urbanisation, income growth and climate change, means that securing adequate and affordable food for the region in coming decades will be a challenging task. What role, then, might nearby Australia play in the future of Southeast Asia’s food security?

Australia engages with the region in food security in three main capacities: through the export of food, aid and development programs, and innovations in research and development. Australia is gradually increasing imports from ASEAN and Southeast Asian investors such as Singapore’s Wilmar and Olam are taking significant stakes in Australian agribusinesses and land.

Its reputation as a reliable and advanced agricultural producer lends the vision of Australia playing an increasingly significant role as a food source for Asia. Efforts toward freer trade in the region are further encouraging. Competition for land and water does pose significant challenges for Australia’s agricultural sector, as does the threat of climate change to the country’s fragile environmental state. There is certainly potential for an increase in Australia’s sauntering agricultural productivity growth rate in spite of these challenges, but even a significant increase would only have a relatively minor (albeit important) impact on Southeast Asia’s growing food demands. With food exports contributing just 3% to the world’s total, Australia’s output represents just a fraction of the global movement of food. Australia provides for its own 22 million-strong population and by exporting 50% of its food produced, has the current capacity to feed an additional 40 million people.

It is therefore argued that Australia’s greatest contribution to global food security will be in the form of technical expertise. Despite decades-long underinvestment dampening its research and development (R&D) potential, Australia has developed sophisticated agricultural expertise and technology, much of which has been applied to Southeast Asia’s agricultural sector via development programs, research partnerships and the private sector. Research strengths include low-input agriculture, production in challenging environmental circumstances and climate change adaptation. Somewhat surprisingly, the level of investment in Australia agricultural R&D is amongst the lowest of all OECD countries. Due to the current structure of the industry, an estimated 60% of research funding for agriculture in Australia is derived from the public sector, with just 16% coming from private investment. This compares to the OECD average of 34% public and 39% private funding.

Taking firm measures to encourage investment in agricultural R&D should therefore be a priority, and the current timing is ideal for a boost in agricultural sector investment more broadly in view of potential gains from high food pricing. Given the success of Australia’s agricultural research to date in spite of limited support and funds outside the public sector, there is clearly potential for Australia to have a more significant impact on Southeast Asia’s food security in future should the country’s R&D potential be realised.

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The Feminisation of Food Security: Women as Smallholder Farmers

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on October 6, 2011
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Agriculture in developing countries has experienced a wave of feminisation in recent decades, as women’s work in the sector becomes increasingly visible and involved. Women’s long-important role in the production of food as smallholder farmers is growing in Asia and beyond in response to household survival needs and economic opportunities.

Women perform on average 43% of agricultural labour in developing countries. The figure is higher in East Asia, where women perform on average 48% of agricultural work. Chinese women’s participation in the agricultural labour force is the highest in Asia at just over 50%. These figures are thought by some to be an underestimation in some instances, given a lack of distinction between women’s agricultural and domestic work.

Smallholder farmers are vital to global food security, with approximately 2 billion people living and working on the world’s 500 million small farms. These micro-producers are, however, encountering immense challenges in the face of climate change, changing food demands and modernised supply chains. The importance of policies and interventions to support smallholder farmers is recognised at high levels. Smallholder farmers themselves are adopting several adaptation techniques in response to emerging challenges and opportunities, such as the growing trend of family members from smallholder farms seeking employment in urban and peri-urban areas, often leaving women of the family to manage the farm.

Despite their strong and growing participation in agriculture, female farmers in developing regions consistently have lesser access to resources including market information, machinery, farming inputs, finance and education than male farmers. Women are also much less likely to own the land they work on, and typically the land they do own is less arable than that of male owners. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that the gender gap in access to agricultural resources results in women’s yields being 20-30% less than their male counterparts. Under conditions of equal access, it is estimated that global food production would increase 2-3%, potentially generating enough additional food for 100 to 150 million of the world’s hungry.

Specific policy and development programs focusing on the empowerment of women in agriculture are in place in Asia and other regions, however it is estimated that gender issues are integrated in less than 10% of official development assistance directed towards agriculture.

Gender gaps in smallholder farming are relatively under-acknowledged by food security stakeholders given the scale of inequality and the potential for productivity, social and economic gains. The issue of women’s unequal access to agricultural resources must therefore be more readily integrated into mainstream analysis, strategy and policy-making addressing the future of smallholder farming.

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Non-Communicable Diseases: Beyond International Health (II)

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on September 27, 2011
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The first United Nations High-level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases recently took place in New York and culminated with government leaders pledging to make greater efforts to address the NCD challenge, enshrined in the official declaration of the summit. Among the commitments were implementing tax measures to reduce tobacco and alcohol consumption, improving access to vital medicines, and pushing for universal health coverage.

While the unanimously-approved declaration has been lauded as an important step forward by some, criticism has been equally pronounced. Among them was the assessment that a major barrier to overcoming the NCD challenge is a lack of enthusiasm from the developed world. It was simultaneously noted that this also opens a unique window of opportunity to emerging economies to lead the effort. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have high NCD burdens and it was argued that although these countries could use this as a springboard for greater advocacy, there remains no strong indication that they are ready to undertake this endeavour.

Others have claimed that the declaration was watered-down from the originally proposed call to action and that the document did not specify targets, unlike the declaration that resulted from the 2001 HIV/AIDS summit. Doubts were expressed about the possibility of generating political will, financial investment and social momentum towards access to affordable medications to treat NCDs; contrasting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s USD 22.4bil funding to a lack of financial commitments towards addressing NCD challenges.

Some critics have been particularly skeptical, calling the summit “a whimper rather than a bang”. This “whimper” was attributed to various factors including the effects of the global financial crisis on public health expenditure, links between technological and economic progress and the rise of NCD risk factors, and world leaders’ readiness to pay lip service to the cause but unwillingness to make accompanying political commitments. This is particularly distressing in light of the World Health Organization (WHO) saying that USD 1.20 per person per year in cheap interventions could dramatically reduce the occurrence of NCDs worldwide.

There is no doubt that the implications of the rise of NCDs will continue to extend beyond the purview of health, posing greater challenges to human security worldwide. The socio-economic opportunity costs of the globe’s 36 million NCD deaths (of which nine million occur among those under the age of 60, and 90 per cent occur in developing countries) has severe and far-reaching ramifications for international development, growth and prosperity.

It can also be argued that difficulties in mobilising support to fight NCDs can be linked to the nature of NCDs themselves. Many NCDs are associated with lifestyle and consumption factors, and cannot simply be cured by developing a vaccine or drug. Political, let alone financial support is difficult to generate given this lack of a clearly defined or certain pathway to cure. It remains to be seen whether the current wave of political momentum on the NCD issue will be sustainable over the coming years given the unique set of challenges it faces.

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From Singapore: A Lesson in Water Management

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on September 19, 2011
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Singapore is an interesting example of a water scarce country that has overcomed the odds and emerged as one of the recognised global leaders in water management. The city state has long relied on Malaysia for 40 per cent of its fresh water needs under two water agreements namely the agreements of 1961 (expired in April 2011) and 1962 (to be expired in 2062). These two agreements are seen as fundamental to Singapore’s existence so much so that the city state is prepared to go to war with Malaysia if it ever dishonours the agreements. However, the general mood following the expiration of the 1961 treaty on 31 August 2011 is one of optimism rather than angst. What accounts for this optimism? It is Singapore’s growing confidence in its ability to meet its freshwater needs through local sources such as rain water capture, recycled water, and desalinisation that fuelled this optimism. We will consider them in turn.

Although Singapore enjoys heavy rainfall, it lacks sufficient watersheds and natural rivers from which to draw water. The country compensates this limitation by constructing a series of reservoirs all over the island. There are currently 17 such reservoirs covering two-thirds of the island’s landmass. Then there is NEWater which is essentially purified wastewater. There are currently five NEWater plants in operation and they provide 30 per cent of Singapore’s total demand for freshwater. This share is expected to increase to 50 per cent by 2060. Finally, desalinised sea water supplied 10 per cent of Singapore’s water needs. Singapore currently has one such plant in operation. With the completion of a second plant in 2013, desalination will account for 30 per cent of Singapore’s freshwater needs. In addition to improving water supply sources, Singapore has also introduced water conservation and efficient-use initiatives. The 10-Litre Challenge, for example, encourages households to reduce their daily water consumption by 10 litres. The 10% Challenge, on the other hand, encourages the business sector to reduce their water consumption by up to 10 per cent if not more. These initiatives allow Singapore to reduce its domestic water consumption from 172 litres per capita per day in 1995 to 154 litres today.

What are the lessons for other parts of the world? Water is the only resource that has no substitute. As such, scholars have increasingly identified the growing freshwater scarcity as a source of acute conflict or even war in the 21st century. Such link is most pronounced in regions such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). According to the Water Stress Index 2011, the 16 nations suffering extreme water stress all hails from the MENA region. MENA is not only the world’s most water-stressed region but also one of the most politically volatile. Growing water scarcity will further worsen the already dire socio-economic and political conditions of the region. Water stressed countries may well learn those aspects of Singapore’s water management practices that best suited them in order to turn weakness into strategic strengths as Singapore did.

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Non-Communicable Diseases: Beyond International Health (I)

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on September 16, 2011
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The global non-communicable disease (NCD) burden has taken centre stage on this year’s international health agenda. According to a recent UN Secretary-General’s report, 36 million people die annually from NCDs, amounting to 63 per cent of global deaths. Of those, nine million people die before the age of 60, and 90 per cent of deaths occur in developing countries. Such trends have socio-economic implications and pose prominent challenges to human security worldwide.

It appears that this year, the UN and its partner agencies are seeking to raise the profile of the NCD burden. So far, we have witnessed twomajor international events focused on NCDs: the WHO Global Forum on NCDs, the First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Noncommunicable Disease Control in Moscow. Additionally, the UN High-level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases set to take place in New York from 19 – 20 September.  It is interesting to note that this is only the second time in the UN’s history that the General Assembly and heads of state and government have come together to discuss what has been touted “an emerging health issue with a major socio-economic impact” – the first was on HIV/AIDS a decade ago.

However, these efforts have also received their share of criticism. The draft statement on NCDs issued by the High-level Meeting was labelled weak and disappointing by the NCD Alliance, an international organisation comprising 2,000 health groups. They argued that the draft offered no new targets or commitments towards combating the four most common types of NCDs – cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases, or their four main risk factors – tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol.

Furthermore, the tackling of NCD risk factors raises many questions related to the balance between trade and public health interests, particularly tobacco trade and consumption. Tobacco, a leading risk factor for almost all NCDs, is considered responsible for more than two-thirds of lung cancers, 40 per cent of chronic respiratory disease, and 10 per cent of cardiovascular disease.

Managing the tobacco issue is proving especially tricky for the United States, which is expected to uphold its credibility on global health while being the world’s largest tobacco exporter and seeking to maintain and enlarge foreign markets for their products. Diatribe in response has been aggressive:  some within the medical and political community have called to exclude tobacco from trade agreements altogether. Tobacco companies have also defended their interests, calling to eliminate tobacco tariffs, block large health warning labels on cigarette packs, and expand markets in low- and middle-income countries.

Although at first glance the NCD issue comes across as purely a health concern, upon closer inspection, a myriad of connected challenges, especially those related to trade, render the international management of NCDs a far more ambitious project than it appears. It remains questionable as to whether the optimistically-worded Moscow Declaration on NCDs, product of the Global Ministerial Conference, will pave the way to effective action. My next blog entry will assess the outcomes of the High-level Meeting within the context outlined here.

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Indefinitely Under-Trial: Trying Elderly Defendants for International Crimes

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 15, 2011
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The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has been set up to prosecute former Khmer Rouge leaders. The Khmer Rouge is alleged to have committed crimes of mass atrocities against Cambodian civilians when they sought to transform Cambodia into a communist peasant farming society between 1975 and 1979. A recent preliminary hearing at the ECCC discussed the fitness of the accused – now aged between 79 and 85 years old – to stand trial. The trial has implications for its transitional effect on Cambodian society but the defendants’ old age remains an impediment to the trial process.

The purpose of preliminary hearings on the accused’s fitness is to ascertain his/her mental and physical capacities to participate in subsequent trial processes and exercise their rights to a fair trial. The ECCC will base its decision on the criteria established within the Strugar Test. The inquiry would be concerned more with the mental rather than the physical capacities of the accused. International criminal jurisprudence has established that the implications of mental incapacities of the accused in exercising fair trial rights are alone deemed suitable to be treated in medical facilities and constitute grounds to provisionally suspend trial processes.

At the recent preliminary hearing, the expert medical opinion on one of the defendants, Ieng Thirith’s mental capacity was inclined towards the conclusion that she is unfit to stand for trial. This is because she is suffering from ‘moderate to severe dementia’, most likely due to Alzheimer’s disease. The medical expert suggested that she would have great difficulty in understanding and challenging adverse witness testimonies, as well as difficulty in testifying. So what happens if the accused is deemed unfit to stand trial?

In all likelihood, Ieng Thirith will be unconditionally released into the custody of a medical treatment facility. In the interim, the trial against her would be suspended because she cannot be tried in absentia. Trials in absentia are forbidden at the ECCC by Internal Rule 81[1] and Article 35 of ECCC Law, which incorporates the fair trial rights enshrined in the UN International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The charges will remain outstanding and the proceedings against Ieng Thirith will resume when the accused returns to fitness.

It has been pre-empted that a declaration of unfitness could spur public scepticism. Therefore, four additional psychiatric experts have been ordered to conduct additional testing. However, unless the subsequent experts offer a significantly different diagnosis, the prevailing situation is that Ieng Thirith is unlikely to be restored to fitness with treatment. To note also is that the ECCC – a temporary judicial organ with a limited mandate – may no longer exists to prosecute the accused, if and when she returns to fitness. Also, unconditional release from charges is a rare outcome in international criminal trials. Therefore, the prospect that Ieng Thirith could remain indefinitely under-trial is highly likely if found unfit to stand trial. The inevitable paradox of trying aged defendants remains the impediment of their deteriorating physical and mental conditions to successful accountability.

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Trains, Nuclear Power Plants and Confidence

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on September 13, 2011
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On the recent NTS research trip to China I had a chance to use the new and now infamous Chinese high-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing. The fact that my journey was to take place just a few weeks after the Wenzhou crash made quite a number of people, both in Singapore and China, advise me against taking it. This public concern has brought my attention to the consequences that crash might have not only on the way in which people look at Chinese railways, but at the Chinese technological progress in general. For indeed, that tragic accident may have had an even more negative impact on the perception of the Chinese nuclear energy development program than the Fukushima incident.

On surface, nuclear power and trains might appear unconnected, but in reality they have much in common. Both high-speed train projects and nuclear power plants are considered to be “among the largest and most complex commercialized engineering projects. Both win attention and support from senior leaders on account of their role in economic development. And both impose safety risks that are too significant to be ignored.” According to some commentators, the train crash in China demonstrates that the country might simply not be “prepared” to deal with such sophisticated and potentially dangerous technology. Some observers point to the problems with rapid copying of foreign technology and the dangers of using various types of nuclear reactors. At the same time, Western journalists blame Chinese corruption and management style. For instance, according to Isabel Hilton, “high-speed rail has come to symbolise the cost-cutting and corruption that plagues China” and that such problems might ultimately lead the country to “disaster”, at least in the area of non-traditional security.

 

Yet, while it is perhaps true that China’s socio-political system suffers from the lack of transparency, mismanagement and corruption, there is no evidence that the train crash was caused by any of these. Similarly, there has so far been proof that the Chinese nuclear industry is corrupted or prone to “corner-cutting”.

Furthermore, as tragic as it was, the train crash in China led to far fewer deaths than numerous (sic) train crashes that had taken place in India in July alone. Yet, the observers seem to be more pessimistic about China’s progress rather than India’s lack thereof.  As ever, the train crash tells us more about cultural biases and pessimism about technologic progress, than anything else. In 1998, a disastrous high-speed rail accident happened in Eschede, Germany causing a great number of deaths and provoking serious doubts over the high-speed technology. But a careful, public and transparent investigation brought the confidence back and the high-speed trains have remained a very popular and safe mode of transportation.

Just like any other nation in the world, China should fight against corruption, nepotism and public mismanagement, but the lesson from the crash should be that  it should also focus on confidence-building measures that will sustain public’s faith in technologic progress. Admittedly, this task might prove to be very difficult without changes in the political system inherently hostile to transparency and openness.

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Enhancing Early Warning Systems for Disaster Management in Indonesia

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on September 2, 2011
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A recent report by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) noted that Indonesia faces the highest risk from tsunamis worldwide. The evaluation of this report was based on the number of areas and residents exposed to active tectonic faults. The data also highlights the importance of disaster preparedness. In terms of physical vulnerability, Indonesia is less vulnerable than Japan. However, due to the lack of effective disaster mitigation and contingency measures, Indonesia’s level of risk is higher than Japan’s.

This recent report serves to further validate previous reports that highlight Indonesia’s vulnerability to disasters. These include reports by the Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF), World Bank, World Economic Forum and the United Nations’ Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. The reports note that Indonesia’s lack of preparedness has partly been due to the difficulties it faces in implementing disaster preparedness mechanisms. For tsunamis, despite strong advocacy for the critical need of early warning systems particularly after the 2004 Asian tsunami, this still remains a work in progress. Installing apparatuses on the ground for the Indonesian Tsunami Warning system, for instance, was hampered by geographical constraints and vandalism especially in remote areas like the Mentawai Islands off Sumatra.

A new scientific discovery may provide a solution to these constraints. Scientists in Brazil, France and the US have discovered the possibility of creating a global remote sensing system for tsunamis via monitoring the ionsphere the sea surface level or the pressure of the water near the seabed. This system would therefore mean that early warning equipment are not required to be erected on the ground, as the tsunamis can be monitored by the use of satellites. This development thus has the potential for enhancing existing early warning systems in the future, and would contribute to more effective disaster preparedness mechanisms in Indonesia.

That said, technological advancements in early warning systems are only one part of ensuring effective disaster preparedness mechanisms. A culture of preparedness must also be cultivated within state institutions as well as communities. This is to ensure that immediate and effective responses in times of disasters extend to various levels of society. This would include the need for proper social safety nets for communities in the event that they have to leave behind sources of economic livelihoods. As seen during the Mount Merapi eruption in 2010, despite early evacuation warnings to communities living close to Mount Merapi, there was little sense of urgency amongst residents, many of whom did not want to leave their properties behind. As such, effective awareness amongst residents, as well as guarantees or insurances for lost livelihoods, must complement early warning systems to ensure better coordinated responses to disasters.

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ASEAN and growing global expectations vis-a-vis multilevel security governance

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 2, 2011
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ASEAN seems to face relatively greater pressure to contribute effectively to a multilateral order and multilevel security governance. This partly arises from its role as the driver of the wider regional agenda through various ASEAN-led multilateral institutions, including the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Plus Three, the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting – Plus (ADMM+8). With ASEAN in the metaphorical driving seat, the institutions are also expanding in scope – both in terms of the issues they address and their membership. For instance, the US and Russia participated in the inaugural ADMM+ in October 2010, and are due to take part in their first EAS later this year.

The idea of a regional-global security mechanism based on regional organisations assuming complementary roles vis-à-vis the UN has been reiterated in numerous UN documents in recent years, including the report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.

However, there are a growing number of critics who point to an ostensible legitimacy deficit vis-à-vis ASEAN and its wider regional role, with many lamenting that ASEAN’s institutional weakness diminishes its credibility as the driver and enforcer of the regional agenda. Accordingly, critics push “ASEAN” to put its own house in order and to ‘decide what it wants to be’.

While building institutional capacity in terms of a coherent and functional framework for responding to regional security concerns is without a doubt critical, many of ASEAN’s critics nonetheless seem to under-emphasise the constraints that the inter-governmental organisation faces in becoming more proactive, effective, and credible. Not least, ASEAN is handicapped by various relational dynamics, including the influence of powerful socio-political forces with the ability to constrain the domestic and regional agenda.

No case illustrates this more starkly than the diplomatic saga that has ensued in the Thai, Cambodian and Indonesian capitals since violence broke out on the Thai-Cambodia border in February and April this year. The primary factor behind ASEAN’s difficulties in resolving the bilateral dispute is the complexity of Thai politics and the motivations of several key actors, including the powerful military establishment and several key political groups, primarily the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) (although the UDD is similarly known for its readiness to deploy “mob politics” to destabilize the government).

Over and above Indonesia’s difficulties in bringing the two parties to the table to agree on demilitarization and the deployment of an observer team, the ASEAN chair’s tenuous diplomatic role is a stark reminder of the influence that diverse domestic actors can exact on ASEAN’s agenda and the constraints on ASEAN’s autonomous evolution, despite expectations to the contrary. If ASEAN desires to become more proactive in regional security governance, it will, in one way or another, invariably need to take account of powerful domestic dynamics and interests – which often lie beyond the reach of the official state line.

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Holistic Approaches to Asia’s Food Security Challenges: The International Conference on Asian Food Security (ICAFS) 2011

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on August 23, 2011
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Food security has become one of the defining global issues of our time. Severe drought recently hit the Horn of Africa, causing a widespread food crisis that continues to be exacerbated by volatile global food prices. A recent United Nations report highlighted that population growth and water stresses are driving the planet to a food and environmental crunch that can only be resolved through better farming techniques and smarter use of the ecosystem. The debate on the diversion of food crops such as corn towards biofuel production continues to rage. Also, it is estimated that 63 per cent of the world’s 1 billion undernourished people reside in Asia, and the region’s rapid population growth and urbanisation will only contribute to food security challenges in decades to come.

It is against this backdrop that food security experts from around the world converged in Singapore to discuss the challenge of ‘Feeding Asia in the 21st Century’ at the inaugural International Conference on Asian Food Security (ICAFS), which took place from 10 to 12 August 2011.

Jointly organised by the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and the Philippines-based South East Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), ICAFS brought together researchers, government representatives, development partners, investors, large-scale agricultural producers and farmers’ groups for three days of rigorous dialogue.

In a move of progress and solidarity, participants produced a draft ICAFS statement on how to best address Asia’s food security challenges at the conclusion of the Conference. Key recommendations included pursuing public-private partnerships to ensure food availability alongside profitability of food producing industries, addressing the urgent food insecurity plight of Asia’s most vulnerable populations by improving social safety nets and food distribution, taking pragmatic and concrete efforts to link policies in the food and health sectors, and extending existing foundations to create positive symbiotic relationships between food producers and food consumers. Other suggestions included undertaking sustainable food production strategies and recognising and responding to shifts in food distribution and marketing that define the private food sector in Asia.

A further highlight of the Conference was keynote speaker Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministries of Defence and National Development of Singapore, Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman’s announcement that Singapore would be taking a more proactive role in ensuring regional food security through a USD 8.2 mil investment over five years by the National Research Foundation (NRF), which will go towards a new research partnership to improve rice cultivation.

The project will involve the National University of Singapore, the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and the International Rice Research Institute. It aims to develop better rice farming methods and to explore how to improve yield and disease resistance in the face of rising food demand and the challenges of climate change and natural resource concerns.  This project marks Singapore’s participation in the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRISP), a partnership of about 900 organisations worldwide committed to research and development (R&D) related to rice.

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The Draft Law on NGO and Associations – a Potential Barrier to Promoting RtoP in Cambodia?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on August 19, 2011
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The ECCC commenced the initial hearings of Case 002 on 27th June 2011, the second of the four cases before the court against the senior Khmer Rouge officials for the crimes committed between 1975 and 1979. The tribunal was jointly established by the Cambodian government and the UN with the aim to provide justice for victims of the Khmer Rouge. This corresponds with the ethos of the responsibility to protect (RtoP) – civilian protection. Although the RtoP is now primarily conceived as a preventative mechanism, rebuilding constitutes a crucial component of the RtoP continuum proposed by the ICISS and transitional justice is an essential tool for rebuilding. Moreover, the ECCC trials also exemplify how Pillars I and II of the RtoP can be operationalise, not necessarily in its own name. The Cambodian government fulfills its responsibility to protect its people by holding ex-Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for their crimes, and the international community contributes by assisting Cambodia building its capacity. Repeated reports of political interference in the ECCC trials have proved the need to further diffuse the RtoP in Cambodia. With regard to the assisting role of the international community, the UN began to provide assistance to the Cambodian judiciary through training and counseling programs as early as 1993. The hybrid model of the ECCC provides the Cambodian personnel of the court with experience of international justice standards.

The RtoP is still a contested notion in the Asia – Pacific, and Cambodia is categorized as a fence-sitter by Bellamy and Davies (2009). Credible local actors are thus needed to facilitate the diffusion of the RtoP in Cambodia. Civil society organizations (CSOs) including NGOs are a potential option given their commitment and contribution to the ECCC trials. They lobbied for a measure of justice for the victims even before the negotiations on the ECCC were started. Since the ECCC became operational in 2006, they have provided legal and psychological counseling and assistance to civil parties that participate in the trials as witnesses. In addition, NGOs such as DC-Cam documented the statements and stories of survivors and victim families to commemorate the loss. On the one hand, CSOs empower the people to reduce their vulnerability for abuses by the state, while on the other hand they serve as the checking force on the government’s behaviors.

The middle position of CSOs provides the flexibility to operate as a bridge of communication between the government and the public. However, the draft NGO law has caused wide concerns of CSOs that their activities of will be hindered by due to the mandatory and complex registration, lack of safeguard against arbitrary decision-making, and absence of appeal channel for denied applications. These restrictions are likely to result in the decline in the number of CSOs and retreat of their activities. With regard to the impact on RtoP in Cambodia, it will means less help to empower the people and weaker checking on the government. Although the government has sought the comments of CSOs on the draft law, there are complains that some of the key concerns are not addressed. If the draft law turns into legislation, the promotion of RtoP will probably be affected.

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Refugees Not the Focus in Australia – Malaysia Asylum Deal

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on August 18, 2011
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In a previous blog post, I suggested that attempts to promote ‘managed migration’ through the Bali process to curb human trafficking and smuggling was a progressive anti-trafficking measure. The 2011 Regional Cooperation Framework outlined that consistent assessment processes for asylum seekers be established and anti-trafficking measures developed with greater sensitivity to economic, social and political root causes of irregular migration. Adopting a ‘managed migration’ approach ensures a deeper analysis to understand the various clusters and circumstances of irregular migrants. This avoids conflation of all irregular migrants as illegal migrants in immigration and trafficking laws.

Following the Bali Dialogue, Australia and Malaysia made an asylum deal, which is intended to dampen irregular maritime arrivals through tackling “human trafficking” and “human smuggling” into Australia. The use of trafficking and smuggling syndicates by asylum seekers to reach Australia has gained significant media attention, since the Tampa Affair in 2001. Furthermore, most illegal maritime migrants into Australia are given refugee protection. According to Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, most refugees heading to Australia first fly to Kuala Lumpur before starting their boat journey to Australia via Indonesia. However, other asylum seekers without proper documentation utilize illegal maritime migration as their only option to reach Australia, as a preferred destination place for asylum. Australia’s signatory status may be an incentive. Nevertheless, the agreement between the Australian and Malaysian governments for refugee status determination to be undertaken in Malaysia is intended to thwart the business model of human smuggling/trafficking syndicates. The prospect of return to Malaysia aims to discourage risky journeys by illegal maritime migrants.

However, the transfer of 800 asylum seekers to a non-signatory state like Malaysia to the Refugee Convention is controversial. Malaysia’sapproach towards asylum seekers includes arbitrary detention and minimal integration into society after processing. Similarly, although a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Australia’s approach reflects little regard for the rights and protection of asylum seekers or refugees. For example, the Refugee Convention prohibits discrimination based on the migration means of asylum seekers (para 28, pp. 9; para 98, pp. 33). Despite their illegal entry, Australia has an obligation to ensure the rights of asylum seekers are protected by allowing them access to be processed in Australia. Instead, by diverting these persons to Malaysia, Australia could be refouling asylum seekers. However, Australia refutes this through a narrow reading of the Convention. Without an independent and robust mechanism to determine ‘refoulement’, this remains open to interpretation.

There are ongoing calls for Malaysia to ratify the Refugee Convention as a prerequisite to the asylum deal. Malaysian Convention Ratification and adherence would create employment and welfare access for refugees and recognition as juridical subjects. However, convention ratification does not guarantee fulfillment of obligations by the State. For example, Australia, despite its signatory status, maintains a questionable detention policy and culture. This policy violates international human rights law as encapsulated by The Refugee Council of Australia.

If similar approaches to the Refugee Convention produce such bargains, and are not tackled, similar future deals will encourage a lower standard among states towards their Convention obligations.

Overall, the Australian – Malaysian asylum deal concentrated on treating asylum seekers as prima facie illegal maritime migrants overshadows states’ commitments at the Bali Dialogue to broaden their conception of and response to irregular migrants.

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Problems with measuring economic costs of crimes

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on August 15, 2011
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In the Asia-Pacific, Police Forces have recently expressed a desire to academically measure the economic cost of crime as this would reportedly “provide valuable insights into operational policy-making resource reallocation and police’s strategies to deliver the mission.”  At first glance, efforts to inform the public, rationalize spending and offer a better measurement of policing efficiency seem worthy of public support and gratitude. After all, crime is often seen as one of the most serious non-traditional security issues. Yet, a closer look at the proposition to measure how much crime cost, reveals several problems that it may present.

Generally speaking, crimes fall into two categories: non-profit and profit driven ones. The former includes all acts driven by emotions, urges and ideas. The problem is that, by definition, these crimes are not committed for the purpose of acquiring any type of wealth and as such their potential economic “costs” can only be indirect. And indeed, some academics argue that it is possible to estimate the cost of these crimes in terms of the victim costs (medical expenses, counseling), criminal justice system costs, lost productivity estimates for both the victim and the criminal, and estimates on the public’s resulting willingness to pay to prevent future violence. In reality, such an estimate could be rough at best and in most cases rather absurd or controversial. While crude economic calculations can perhaps be helpful in measuring the scale and consequences of the security-related expenditures, they can also lead to a conclusion that some people (richer) are more “valuable” than others.

The problems with measuring the indirect costs of crimes apply also to the profit-driven offences. Yet, the very economic dimension of these crimes might suggest to some, that it could be possible and indeed desirable to measure their direct costs. However, this might turn out to be quite problematic. In order to understand why, it is important to note that there three basic types of profit-driven crimes: predatory, market-based and commercial. The first category involves crimes based on involuntary transfer of wealth. In this case, empirically speaking, the economic losses to victims are probably in a reverse relationship to the likelihood of violence:  a well-planned burglary is likely to bring in more “profit” and less violence than a mugging in a back-alley. Hence, economic cost logic would suggest that it would be more rational to protect rich institutions at the expense of all but the richest individuals, even if the latter were to experience more violence. A similar rationale could hint that nearly all police efforts should be aimed at fighting commercial crimes that involve serious (and hence costly) business frauds or breaches of trust. In the case of some market-based crimes, such as trade in pornography or drugs, it could create confusion since the mere act of prohibition might be seen as more costly than the crimes themselves.

This brings me to the main point. As it was observed by a prominent economist, in crime fighting moral considerations should always take precedence over crude economic calculations. After all, not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.

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Faith-Based Organisations’ role in Disaster Preparedness

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on August 8, 2011
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Literature on disaster preparedness has highlighted the importance of ensuring effective and coordinated responses amongst various stakeholders. The role played by civil society organisations (CSOs) complements governmental efforts in disaster management. Moreover, faith-based organisations (FBOs), which constitute a segment of CSOs, are  playa significant role in addressing NTS related issues, such as poverty alleviation, social development, health and migration. There have also been efforts by some FBOs in providing assistance in disaster relief, as they are often the first to respond and the last to leave in disaster response situations.

While this is commendable, there has also been an increasing trend for FBOs to play a greater role in disaster preparedness rather than just disaster relief. Indeed, disaster preparedness has increasingly been emphasised in international discussions as an important phase in the disaster management cycle; so as to reduce the risks when a disaster strikes. Moreover, FBOs facilitate the implementation of disaster preparedness policies amongst communities and thus fill in the gaps which often exist in translating policies at the local level.

Southeast Asia, which is highly vulnerable to disasters, has and continues to benefit from increasing engagement of FBOs in disaster management. Indonesia provides many examples of this, especially since the 2004 Asian Tsunami, after which both local and international FBOs rendered assistance.

Engagement with FBOs has primarily been a means of creating greater awareness and precipitating action amongst local communities when disaster strikes. For instance, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU – one of the country’s two major Muslim organisations) has since 2004 sought to address flooding and landslides as a result of deforestation by setting up a community-based disaster risk management body. NU has also worked with the Australian Government via AusAID to enhance disaster awareness and preparedness amongst children and teachers in NU Boarding schools, as well as strengthen cooperation between community and local authorities on disaster management. In recent developments, NU has formalised its working relation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in environmental protection, which includes community measures of adapting to flooding and the effects of climate change.

A primary factor leading to the success of such FBO initiatives is that the FBOs’ support and membership base puts them in a good position of influence to reach out to various sections of society. These NU initiatives, as well as other faith-based projects, have gained traction to the point that even Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment has recently initiated its own faith-based environmental program. There is clearly a growing role for FBOs and their influence on local communities should not be underestimated.

That said, however, two important factors must be considered to ensure that such initiatives are fed into national disaster management efforts. Firstly, these initiatives need to be up-scaled and sustained overtime so as to be accessible to wider section of society. Secondly, such local initiatives must be mapped and incorporated into governmental policies, so as to fortify collaboration across various stakeholders in disaster management. Through such two-pronged approaches, FBOs would be better able to influence policy and improve the lives of communities.

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An ASEAN-led Asia-Pacific: Wavering Regionalism?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on July 12, 2011
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The role and effectiveness of ASEAN-led regionalism is under the microscope again as it looks to convene the East Asia Summit (EAS) in mid-November 2011, with new members US and Russia joining for the first time. Indeed, in response to these countries’ successful membership bids, 2010 has been described as a ‘banner year’ for ASEAN centrality. It now leads most of the key regional multilateral institutions, including ASEAN Plus Three (ASEAN+3), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the recently-established ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), which brings together dialogue partners encompassed by the broader EAS – ASEAN member states, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Russia – in a platform specifically designed for security and defense cooperation.

ASEAN’s acceptability as the driver of East Asian regionalism has long been premised on its neutrality, which derives mostly from its consensus-based decision making, an important aspect of the normative framework known as the ‘ASEAN way’. Members of ASEAN-led regional institutions are comfortable in the knowledge that they will not be coerced into any form of cooperation or action. Recently, however, its role as a somewhat-passive driver of regionalism has not been without its challenges (if only in principle), including Hatoyama’s ‘East Asian Community’ proposal, as well as Kevin Rudd’s ‘Asia Pacific Community’ initiative which ostensibly sought to establish an institution that incorporated the entire ‘Asia-Pacific’ region (i.e. included the US) and a more effective body less encumbered by ‘ASEAN’ processes.

While the EAS has addressed the membership issue, it remains to be seen whether in the future a failure to sanction more concrete cooperation will – rather than secure acquiescence to its centrality – begin to erode ASEAN’s legitimacy. Cognizant that its political and security authority is left wanting, ASEAN has been making a conscious and explicit effort to further integrate its members and extra-regional powers to enhance economic integration and prosperity, as well as political and security cooperation, including building the relationships and mechanisms necessary for sustaining regional stability. However, recent fighting across the disputed Thai-Cambodia border and the demonstrable fragility of ASEAN-led mediation efforts suggest there will persist a significant legitimacy gap between the grouping’s vision for ASEAN-based regionalism and its own political authority (i.e. the capabilities that its members are yet willing to endow it with).

The South China Sea (SCS) security challenge will pose another test of ASEAN’s utility and relevance as the core driver of regional multilateral institutions. China’s recent assertiveness in the SCS has reignited this long-standing security issue again, with China’s position contrasting sharply with the US administration’s clear desire to deal with the maritime territorial dispute head on. One of the greatest challenges will be whether ASEAN-led regionalism can provide the appropriate forum to deal with the issue. While many concede that ASEAN has achieved its position of centrality by default, premised largely on the acceptability to all parties of the ‘ASEAN way’ approach, the emerging Asia-Pacific regionalism may conceal more conflicting interests yet conceivably also demand more concrete outcomes. In this sense, the very foundations of its ‘default’ centrality may in the long-run constitute the seed to its unravelling.

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The Real Price of Hydro-Power Dams

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on July 5, 2011
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As one of the world’s economic powerhouses, China’s electricity consumption has been increasing in tandem with its economic growth, recording a new high of over 4.19 trillion kwh in 2010. In recent years, China has repeatedly faced severe electricity shortages as the demand for electricity surges during the summer time. Consequently, the Chinese government has sought to diversify its sources of electricity. Moreover, international pressures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions forces China to focus more on the development of clean energy, such as hydropower.

Since the 1990s, the Chinese government has invested over 23 billion US dollars on building the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River – the largest hydropower station in the world in terms of installed capacity. The Dam is now fully operational with the total installed capacity of 18,200 MW and the annual generation capacity of 84.7 billion KWH. It is expected to provide powerful support for China’s fast-growing economy and tame the mother river of the Chinese nation.

However, the debate over the dam has never ceased since its embryonic stage. Despite the economic benefits from operating the dam, experts opposed to the project have warned that the construction of the dam would disrupt the water system of the Yangtze River and consequently cause environmental degradation via pollution, soil erosion, landslides, etc. The controversies have been fuelled by the dramatic weather conditions in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River this year – severe drought in April and May and later floods in June, which have been China’s largest in 50 years. Some have blamed the dam as the cause of  more frequent  disasters. This has even been acknowledged by the Chinese government recently,  in which the dam is facing some urgent problems that need to be solved as soon as possible.

In addition to environmental and geologic disasters, the project has also caused negative social impacts, such as the displacement of local communities. It is estimated that over one million people have been displaced by the reservoir of the Dam, but the resettlement project has not been satisfactory. For instance, the farmers who account for 40% of the total displaced population do not have enough arable land in their new place.

The Three Gorges Dam has certainly benefited China’s economic development and efforts to curb climate change by providing a clean source of energy. However, it should be noted that the negative impacts of artificially regulating nature could be much higher than we have anticipated. The Three Gorges Dam is not a unique case, but rather the pros and cons of hydroelectric dams have always been a theme of academic and policy debate. For instance, the Aswan High Dam in Egypt has also faced similar problems as the Three Gorges. The proposal of building dams on the Mekong River is a source of dispute between countries along the river. Hydropower is clean, but it is also important to ensure that solutions to problems associated with hydropower projects are green.

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Global Food Insecurity: One Problem, Many Solutions?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on July 4, 2011
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In the past several months, global food security has become the plat du jour of international affairs. A myriad of different voices have contributed to this debate, each offering their own solutions to curbing food insecurity and ensuring that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) ‘right to food’ principle is met. Few of these proposed solutions, however, seem to be in agreement with one another.

The WTO warned in a recent report that restricting farm trade and nations succumbing to protectionism could cause major food shortages, and called for less regulation. In response, an international coalition of farm unions from Europe, Africa, Asia and North America recently called on the G20 countries’ agriculture ministers to oppose further liberalisation of the global agricultural trade. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested that the African continent’s food production potential be further explored. Annan argued that a doubling of African cereal yields would turn Africa into a major food surplus region, able to feed not just for own inhabitants but also the rest of the world.

Some have proposed that increased public-private partnerships, which would spur on increased investment and innovation into the agricultural sector, would greatly alleviate the food insecurity burden. Others have called for increased diversification of food production, noting that recent data shows that two-thirds of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plant and five animal species, threatening not just global food security but also health and the environment.

Some have also argued that the world’s farmers are more than capable of feeding the world if innovation and technological advances in seed, equipment and farming methods are made available for their use in the marketplace – and for this to occur, policies and regulations to facilitate bringing these scientific tools to growers must be instituted.

Many advocate a sustainability approach, calling for technologically-based modern agriculture to ensure food production while taking measures to mitigate and minimise these modern techniques’ impacts on the environment. This discourse’s opponents argue that this will not solve the key problems that underlie global food insecurity, identified as a reliance on cheap oil for high-tech food production, mal-distribution of existing food supplies, and industry monopolies controlling the amount and type of food available to the people.

While each of these solutions carries merit, they arguably only reflect singular dimensions of the multi-faceted global food insecurity issue and appear representative of the vested interests of those pitching them. Perhaps the solution to the world’s food insecurity woes lies at the intersection of all these propositions. It remains to be seen, however, whether these opposing and often competing voices will be able to put aside their differences and come together towards prescribing a holistic, balanced, moderate and long-term sustainable solution to this problem.

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Human Trafficking in Singapore? The Perils of Sensationalist Crusades

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 24, 2011
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On Saturday, 11th June 2011 the Straits Times published a special report on human trafficking in Singapore. According to its authors, ruthless criminals lure and trick innocent women and children from around Southeast Asia to be enslaved as prostitutes across the island. What is more, even the ones (less innocent?) who arrive in Singapore consenting to work in the sex industry, can easily become abused and cheated by evil traffickers. This gloomy vision is illustrated by a few terrifying (and almost pornographic) anecdotes about “lucky” survivors of the horrors and by descriptions of the brave and noble NGO anti-trafficking/rescue organizations.

Fortunately, at least according to ST and rescue NGOs, Singapore has decided to act in order to end this “nightmare” The country is now working towards signing a United Nations treaty to prevent human trafficking. It has also decided to create an anti-trafficking task force and generally treat the problem more seriously. It seems that this new approach was largely motivated by Singapore’s desire not to be seen as a “bad” country in the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report. Last yearSingapore was downgraded following its lack of serious efforts to comply with the only right standards promoted by the American administration. Whatever the motivation behind the new strategy, the problem is that focusing efforts and attention on “human trafficking” is not likely to resolve the real problems faced by migrants.

In my last NTS Alert I highlighted major problems with the very concept of “human trafficking”. The main issue is that the human trafficking discourse obscures the complexities of illegal migration and employment. It assumes that people especially women from poor countries are naïve, pathetic and helpless and that they need to be “rescued”. It ignores the fact that illegal migration is a risky business. With the exception of extreme cases of actual kidnappings, it always contains some element of consent and potential risks of abuse. However, the anti-traffickers assume that poor people do not have free will and could not possibly decide to take these risks. They also believe that no one would choose to work in some “bad” industries or under some “bad” conditions. Hence, it is argued that the reason why very few migrant sex workers claim to have been trafficked is that they were forced to lie with no evidence for that other than one anecdote. As a result, those fighting human-trafficking often end up fighting migration and employment of those they deem “vulnerable”. The ST story actually praises the efforts of the Philippine government to identify “potential victims” and to arbitrarily deny them the right to travel.

If one was serious about protecting migrants from abuse, deception or violence, he or she should think more about making their work and residence legitimate. It is because these are illegitimate that so many migrants experience deception and abuse. The government of Singapore already recognizes such crimes as kidnapping, rape or theft. What is needed now is not a new crime, but appropriate provisions that would protect everyone from the above.

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Protection of Domestic Workers in Malaysia: One step forward, two steps backward?

On 30 May 2011, Malaysia and Indonesia, after two years of negotiation, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on domestic workers in Bandung, Indonesia. The agreement is an improvement over the one signed in 2006 as it provides some forms of protection to migrant Indonesian domestic workers who encountered a wide range of abuses including long hours of work without overtime pay; no rest days; incomplete and irregular payment of wages; psychological, physical, and sexual abuse; and poor living conditions. The most extreme cases of such abuses have resulted in the death of domestic workers at the hands of their employers. In addressing these problems, the 2011 MOU allows migrant Indonesian domestic workers to keep their passports instead of having to surrender to their employers and guarantees them a weekly day off. It also requires salaries of domestic workers to be paid using bank transfers so that evidence of payment can be verified through bank statements.

However, the agreement fell critically short of addressing the rights of domestic workers comprehensively. For example, although the MOU recognises some of the rights of migrant Indonesian domestic workers, they still do not enjoy the full range of rights accorded to other migrant workers by Malaysia’s labour laws such as the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 and the Employment Act 1955. As a result, Indonesian domestic workers remain vulnerable to abuse and exploitation despite the signing of an MOU. A recent case of the death of an Indonesian domestic worker at the hands of her employer on 5 June 2011 is testament to the fact that the MOU will not significantly improve their situations.

The MOU also fell short of addressing one of the pertinent issues of establishing minimum wages. In the absence of a minimum wage, migrant domestic workers are paid on the basis of their countries of origin.  As a result Indonesian (and Cambodian) domestic workers earn between USD133 to 200 a month whereas their Filipina counterpart earn USD400. Even as Indonesia and Malaysia failed to improve the wages of domestic workers, they agreed to cap recruitment fees at USD1500. Employers are required to pay the entire amount up-front and are permitted to reclaim up to USD600 by cutting several months of the domestic worker’s salary. Although the agreement stipulates that no more than 50 per cent of the worker’s salary can be deducted each month, such deductions from domestic worker’s already meagre salaries constitutes economic exploitation that may result in debt bondages thereby perpetuating the cycle of abuse and exploitation. The two countries could have reduced recruitment fees further or prohibit the practice of extolling recruitment fees from domestic workers altogether.

It would be a mistake for Malaysia and Indonesia to think of the MOU as a solution to issues afflicting migrant domestic workers. They should consider the MOU not as an end but as a means towards a more comprehensive agreement in the future.

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Cooperation rather than Competition (II): Love Thy Neighbour’s Resources

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on June 14, 2011
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In an earlier blog post, the need for intra-state cooperation was highlighted as an important factor in not only harnessing the potential of renewable energy resources in various parts of China, but also ensuring uniformed development for the benefit of all Chinese citizens. This blog post will highlight the importance of inter-state cooperation – particularly between China and its immediate neighbour Taiwan.

Studies have demonstrated the importance of inter-state energy cooperation, whether it be for traditional or renewable sources of energy. In terms of traditional sources of energy, China has depended on oil refineries in Taiwan for its oil imports. This is an interesting dynamic given China’s predominantly militarily offensive stance towards Taiwan. The demand for such facilities is likely to increase given the potential of Russian oil supply as an alternative to Middle Eastern oil, as the former has lower sulphur content and is geographically closer.

Conversely, however, Taiwan is increasingly dependent on China for its own energy needs. There are several factors contributing to this. Firstly, Taiwan has exhausted its small reserves of fossil fuels, to the extent that its ability to produce 20 percent of primary energy sources in 1978 has decreased to 0.6 percent in 2010. Secondly, Taiwan’s international efforts for improving energy efficiency and sufficiency are often stalled due to the limited global recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state. Given these above-mentioned dynamics, it is clear that dependence between China and Taiwan is mutual.

Fortunately, China-Taiwan relations have improved over the years, albeit with some minor hiccups. Energy relations are significant in increasing economic ties and trade between China and Taiwan, where joint energy exploration efforts in disputed areas have also provided an impetus for enhanced bilateral ties. Moreover, recent cross-strait forums have even underscored the importance of cooperation in ensuring nuclear safety. This highlights not only the increasing momentum in China and Taiwan to diversify their energy mixes, but also acknowledge the adverse transnational implications that these efforts might have – especially in light of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.  Given these growing efforts to enhance bilateral cooperation over energy resources, such instances could perhaps be a form of confidence building measure between neighbouring countries with sensitive traditional political security issues.

Ensuring energy sufficiency will continue to be an uphill task in much of East Asia. Nevertheless, such circumstances provide neighbouring states with the opportunity for cooperate and coordinate their energy exploration plans, on the existing limited sources of energy remaining. Taking a long term view for sustainable development is significant, not only in ensuring the sufficiency and sustainability of countries’ growth and development, but also provides an impetus to maintain cool ties when relations are strained.

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Potential Public Health Ramifications of the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill (II)

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on June 13, 2011
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Recently, Philippine president Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III declared his support for The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011, more commonly referred to as the RH bill. The bill has been a contentious issue for the past several months, although its history predates its reputation. First introduced to Congress in 1998, the bill aims to guarantee reproductive, maternal and child health and ensure universal access to methods and information on birth control.

This blog is the second entry of a two-part series addressing the different aspects of the Philippine RH bill and highlight what public health goals the bill is trying to achieve.

HIV/AIDS in the Philippines

Although UNICEF estimated that the prevalence of HIV among adults in the Philippines in 2009 was less than 0.1 per cent, they also estimated that 8.7 per cent of the Philippine population was HIV positive. HIV/AIDS has also received renewed interest in the country, in part thanks to the media’s highlighting of the 172 new cases detected this year. At first glance, this may appear to be a small figure for a country as populous as the Philippines – but perceptions of the severity of HIV/AIDS in the country have been exacerbated by a number of alarming predictive figures. For example, the Philippine AIDS Council has claimed that the number of HIV cases in the country is anticipated to reach 46,000 by 2015 unless major steps are taken to curb disease spread.

Late last year, UNAIDS also pointed out that “although the national AIDS response is backed by Republic Act 8504, or the National AIDS Law, the country, through the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), has yet to define its prevention strategy and set standards of quality.” With only five years to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) deadline, the country continues to fall short of its sixth MDG, which is to halt and reserve the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The proposed bill hopes to aid the anti-AIDS cause by calling for the “prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other, sexually transmitted infections (STIs)/sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)”. One of the main methods proposed is the widespread distribution of condoms and ensuring both access and availability. Those who object to the RH bill, however, argue that scientific data proves that HIV/AIDS continues to spread in many countries where condom use is prevalent. Objectors also say that the use of condoms only provides a “false sense of security” which encourages individuals towards increased sexual activity, which leads to higher incidence of HIV/AIDS infection.

The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) has warned, however, that if enacted the RH bill will not eradicate the problems of HIV/AIDS spread and poverty and that the best way to curb the spread of HIV is to educate the sectors of society most at risk of contracting the disease and to convince them to have themselves tested regularly.

As controversy continues to surround the RH bill and its tenets, it remains to be seen whether the bill will pass in Congress. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to continually monitor the evolving HIV/AIDS situation in the Philippines – and what alternative forms of action the government will take to control it, especially in the event of the bill failing to make it past voting.

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War on drugs kills

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 10, 2011
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At the beginning of June an international group of high level politicians (or ex-politicians), businessmen and intellectuals called the Global Commission on Drug Policy published its report on the worldwide “war on drugs”. Both the findings and the recommendations of the report might come as shocking to many of its readers. The authors of this publication argue that the global war on drugs has been a large failure that has brought devestating consequences for individuals and communities across the globe. In their opionion, the massive spendings on criminalization and strict repressive measures that have been undertaken for the last decades have “failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.”(p.2) What the repressive measures have resulted in so far is incarceration of millions of people (predominantly casual drug users) that has resulted in destroyed lives and families without any fundamental reduction of the “availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations.” (p.3).

According to the Commission, this new gloomy reality is not only condemnable, but also in stark contrast with the initial goals of all anti-drugs measures. The authors of the report try to highlight the fact that the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs “made it clear that the ultimate objective of the system was the improvement of the ‘health and welfare of mankind’”. In other words the intention behind all anti-drug measures was to have less crime, better health and more development. Yet, the authors of the report find that it is obvious now that none of these goals has been achieved by the war on drugs.

But these findings are in fact hardly new or surprising. For decades countless, journalists,criminologists, economists, scientists and officials have been informing the public that the war on drugs has been little more than a complete disaster. Even the fact that that the Commission calling for (at least partial) legalization of drugs is formed by some of the most prominent political, business and intellectual figures of the globe (such as Kofi Annan, Javier Solana, Paul Volvker, Richard Branson, Thorvald Stoltenberg and many others) is not any kind of revolution. Nearly 200 years ago Abraham Lincoln himself stated that:

“Prohibition [in that case of alcohol] will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species  of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

What is truly shocking is how come the war on drugs has not been abandoned despite all the evidence and arguments against it. War on drugs (or any other prohibition on personal moral choices) has always been questionable. What needs to be questioned today is who and why sustains its existence.

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Indonesia, the UNHRC and domestic rights issues

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 31, 2011
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In response to Indonesia’s recent election onto the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa said it reflected ‘international appreciation of Indonesia’s role and leadership in fighting for human rights…in regional and global forums’. This statement is prescient, if not for all the right reasons. Indonesia is clearly committed to a human rights agenda externally; however its explicit foreign policy agenda is not trickling down to policies that demonstrate commensurate concern for domestic protection.

On 6 February 2011, in the latest indictment of a country seemingly unable to turn the tides on growing religious violence, 3 Ahmadiyah followers were killed in a horrendous attack (caution: graphic footage) in Cikeusik, West Java, while authorities stood by passively. OHCHR is alleged to have since expressed concerns over the ‘widespread violence and discrimination reported against the Ahmadiyya… [including] the state-sanctioned closing of…mosques, the burning of homes and places of worship, and…physical violence and murder’.

The violence has arguably been facilitated by actions and sentiments at the national level. In 2008, an anti-Ahmadiyah decree was issued by president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, paving the way for further decrees outlawing Ahmadi practices at the local and provincial levels. Yet, rather than the national decree promoting more peaceful relations – in accordance with the official line – the Setara Institute recorded a parallel increase in violent attacks against the Ahmadis; from 3 in 2006 to 50 in 2010.

While one commentator rightly suggests it is a fear of having one’s own way of life threatened rather than inherent religious intolerance that is the catalyst for such violence, this may not leave much room for a solution. It remains that the Indonesian state has grown less capable or willing to prevent and punish acts of religious violence. Implying or resigning to the fact that religious violence may be an inevitable fact in a diverse nation – particularly a society imbued with democratic freedoms – is a moot point unless and until the Indonesian state takes steps to reassert the value of religious freedom contained within the state ideology, Pancasila, and the Constitution.

Clearly, processes of democratisation and decentralisation have made this a huge challenge. (One commentator notes how radical mass organizations have become ‘a new political order in the era of regional autonomy’, often used – and indulged – to achieve regional political ends). Nonetheless, calls by the Minister for Religious Affairs to ban the Ahmadiyah faith altogether, to a legislator’s suggestion they be shipped off to an uninhabited island, have arguably been unhelpful. In light of the recent attacks, several steps are advocated by HRW and others: revoke the national decree, void related regional and local laws, and use the notable trial of 12 Cikeusik suspects to begin reversing the culture of impunity that fuels the violence.

The president and heads of key state institutions recently pledged to strengthen the Pancasila ideology and counter growing radicalism. However, whether this constitutes more than lip service, and there exists the will or support at the national level to attempt to turn the tide, has yet to be seen.

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Makings of Gender-Sensitive Politics – International Law or Domestic Negotiations?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 26, 2011
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Recent political crises in North Africa and the Middle East revealed the active role women play in these crises. The direct contribution of women in these protests, was significant. Also prominent are women taking on conventionally ‘hard’ decisions related to armed intervention into Libya. These include the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, White House Foreign Affairs Adviser, who were all instrumental in achieving the decision to intervene in Libya, while Major General Margaret Woodward is Commander of Air Strategy over Libya.

Greater political representation of women is internationally considered as a ‘soft’ issue. Over the years the UN has gained some momentum in enacting Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security to further greater political representation. Essentially, as much as these Resolutions represent women as victims of violence, they are meant to reinforce women as full participants in processes towards peace and security. Most relevant is Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000 recognising the role of women in conflicts prevention and resolution, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. Also Resolution 1889, adopted in 2009 advocates for strengthening efforts on increasing the participation of women and mainstreaming gender perspectives in all decision-making processes, especially in the early stage of post-conflict peacebuilding. However, conflicts over the years have shown that these Resolutions remain weak in instituting a greater role for women in peace processes and security. Contemporarily, this trend is likely to persist, as the crises in the Arab world show little progress made in reference to the substance of these Resolutions.

Indicative of this is the minimal role of women in the resolution of these political crises such as in Egypt and Tunisia. In the words of one Egyptian protester, “the men were keen for me to be here when we were demanding that Mubarak should go. But now he has gone, they want me to go home.” The Guardian newspaper posed an apt question that while women may have sustained the Arab spring, it remains to be seen if the Arab spring will sustain women? While in some places like Tunisia the outlook for women’s political status remains positive, in Egypt the struggle for women appears bleak. In fact, it appears their role in the protests against the ruling regimes were tolerated and instrumental since they reconciled with the ambitions of the wider society. In contrast, protests again a few months later, by women in Egypt for women’s equality were matched with physical and verbal abuse and sexual harassment on International Women’s Day on March 8 2011.

Despite the UN Resolutions, the crucial question remains whether the solution for these Arab women lies in strengthening the nature of international regulation? However, the transition of women into greater political representation is also the result of internal political negotiation and converting the Resolutions into binding international law could have little effect, if any or be counter-productive as a top-down imposition.

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Civil Society Groups – Regional Champions of the RtoP in the Asia-Pacific?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 23, 2011
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As the commission of mass atrocities in Rwanda and Srebrenica had shocked the world in the 1990s, the urgent need to prevent the (re)occurrence of such crimes was widely recognized. At the behest of the UN Secretary-General, the ICISS advanced the concept of “the Responsibility to Protect” (RtoP) in the report – The Responsibility to Protect, which was released in 2001. The RtoP claims that each state has the primary responsibility to protect its people from four mass atrocities – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, and if it is unable or unwilling to do so, the wider international community has the responsibility to assist. At the 2005 World Summit, world leaders agreed on this spirit and incorporated it into the Summit Outcome. In 2009, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted the report on implementing the RtoP to the General Assembly, which outlined the three-pillar strategy and highlighted the importance of regional arrangements in implementing and diffusing the emerging principle.

Against this backdrop, the RSIS NTS Centre launched a research project to identify potential avenues to advance the RtoP in the Asia-Pacific which has the highest incidence of armed conflicts since 2002. According to Amitav Acharya, strong regional champions are crucial for the diffusion of a new norm in the region. The findings of the project concur with Acharya’s argument. The discussions at the two dissemination meetings in January and March of 2011 converged at the point that civil society engagement is crucial for diffusion of the RtoP and its operationalisation. As states in this region are strong upholder of the principle of non-intervention, national governments are not likely to champion the diffusion and operationalisation of the RtoP. Compared to state actors, civil society organizations (CSO) are in a better position to be regional champions as they are more flexible.

However, in contrast to the expectations of the meeting participants on the role of CSOs, not many CSOs were present at the two dissemination meetings, particularly the one in Bangkok. Moreover, my interviews with NGOs which operate at the Thai-Myanmar border reveal that few people from these groups understand the accurate definition and scope of the RtoP. Even if they are playing the assisting role in operationalising the RtoP, they are not aware of it. Hence, there is a gap between the awareness of the RtoP and the expectations on civil society organizations. It is thus important to disseminate the RtoP among these groups before they could assume the role as the regional champions in the Asia-Pacific.

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Potential Public Health Ramifications of the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill (I)

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on May 19, 2011
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Yesterday, Philippine president Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III declared his support for The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011, more commonly referred to as the RH bill. The bill has been a contentious issue for the past several months, although its history predates its reputation. First introduced to Congress in 1998, the bill aims to guarantee reproductive, maternal and child health and ensure universal access to methods and information on birth control.

This blog is the first part of a two-part series that will address different aspects of the Philippine RH bill and highlight what public health goals the bill is trying to achieve.

Maternal and child health and mortality

The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in the Philippines (94 deaths per 100,000 live births) may be low when compared to other nations such as Afghanistan (1,400 deaths). However, contrasted with some of its regional neighbours including Thailand and Singapore (48 and 6 deaths respectively), the Philippines is still several steps behind. The RH bill seeks to reduce this ratio through a series of measures, including the employment of midwives for skilled birthing attendance and emergency obstetric and neonatal care personnel, equipment and supplies at hospitals, with special provisions for those in geographically isolated and depressed areas.

According to the Philippine Department of Health (DOH), ten to eleven maternal deaths daily could be reduced if they had access to basic healthcare and essential minerals like iron and calcium. They also stated that effective family planning could reduce maternal mortality by about 32 per cent. The RH bill aims to achieve this by calling for universal availability and access to information on maternal, infant and child health and nutrition practices (i.e. breastfeeding). These provisions of the bill will also aid the Philippines towards achieving the 5th Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – to reduce the MMR by three-quarters and achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

Additionally, the RH bill touches on the contentious issue of abortion. Official estimates in 2005 put annual abortions at 400,000 to 500,000, and rising, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates nearly 800,000 cases per year. According to the DOH, nearly 100,000 women who have unsafe abortions every year end up hospitalised due to post-procedure complications. Although abortion is still recognised as illegal and punishable by law (the bill itself calls for the proscription of abortion), the RH bill states that “the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counselled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner” – a measure that will undoubtedly further the maternal health cause.

Despite the evident public health benefits that could occur if the RH bill were to be passed, it remains to be seen whether President Aquino’s newly minted support will be enough to pass the bill. More importantly, it is yet unknown the political will needed to support the passing and effective implementation of the bill will prevail over the politically and religiously-centered controversies that currently dominate the RH bill conversation.

Some Basic Thoughts on the Nature of Organized Crime: Part 2

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 18, 2011
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In the last blog entry, I highlighted the differences between ordinary profit-driven crimes and those labeled “organized”. The main characteristic of the latter is that it seeks to dominate a specific market for illegal goods. In order to maintain constant presence on the market, a criminal organization needs some sort of a structure and personnel. From this perspective, it is not surprising that it is commonly assumed that organized crime resembles legal business entities both in behavior and structure, and that is why so many authors talk about some McMafias, Crime Inc. etc. However, a more careful analysis reveals that criminal “enterprises” are in fact very different animals to legal businesses, an approach put forward by R. T. Naylor and presented in this blog.

The most important problem with the with seeing criminal “firms” as similar to legal firms, is that the theory of profit maximization does not actually explain how they behave. In fact, even legal businesses do not do everything to maximize profits. While profit is certainly the main reason why organized crime exists, most of the criminal organizations tend to adhere above all to the principle of risk minimization. Hence, unlike a legal firm, a criminal enterprise will seek to increase the level of intermediation, to reduce the risk of the “entrepreneur” being caught by the authorities. Similarly, unlike a legal business, a criminal one is more likely to “fall” i.e. be destroyed by the authorities, when it grows bigger and when it expands beyond a very small territory. Indeed, if organized crime really was run by large Hollywood-style quasi-corporations, it would be much easier for the governments to get rid of them. The uncertainty inherent to the illegal business, makes illegal firms adopt a rather short time-horizon for its operations unlike the legal corporations that are much more likely to assume that they will be in the market for a long time. Furthermore, unlike legal firms, illegal businesses cannot count on any formal property rights protection and hence faces the constant risk of losing its assets (either to the authorities or to other criminals). Naturally, this makes such “companies” much less likely to stockpile resources for some further investment.

Hence, contrary to popular fears and imagination, criminal enterprises operating in more or less functional states hardly resemble legal firms. While, it is true that their actions are determined by market forces, their methods of operation and priorities are very different. This reality should be finally recognized by policy makers and law enforcement agents fixated on fighting “big crime”. What we need is a better understanding of criminal markets rather than criminal groups. Without this understanding, we would only be addressing the symptoms rather than the systemic causes of transnational crime.

Israel’s Search for Security through Technology

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 10, 2011
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On 27 March 2011, Israel deployed the world’s first anti-rocket defense system called the Iron Dome. This system was expected to increase Israel’s security against armed groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. According to its manufacturer RAFAEL Advanced Systems Ltd., Iron Dome is an effective and innovative mobile defense solution for countering short range rockets and 155 mm artillery shell threats with ranges of up to 70 km in all weather conditions. It was subsequently used in a combat operation for the first time on 7 April 2011 when a battery located in southern Israel intercepted and destroyed nine Grad rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The development of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system was in keeping up with Israel’s doctrine of maintaining Qualitative Military Edge (QME) over its adversaries. According to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion, “Israel is and will continue to be quantitatively inferior vis-à-vis the Arab world” and therefore it “must develop a very strong qualitative edge”. This doctrine has allowed Israeli conventional forces to prevail over the numerically superior Arab conventional forces in wars such as the Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973).

QME however is less effective against armed groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah who use both conventional as well as unconventional military tactics against Israel. Such tactics resulted in what was known as a ‘hybrid war’. One weapon system that enabled armed groups to employ hybrid warfare strategy is rockets which allows them to launch their own stand-off attacks. In the 2006 Lebanon War for example, Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets at Israel killing 44 people. Israel believed that Hezbollah now possesses 40,000 rockets including those that can hit targets of up to 200 km. Hamas on the other hand has rockets which can hit targets of up to 45 km. This developments prompted Israel to develop the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.

At first sight, the Iron Dome system appears to be a ‘game-changer’ in the struggle between Israel and armed groups. Prior to the deployment of the Iron Dome, Israel has tried air strikes to full-scale ground operation to halt rocket fires prompting considerable international criticism. Iron Dome therefore represents a different approach to the missile threat and has compromised Hamas and Hezbollah’s strategy of striking Israel’s civilian population. The Iron Dome has further reinforced Israel’s belief in military technology as a way to enhance security. Military and technological measures, however, only tackle the symptoms of the problem and did little to address the root causes. As so often in the Middle East, it is the underlying political situation that is at the heart of the conflict. And this looks to be as intractable as ever. Even as Israel enhanced its military technology, it must also continue to engage armed groups and Arab countries in a dialogue in order to arrive at political solutions to the conflicts. Only then will Israel be able to gain the security that it craves for.

Many Questions, Difficult Answers on Forest Governance

Two weeks ago, the Business 4 Environment Global Summit was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. During this Summit, government and business actors were urged to collaborate in achieving the goal of zero net deforestation and forest degradation (ZNDD) by 2020. ‘Zero net’ does not mean that there will be no deforestation and forest degradation at all. Rather, the approach allows “changes in the configuration of the land-use mosaic, provided the net quantity, quality and carbon density of forests is maintained”. ZNDD also aims to preserve the remaining forest and reduce forest-based greenhouse gas emissions

The Summit was also taken as an opportunity for WWF to publish the Living Forests Report. The Report does not provide answers or impose solutions on forest managers. Rather it attempts to create rooms for conversations to seek a recipe for achieving forest preservation while maintaining socio-economic development. Moreover, it identifies five crosscutting issues that are important to achieve ZNDD and one of them is governance. Good governance in this case refers to secure land tenure, effective law enforcement and empowered local communities, and implementing these measures requires first understanding of the basic concept of governance.

According to UNESCAP, governance means “the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)”. It also suggests that good governance requires eight characteristics namely participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.

Thus, in an attempt to start a conversation on good governance, several questions can be posed on how a conversation should happen:

  • Who is involved in the conversation?
  • How the conversation is conducted?
  • What is the method or approach taken to create genuine and fair conversations?
  • Who moderates the deliberations to manage genuine and fair conversations?

These questions do not necessarily challenge the accuracy of technical matters, but they are crucial for dealing with conflicts of interests and understanding power relations among stakeholders in the forestry sector. These questions may also lead to specific questions on forest governance; including whether key issues identified as important to ZNDD include real issues encountered by local communities, and whether national forest policy is translated into local policy that takes into account complex local realities.

A good example to demonstrate the significance of governance is the criticism on Indonesia’s commitment to stopping forest loss by implementing a forest moratorium to stop issuing logging permits for two years. The moratorium allows Indonesia to improve its land use planning and permitting process, and build their institutional capacity. The moratorium is scheduled to be imposed in early 2011, yet four months have passed and there is still no indication as to when it will be set in motion. Corruption and the hegemony of some actors linger and seem to hamper Indonesia’s effort to halt deforestation and forest degradation. Moreover, environmental activists took the momentum of ASEAN Summit in Jakarta last week to call upon Indonesia to act on the moratorium plan. The delay in implementing the moratorium is seen as poor quality of government’s performance. Thus, the above concerns clearly shed a light on how a country like Indonesia is still struggling to develop good governance particularly in forestry sector. Although rather slow, the moratorium is certainly a significant step to achieve sound forest management.

The Politics of Protection – Evaluating recent clashes along Thailand – Myanmar border

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 28, 2011
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Recent reports in the media have discussed the National Security Council of Thailand moves to close the ‘displaced persons’ camps along the Thailand – Myanmar border. There are currently 143,097 people verified as living within these camps who have fled over the past twenty-five years. They fled across the border because of continued clashes between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar armed forces) and different ethnic nationalities armies. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s fragile ceasefire agreements were made between some ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw. These agreements led to a period of lesser violence up until the preparations for the Myanmar 2010 National Elections. In the run up to the 7th November poll, there was increased tension between the ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw because part of the ceasefire agreement was the eventual integration of ethnic nationalities’ armed forces into the Tatmadaw following national elections. However, as preparations for the elections continued, areas under control of the ethnic nationalities were declared unsafe for the polls to be conducted. As a result of these two significant and interrelated developments, the ceasefire agreements began to breakdown and, in turn, violence in the ethnic nationality areas increased.

The day after the elections took place, an estimated 10,000 people fled across the border from Myawaddy into Thailand. This mass movement was motivated by the violent clashes that broke out between the Tatmadaw and a group of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army defectors known as Brigade 5. The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army is an ethnic nationality armed group allied with the Tatmadaw – itself a breakaway faction of the Karen Liberation Army, which has had a ceasefire agreement with the Tatmadaw since 1994. After days of fighting, the Tatmadaw reclaimed Myawaddy from Brigade 5 and the vast majority of those who fled across the border returned to Myanmar. While this was a large scale outbreak of violence, low level violent clashes continue between various ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw. Indeed, this event demonstrates the unstable nature of the situation in the ethnic nationality areas as does the ongoing, albeit it significantly smaller and undocumented, number of people fleeing across the porous border. From my recent field work, many I spoke to from the ethnic nationality areas indicate that the Tatmadaw have revised tactics and have returned to the Four Cuts Strategy towards the ethnic nationalities – a plan designed to cut off four essential components: food, money, information and recruits. In addition to the return to this strategy, there are also reports of landmines being laid across the conflict zones. With a breakdown of various peace agreements and an increase in violence in the ethnic nationality areas, these areas are not fit to be deemed safe and stable. As a result, while the displaced persons want to return and Thai authorities want them to return, it is too early to suggest that voluntary repatriation will take place in the near future, no matter the outcome of the Myanmar 2010 election.

Cooperation rather than Competition (I): Renewable Energy for Whom?

As one of the world’s leading emerging economies, China’s insatiable demand for energy resources, as a result of its exponential economic growth rates is likely to increase over the coming decades. This has led to concerns of sustainability, namely the increasing scarcity of traditional energy resources and carbon emissions that exacerbate climate change.  China has nevertheless taken various steps to address these issues in its national development plans. Its proposed 12th Five year Plan demonstrates concrete steps for moving towards a low-carbon economy and also strategies to diversify its energy mix.

Clearly, energy needs for China’s economic development would require exploring all available resources within China’s territories. Interestingly enough, several regions which are crucial for China’s energy policies have also been theatres for social tension. In terms of renewable energy sources, China has initiated solar energy projects in Tibet, as the region is the richest resource for solar energy in China and is second to the Sahara Desert in terms of longest sunshine time in the world. Locations suitable for wind energy – aside from the Eastern Coast – include China’s Xinjiang province in the Northwest and northern territories bordering Mongolia.

In light of these geo-political concerns, China needs to ensure that its energy exploration and management policies are carefully implemented and do not adversely affect the needs of local communities in these regions. This is crucial for two reasons. Firstly, economic development is not simply a matter of achieving overall national growth, but more importantly, raising the standards of economic livelihoods and household incomes of the poor and increasingly marginalised communities as a result of industrialisation. Such inequalities exist between and within provinces in China. This was apparent in Xinjiang where despite the Western Development plan that boosted Xinjiang’s growth to the point that it was comparable to that of Eastern provinces, communities in southern Xinjiang (95% of non-Han origin) have a capita income half that of Xinjiang as a whole.

This relates to the second reason, where meeting these basic needs are important in preventing social tensions (and even conflict), which have occurred in the past as a result of the central government’s economic development policies that have widened inequalities – particularly for the largely rural/agrarian-based communities in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Like other shared natural resources, energy resources must be utilised as a tool for cooperation rather than conflict and competition. Ensuring communities’ access to energy sources is a crucial factor in this equation, as it would generate productivity via a bottom-up approach. Provincial and municipal governments in China would therefore play a significant role in catering to the specific development needs of the various provinces and their respective localities. Some improvements have so far been made such as the solar energy projects in Tibet that have been used for development needs of rural communities, and Xinjiang’s 20 billion yuan investment in wind energy technology. While this is a good start, such efforts must be further refined overtime and given greater support for the sustainable and affordable provision of renewable sources of energy to communities.

 

 

 

 

Some basic thoughts on the nature of organized crime PART 1

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 15, 2011
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Organized crime (both in the national and transnational forms) has long been seen as a great challenge to the prosperity and security of ASEAN as a whole and its individual member states. Criminal activities in the region are seen as more and more alarming as they are perceived to be increasingly powerful, “organized” and “transnational”. Indeed, in order to tackle these issues, the global police club, Interpol, has begun construction of its regional headquarters in Singapore.

On the surface it appears that the public might share the governments’ concerns, as surveys indicate that crime is generally perceived to be one of the major social problems. One should note however, that what the public regard as criminal might have much more to do with ordinary (“visible”) crime rather than with some organized transnational crime so much feared by governments.  In any case, it appears that the general understanding of the nature of the latter and the difference between the two has been quite limited. In this blog entry, I want to highlight some of the main differences between ordinary and organized crime.

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about organized crime is that it must involve some degree of organization. In other words, it cannot simply be a pub brawl (no matter how brutal). While this is true, the mere fact that some criminal activity may require some organization does not necessarily make it a part of organized crime. For instance, if two robbers decide to snatch purses using a scooter, they must be organized enough to buy (or rent) the scooter, but it does not mean that their actions are anything other than ordinary criminality. Even sophisticatedly planned bank robberies fall under the category of ordinary “project crimes” and not organized crime. At the same time, as it was rightly observed by Naylor, “(…)not all underground entrepreneurs who peddle dope or kiddy porn belong to hierarchical and durable organizations. What makes organized crime different is that its participants organize not just to participate in the market for criminal goods and services but also to dominate that market.”

Indeed, what really characterizes organized crime is not that it sometimes might involve forced redistribution of wealth (which is the crucial component of all profit-driven ordinary crimes), but rather that it attempts to dominate a market for specific illicit goods and/or services (such as sex services, gambling, drugs, etc.). Operating in a market for “forbidden consumption desires” (as labeled by Naylor) usually involves a whole range of illegal activities, such as smuggling and trafficking, bribing, forging, money-laundering, etc. While many of the above require crossing borders, the bottom line is that the main driver for organized crime is the local demand for illegal commodities. Hence it comes as no surprise that many see organized crime as a type of “enterprise” resembling legal businesses. In my next blog entry I will try to show this notion must be taken with a grain of salt.

Timor Leste: ASEAN’s 11th Member?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 12, 2011
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Timor-Leste recently lodged its application to become the 11th member of ASEAN. However, its members remain divided on the implications of welcoming the fledging nation as its newest recruit. Some are surely reminded of Myanmar’s problematic admission and the impact it has exacted on ASEAN’s perceived relevance. They see a fragile country, with a burgeoning population expected to double by 2040, poverty and worsening unemployment (likely to be compounded by the UN’s withdrawal in 2012), little progress or even regression on key socio-economic indicators since independence in 2002, and persistence of some political and security dynamics that contributed to the 2006 violence, prompting the establishment of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). Timor-Leste’s detractors are conscious of the impact the admission could have on ASEAN’s consolidation and community-building agenda, particularly its push for a single economic market by 2015. As a key opponent, Singapore worries it will widen the development gap and drag down ASEAN’s overall progress. One “nightmare scenario” that is touted: that ‘the entire integration project will unravel and Southeast Asia will be squeezed into irrelevance’.

On the other hand, Indonesia and Thailand are seen as ‘vanguards of support’, a historically ironic scenario for Indonesia given the violent relationship that reigned while Timor-Leste was a province of the archipelago. Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa has acknowledged fears related the derailment of community-building efforts, however has noted that Indonesia believes otherwise and sees a positive impact. He also argued that development gaps between ASEAN members were not a novel concept, citing differences between the founding members and Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, as well as regional security considerations.

A desire to counter China’s growing presence in Timor is recognized by some as an important driver of Indonesia’s support. This growing presence doesn’t necessarily imply that the relationship is of strategic importance in terms of Timor-Leste’s foreign policy agenda. Nonetheless, it is reported that over the past four years, in the aftermath of the instability of 2006, China has tripled its level of investment as well as foreign aid to Timor-Leste. It has funded the construction of the Presidential Palace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a new defense headquarters in Dili alongside numerous other infrastructure projects. It also sold two patrol vessels to Timor-Leste last year, leading to what one author termed the “saga of the Chinese boats”.

Ultimately, it is important to acknowledge that Timor-Leste is no stranger to its ASEAN neighbours. Many engaged in assistance efforts in the context of the post-referendum violence, and in successive years, to promote stability and strengthen the state’s institutions. Singapore, for instance, continues to be involved in a civilian police capacity and has promoted numerous capacity building programs under the Singapore Cooperation Programme.

Nonetheless, while ASEAN membership would give Timor-Leste’s development drive critical momentum, at the same time, with intimate knowledge of just how far Timor-Leste still has to go, concerned members are unlikely to be convinced of accepting the bid until well after the 2012 Timor-Leste elections and beyond.

Rethinking Food Security

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on April 12, 2011
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“I eat, therefore I can”, recreating from Descartes’ famous phrase I think, therefore I amWayne Roberts chose the phrase as the title of one of the chapters in his book, The No-nonsense Guide to World Food. Having been involved in food activism for ten years, he had already realized that food would become a serious global problem in the future since he started the activism in 1990s. Today, people make more food related decisions than any other decisions in one day.

Inspired by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement that the food crisis is a forgotten crisis, some of us have deeply contemplated that the food crisis leads to food insecurity, and it is potentially exacerbated by climate change. However, the argument that is often used as an excuse for lack of action is that there are no quick and easy solutions in dealing with the food security challenges.

Interestingly, the above argument might be relevant if we realize that we have already been entrapped in the game of global industrialized food system, while there are in fact other alternative food systems. The global industrialized food system has failed to provide food security for all nations.  Food is seen as a global commodity. As a consequence, international forces erode domestic control and protection over its own food system. More powerful country or any international institution tries to intervene policies related to agriculture and food of less powerful country. It would seem that the issue has gone beyond food security. Rather it has become food sovereignty, the thinking that embraces the cultural, historical, spiritual and ecological depths of food system.

Integrated and robust actions that involve changes at local, regional and international levels are needed. Particularly at the local level, actions must be immediate, realistic and provable. This is also in line with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s definition of a world without hunger emphasizing that “social safety nets ensure that those who lack resources still get enough to eat”. However, such bottom-up initiatives should not undermine the responsibility of governments and other stakeholders within the food system. Most importantly is the political will to create the change at policy level which allows every farmer, every community and every country have their individual right to food.

Migration Analysis – A Progressive Anti-Trafficking Measure

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on April 6, 2011
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A significant barrier to curbing human trafficking is the inability to verify its nature. Inaccurate data collection is linked to difficulties in defining human trafficking. Identifying ‘exploitation’ existing within the illegal trafficking process cannot be clearly distinguished from that existing in formal or legal migratory processes. Feminist studies note that anti-trafficking efforts, presently concentrated within a criminal justice framework, ought to be strengthened by analysing the links between migration and ‘exploitation’ in clandestine industries. This is an effective approach to make visible and mitigate the subjection of migrants to illegal ‘exploitation’.

While theoretically accepted, it is important that policy-makers recognise that human trafficking should be assessed subject to wider migration pressures. This is essential for the effective protection of victims of trafficking. For example, the dominant effect of anti-trafficking measures within the sex industry is the termination of the sex worker’s employment and consequently repatriates her to her country of origin. This approach is becoming untenable as it is emerging that the approach does not reconcile with the choices of many presumed victims of sex trafficking. Therefore, a migration analysis would allow a better understanding of the ‘agency’ of trafficked persons caught in the processes. This would question the effectiveness of criminalising those in the sex trade and may suggest that it is more effective to encourage efforts towards addressing the ‘exploitation’ or work conditions within the sex industry.

Encouragingly, the Asia-Pacific region is inching towards this approach in policy-making. The 4th Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and related Transnational Crime was held recently in Bali between 29 – 30 March 2011. A significant outcome of the negotiations was its emphasis on ‘managing migration’ to effectively address the varying problems and needs of persons subjected to the spectrum of irregular migration: economic migrants, human trafficking, people smuggling and asylum seekers.

Incorporating ‘managed migration’ into the Bali grouping’s efforts to curb human trafficking is a progressive anti-trafficking measure. The effectiveness of anti-trafficking measures dominated by law enforcement measures is widely debated. The inability of destination states to distinguish between political asylum seekers or persons smuggled such as in the case of the Rohingya from Myanmar, led to perilous living conditions for these people. These persons, experiencing an intermingled state of political and economic migration, are effectively ‘re-victimised’ by being subjected to criminal inquiry by law enforcement agencies.

The aim of the Bali grouping is formal recognition of the varying migrant categories and consequently promoting and supporting opportunities for orderly migration. Analysing the trends of human trafficking and smuggling from a migration lens will develop targeted knowledge of and sensitivity towards the varying categories of migrants, amongst states. This is to be achieved through greater engagement between countries in the region and relevant international organisations. The intention that this should inform infrastructure dealing with irregular migration is reflected in its Regional Cooperation Framework 2011.  The framework requires the establishment of consistent assessment processes for asylum seekers and to develop anti-trafficking measures with greater sensitivity to economic, social and political root causes. Essentially, if acted upon, this could be a substantial step towards reducing the number of migrants succumbing to illegal or ‘underground’ means of migration.

China’s ‘Paradoxical’ Position on the Libyan Crisis

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 4, 2011
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The unrest in Libya since mid- February has caused at least hundreds of deaths and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of foreigners from the country. As the pro-Gaddafi force began to use force on civilians, the international community has become even more concerned about the political and humanitarian consequences of the ongoing situation. The UN Security Council adopted Resolutions 1970 and 1973 , which respectively impose sanctions and a no-fly zone on Libya, with the aim to end the violence.

It is interesting to note that China casted paradoxical votes on the two resolutions – voting in favor of the former but abstained on the latter. China’s support for sanctions on Libya has been deemed as the indication for a possible shift away from the long adherence to the principles of respect for sovereignty and non-interference, while the abstention and China’s recent criticism of the airstrikes against Libya have been consistent with its previous voting record on similar issues in the Security Council. This contradiction is the result of China’s concern for sovereign integrity and its mounting national power. In addition, the attitude of Libya’s neighbors and other major countries in the Security Council serves as the permissive condition for China’s inconsistent positions.

The increasingly visible online nationalism in China has reflected the fact that a majority of the Chinese people supports government efforts to defend sovereign and territorial integrity. This has largely been attributed to the 100-years of humiliation inflicted by foreign powers from the late 19th century until the founding of the new China in 1949. Many Chinese leaders also appear to share similar sentiments. During his meeting with the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, Deng Xiaoping explicitly stated that the sovereignty of Hong Kong was not negotiable. Hence, China’s insecure feeling towards sovereignty has shaped its conservative position on such issues.

However, as China’s national power has been increasing, its confidence over its capability to safeguard sovereign integrity has been growing. Amid the evacuation operation in Libya, the Chinese government dispatched warships and military transport planes to evacuate nearly 36000 Chinese nationals plus 2000 people from other countries within two weeks. It is the first time that China’s air force has participated in a civilian evacuation mission overseas. Apart from that, the participation of the multilateral anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden and the expanding role of China in UN peacekeeping have all demonstrated the fact that the Chinese military is more capable of projecting its power beyond their traditional comfort zone – the Asia- Pacific.

The growing military power has to some degree eased China’s concern over its own sovereign integrity, and the support of the Arab League for the Security Council resolution 1970 has further encouraged China to back sanctions on Libya. However, as its national power is not yet sufficient to make it feel fully secure, China is not likely to abandon the non-interference principle. Moreover, the fact that Brazil, Germany, India, and Russia abstained from Resolution 1973 to impose a no-fly zone on Libya has reduced the political cost for abstention and thus enabled China to hold reservation.

Shaking the myth of post-disaster looters

The recent disaster in Japan provoked a tsunami of negative stories and commentaries. Some focused on the tragic fate of the thousands of Japanese people killed or otherwise affected by the monstrous earthquake and tsunami. Others presented Hollywood-style horror scenarios about the problems with one Japanese nuclear power plant. There were also those who criticized the scare stories and instead lamented about the pitiful state of contemporary risk-obsessed culture. The most “optimistic” report “expressed “relief” that the earthquake hit very developed and well-prepared Japan rather than some impoverished Third World countries were there would almost certainly be more deaths, chaos and misery than in Japan.

Yet, there was one issue that seemed to attract media audience because of its seemingly positive outlook rather than because of anything scary, sad or worth condemnation – the near absence of looting in at least the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Western commentators and public seemed genuinely shocked by the fact that most of the Japanese people behaved quite orderly instead of robbing, raping and running in amok. After all, we are all familiar with horrid stories from New Orleans, Haiti and even New Zealand. The immediate explanations of this alleged abnormality pointed to the Japanese culture and society that promoted cooperation, discipline and good manners. Other “experts” claimed that there was more to it than just culture of honesty and that one should also look at the Japanese legal system, its massive police force and even the infamous Yakuza in order to understand why the Japanese people did not all become mad criminals. All authors expressed hope that perhaps we too could learn something from the Japanese example.

One could say, that the stories about the predominantly calm, cordial and cooperative atmosphere in post-disaster Japan are very heartening and that its authors should be congratulated for bringing them to public attention. The only problem is that the notion that the case of Japan is qualitatively unique is completely wrong. As Johann Hari noted: “The evidence gathered over centuries of disasters, natural and man-made, is overwhelming. The vast majority of people, when a disaster hits, behave in the aftermath as altruists. They organise spontaneously to save their fellow human beings, to share what they have, and to show kindness.” Furthermore, this seems true “across continents and across contexts.” Indeed, in reality the media grossly exaggerated the horror stories of lawlessness in places like New Orleans, Haiti, Chile and New Zealand. Undoubtedly in the cases of Haiti and New Orleans, racist prejudices helped to convince the public already “suspecting” that black people, when not kept an eye on, will certainly run in amok to loot, kill and rape. In fact, the myth of rapes allegedly following disasters has been so powerful that despite no evidence, various newspapers continue mentioning it. Similarly, the commonly held image of the cold and well-mannered Japanese was a fertile ground for the “astonishing” reports of no looting.

What is really surprising about the stories of kindness and cooperation in Japan, is how we were all surprised by reading them. Perhaps it is time we reconsidered scenarios of chaos, lawlessness and violence related to natural disaster?

Health Security Post-Japanese Quake and Tsunami

On 11 March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude  earthquake occurred in the Pacific Ocean just off the northeastern coast of Japan, near the coastal city of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture. The National Police Agency said that as of 21 March, the death toll and number of those reported missing came to a combined total of 21,911.

The earthquake and resultant tsunami have had significant health impacts on the Japanese population. Japanese public health officials have struggled with water treatment and distribution systems that have been contaminated by ocean water and oil, gas, pesticides, and decaying bodies carried inland by the waves. There are also worries of cross-contamination of waste water and treated water, escalating fears of the spread of water-borne diseases. Treating trauma, crush wounds and respiratory illnesses in tsunami victims has been identified as a pressing health priority. According to some, rapidly diminishing stocks of medical supplies and the mental health of the tsunami and quake survivors continues to challenge health response systems.

These public health concerns have been exacerbated by fears of health ramifications from exposure to nuclear radiation following explosions at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. Although radiation health risks have been described as low, certain experts have warned that radioactive releases of steam from the plant could last for months. This has prompted widening fears of long-term public health, food security (such as radiation contamination in food from Japan) and environmental ramifications not only for the Japanese, but also for neighbouring countries and across the Pacific.

The post-quake period has seen what some have called a bubbling ‘cauldron of fear’ from the potential health ramifications of the crisis. Countries as far away as Finland have had to reassure their populations. US nuclear plans are in question.  The Philippine and Malaysian governments have publicly urged citizens to stop circulating hoax text messages encouraging rumours of radiation rain.

However, it remains important to recognise that Fukushima rates 5 on a seven-step scale of nuclear incidents. This places it on par with Three Mile Island, which resulted in no deaths and had no impact on the incidence of cancer in the region. It also places two rungs below Chernobyl at 7. Radiation experts have also said that given the nature of the manufacturing industries in Japan, there is little danger of radiation contamination in food reaching harmful levels.

While it remains important to recognise the health security risks and threats that have emerged as a direct consequence of the Japanese tragedy, it is equally important to exercise a measured approach in assessing and analysing them. The overestimation of threat can cause undue fear and panic. Conversely, the underestimation of problems can lead to a lack of commitment to addressing them. This is true to addressing both conventional health challenges as well as any nuclear radiation-related health issues arising from this situation. Ultimately, a moderate and well-informed approach to dealing with health security issues in post-disaster Japan may encourage better direction and strategy in resolving them.

Resilient Cities in a Hazard Sensitive World

Cities are complex living systems. A city is home to many inhabitants and other living organisms that live within a melded natural and built environment. These elements of a city form a dynamic, relationship between humans and their urban environment, which evolves as cities grow. The rapid and multidimensional changes in a city affect the capability of the city to respond to changes. The ability of a city to cope with change is a subject to urban resilience. Resilience has multiple meanings in various contexts, however  the Resilience Alliance has contributed a useful definition which states that resilience refers to the ability of a system to not only absorb disturbances but also to learn from them.

Disturbances driven by rapid population growth, pollution and climate change bring about changes to the urban environment. Additionally, changes occurring in urban socio-ecological systems are crucial as they influence the resilience of the urban environment. Such changes can also cause shocks and vulnerability and lead to declining urban resilience. Thus, the resilience of the urban socio-ecological systems demonstrates its adaptive capacity to respond to the “unexpected or unpredictable shocks”. Resilience can be built, maintained and managed by taking into account uncertainties and complexity in the process. This approach is called adaptive management.

It would seem that the idea of creating a resilient city requires a kind of reinvented governance that embraces a learning process in a changing environment. As cities grow, changes will keep occurring and they are not always predictable. Thus, the method of controlling the driver of change or the change itself seems to be outdated. Cities need to be flexible to changes for which they will have little capacity to pre-empt the causes. Despite a wealth of uncertainties, it is clear that cities should strive to build adaptive capacities and facilitate fluid learning processes that attempt to understand changing conditions.

Recent events that have affected coastal cities have brought these needs to the forefront of global awareness. Some examples of these events are Sumatera earthquake and India Ocean tsunami that lashed coastal areas in Asia and Africa, Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, USA and the current earthquake and tsunami that hit the east coast of Honshu, Japan. An interesting point to note from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan is how the calamities have been discussed as a test of Japan’s resilience. The Japanese resilient spirit has clearly mesmerised the world. Central to their resilience is the human agency that demonstrated through the way governments and wider communities respond to the shocks and behave during the crisis. The resilience is visible in the people’s behaviour, yet it might be too early to claim that the cities are also resilient.

There are three questions to answer in order to prove a city’s resilience, they are:

  1. To what degree the cities have been affected and to what extent that they can still provide basic services?
  2. How soon the affected cities are able to self-reorganize?
  3. How much these cities can learn from and adapt to the changes resulted?

These questions suggest that it will take time to properly examine the resilience of a city as it is measured using both environmental and social perspectives. It is inevitable that disasters have somehow become the tool to test for cities’ resilience. The directly affected cities might be assessed for their ability to provide water, electricity, food and other supplies despite the loss they experience. Disaster preparedness and relief programs are also examined not only whether they are available but also whether they are effective. It is important that such response measures be applied to both the highly affected cities and surrounding cities, as the later might be less affected but crucially play roles with regard to providing support for the highly affected cities. By looking at wide range elements in the social-ecological systems, from city’s environment to city’s governance we could then make a proper and complete assessment of a city’s resilience.

All in all, such a ‘test’ should be for all coastal cities across the world. Taking into account the past, present and future events, cities in the world need to start the learning process.

Reflections on a More Confident and Relevant ASEAN?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 17, 2011
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ASEAN’s perceived utility stems largely from its capacity to manage and diffuse tensions between its member states. The foundation of this achievement is largely recognized to be its normative framework – the ‘ASEAN way’, which is widely seen as the region’s most important informal mechanism of conflict management. Thus, when an on-going dispute over territory along the Thai-Cambodian border manifested in violent clashes on 4-7 February, violating fundamental ASEAN principles of the non-use or threat of force and the peaceful resolution of disputes, it generated debate regarding the fundamental [ir]relevance of the organisation, given its ostensible failure to fulfil it’s very raison d’être.

In the wake of the clashes, some commentators suggested that the incident could portend a reversal of ASEAN’s successes in securing regional stability and the return to force as the tool of choice for settling differences. While potentially alarmist, the escalation of the territorial dispute nonetheless presented an important litmus test for the 10-member association, which is in the midst of a drive to form a political-security community. However, several weeks after the height of the dispute, it is possible at least tentatively, to draw some positive insights.

Through the dispute, ASEAN has arguably signified its intention to move into a new phase, governed – necessarily – by a more proactive attitude towards regional peace and security. With a mandate reaffirmed by the ASEAN Charter, and without requiring prompting, Indonesian FM Marty Natalegawa, representing the ASEAN Chair, initiated shuttle diplomacy to attempt to pave the way for bilateral talks and to halt the violence. ASEAN’s role as mediator was strengthened on 14 February when the UNSC expressed its support for ASEAN’s active efforts in the dispute, endorsing the upcoming informal meeting of Foreign Ministers on 22 February.

Out of this meeting, there emerged agreement that a group of Indonesian observers would be sent to the disputed border area as well as consensus on the importance of holding further bilateral talks, with Indonesia’s support. It is expected that the two will discuss the plan, including the terms of reference for the observer mission, during the Thailand-Cambodia Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) on demarcation and General Border Committee (GBC) meetings in Indonesia on 24-25 March.

Indonesia’s engagement in the dispute on behalf of ASEAN has been described by Natalegawa as a ‘seminal development in ASEAN’s capacity to deal with a conflict situation’. Ultimately, in spite of accounts of its relative impotence in addressing issues of regional peace and security, it appears that ASEAN is making serious attempts to manoeuvre around its inherent constraints to take on a more proactive role in this area. ASEAN’s proactive engagement in the Thai-Cambodia crisis can boost its confidence in this regard, provided it manages to negotiate a stable solution to the conflict in the coming weeks and months. Though perhaps the real challenge will lie in maintaining the momentum when Indonesia passes its chairmanship to Cambodia in 10 months time, given that it was Natalegawa’s initiative and diplomatic skill that has been most striking during this crisis.

Japan in Jeopardy? Managing Energy Vulnerabilities Amidst Disaster Response

Japan’s recent earthquake – and the tsunami that followed it – is the strongest on record and has been dubbed to be Japan’s worse crisis since the Second World War. As the country grapples with the ensuing threat of multiple nuclear meltdowns after explosions at 3 Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) reactors in Fukushima, questions are being raised as to the extent of the nuclear crises at hand. As it stands, the death toll is estimated to surpass 10,000 while almost 2 million households are without power supply and 1.4 million are without running water in the colder Northern regions of Japan. Moreover, Japan’s aging population also indicates higher vulnerabilities for a substantial proportion of Japanese society in terms of health and safety.

This situation is likely to get worse with the government’s announcement of starting rolling blackouts in a bid to conserve energy – energy that would be needed to maintain the cooling systems in Japan’s NPPs to avoid nuclear meltdowns. The lack of clean water not only severely impacts public health and sanitation, but is also critical for cooling the nuclear reactors. The blackouts would also affect economic livelihoods as stalled economic activity in the industrial sector would exacerbate an already ailing Japanese economy, let alone the massive costs of damage from the earthquake and tsunami.

On hindsight, more could have been done prior to the earthquake. For instance, it was barely 5 years ago, when the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP experienced a fire and leak as a result of an earthquake measuring 6.8 in magnitude. This was partly because most NPPs in Japan have been designed to withstand earthquakes up to 6.5 in magnitude, hence little improvement has been made to fortify these NPPs since.

A possible reason for the license extension is that 30% of Japan’s energy supply is generated from nuclear energy. While some may be quick to criticise Japan’s substantial dependence on nuclear energy, it is also important to realise that nuclear energy – a clean source of energy – was an attempt to diversify Japan’s energy mix and reduce Japan’s dependence on oil imports from the Middle East that are sold at a higher premium for Asian countries.

Although Japan is Asia’s best example for disaster preparedness and technological advancements for nuclear energy, it is high time to review the processes. The current situation in Japan has even caused policymakers in the US, Switzerland and India to delay future nuclear energy plans. In Southeast Asia, where the demand for energy sources for development is increasingly insatiable, it is vital that ASEAN countries take environmental impact assessments seriously and acknowledge the importance of further enhancing their disaster capabilities to respond to potentially complex emergencies. With the increasing unpredictability and intensity of natural disasters, achieving Japan’s preparedness capabilities is only the very basic benchmark for the less developed East Asian countries if they wish to go nuclear.

This blog is an abridged version of a commentary by Sofiah Jamil and Assoc. Prof Mely Caballero-Anthony.
Click here to read the full version.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands: “Mercenaries” in Libya

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 9, 2011
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“Mercenaries” in Libya?

A “No Fly Zone” or other UN sanctions do not preclude the Gaddafi regime increasing ground armed forces to extend their control. This could be done by an increased use of “mercenaries”. “Mercenaries” are legally defined broadly as persons motivated by private gain to fight in an armed conflict. They are not affiliated to the armed forces of a party to the conflict, nor of any other state. However, state complicity in the use of “mercenaries” is prevalent in Africa. Their use by the Gaddafi regime may be commonplace following the resignations of top officials from the government, and the defiance of orders by members of the police and army.

Furthermore, the use of “mercenaries” in internal conflicts is common in Africa. However, the quantification of “mercenary” activities is a difficult empirical task. The Gaddafi regime’s access to “mercenaries” may be assured through connections made with non-government armed forces it provided armed training to in Libya, between 1970 and 1980.

To this effect, advertisements have been launched in Kenya and Guinea to recruit pro-Gaddafi fighters. Fighters are purportedly offered approximately US$ 2500 per day or could earn up to US$ 20,000 a month.

A government official from Mali revealed that 200-300 members of the Tuaregs community from its Kidal region left for Libya to join pro-Gaddafi forces. The Tuaregs share a longstanding relationship with the Gaddafi regime, beginning from the formation of the “Islamic Pan African Legion” in the 1970s. Although the Legion was disbanded as an organisation in the 1980s, connections between Libyan officials and the Tuaregs have been maintained.

The Malian government has expressed anxiety but finds difficulty in controlling this exchange. Indeed, persisting conflicts in Africa and poor efforts in demobilising fighters have generated a steady supply of ex-combatants. With limited employment options available to them, these ex-combatants would prefer to use their combat skills for monetary gain.

‘Popular Anger’ Against Sub-Saharan Africans

The use of “mercenaries” is justifiably real to anti-government Libyan protesters and is perceived as state-sponsored violence. However, the retaliation through violence by anti-government protestors on innocent Sub-Saharans has led to their serious victimization. Sub-Saharans are targeted because their countries are dominant suppliers of “mercenaries” within the African continent.

Unfortunately, widespread and indiscriminate targeting of Sub-Saharans is conducted on their identification as “black” and “non-arabic speaking”. Underlying these indiscriminate attacks is the largely unorganised nature of incorporating “mercenaries” into armed offensives by states. This prevents an objective identification of parties to the conflict and their affiliations.

Africans particularly from Chad, Niger, Liberia, Mali and the Central African Republic have been forcibly detained and assaulted by armed mobs, with their homes and shelter camps targets of destruction. The violence has hampered their ability to exit Libya safely. Moreover, the International Organisation for Migration reports that Sub-Saharans are scarce amongst the thousands pouring out of Libyan borders daily.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

The hostilities between Libyan anti-government protestors and presumed “mercenaries” are due to a weak culture of accountability for “mercenary” activities. Therefore, the violence perpetrated by anti-government protestors is understandable because there is a vacuum within international and national legal systems in bringing these “mercenaries” to account judicially.

A non-epidemic of epidemic proportions: HIV in the Philippines

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on March 8, 2011
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There have been a recent spate of articles asserting that there is an upward trend in the number of HIV cases in the Philippines, a trend that portends a ‘HIV epidemic’, especially among adolescents. In 2010, there were 1,591 new HIV cases diagnosed, which is a 90 percent increase from the reported 835 infections in 2009, itself a 58 percent increase over the previous year. From 1984 to December 2009, there were 4,424 HIV cases reported and of these, 90% were infected through sexual contact. As of 2007, the main source of transmission is among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Such claims of an impending HIV epidemic in the Philippines are not new, with warnings that it would spread through Asia since the 1980s, after the first individual diagnosed with HIV was reported in 1984. However, according to the UNAIDS, ‘no significant epidemic HIV transmission has yet been detected in the Philippines and, as a result, the official national HIV prevalence estimate has been reduced from an initial 50 000 in the early 1990s to 26 000 a few years ago and, most recently, in 2003, to about 9 000.’ Although seemingly troubling, the rising trend is not indicative of a problem of epidemic proportions. It could reflect the increasing ability of the public health service to conduct HIV tests amongst populations who could not access health facilities previously.

According to the UNAIDS, as of 2009 the national prevalence of HIV remains at about 1% of the population but amongst most at-risk populations (MARP), it increased from 0.08% in 2007 to 0.47% in 2009. The prevalence of individuals who have been infected through sexual contact suggests the need for more awareness and education about the disease and the methods of transmission, while increasing the availability of contraceptives. However, in order to maximise gains, such a strategy should be more specific, targeting MARP rather than a nationwide plan of dissemination that some may favour as they fear a widespread HIV epidemic. Repeated warnings of an HIV epidemic may prompt people to be more aware of the disease, but it is more likely to create an overinflated sense of dread and panic that does not address the problem but may increase stigmatisation of the disease and of affected populations. A more measured attitude towards countering the spread of HIV may encourage directed plans that could more effectively address the dominant means of transmission in various countries, in order to achieve the MGD on reducing the rates of HIV transmission globally.

Gaps in Greening the Economy

A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme recently noted that the road to achieving a low carbon, resource efficient green economy is possible by just investing two per cent of global GDP into ten key sectors – namely Agriculture, Buildings, Cities, Fisheries, Forests, Industry, Renewable energy, Tourism, Transport, Waste Management and Water. The report asserts that doing so can help  eradicate poverty and promote long-term sustainable development in developing countries.

This report builds on growing calls to streamline environmental concerns with economic needs, in particular means of incentivising businesses to partake in environmental initiatives. The 2008 Financial Crisis precipitated these efforts as politicians perceived greening the economy as a viable means of killing two birds with one stone – i.e. creating jobs in light of a deteriorating economy worldwide while doing their part to mitigate climate change. Discussions on the potential of green economies have been a hot topic in various international meetings such as the World Economic Forum, UNESCAP and the G20. National policies supporting calls for a green economy are steadily underway, as seen in the United States, European Union, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Developing countries have also included aspects of a green economy in their national and regional reports/plans.

While these initiatives are commendable, their full implementation would take longer, regardless of a country’s level of development. Even in  developed/industrialising countries, the issue of costs is significant. For instance, a recent report suggests that switching to renewable energy sources does not create more jobs but rather costs more jobs. In addition, UAE’s ambitious carbon-free city project, Masdar City, has experienced some delays in completing its construction while proposed cap-and-trade policies in Australia and the US have continued to face legislative difficulties. The sustainability of such initiatives is also important and must avoid falling into a green washing trap, where stakeholders such as businesses and policymakers have only made incremental changes that suit their comfort levels and justified their actions with “green” as a pre-fix to their existing activities. Governments must therefore ensure funds are committed to continue existing green projects in the medium and long term, and ensure that green economy can gradueally wean off a dependence on subsidies.

In developing countries, a possible area of concern in the near future would be the extent to which heavily populated regions, such as megacities would be able to balance changes needed for a green economy vis-a-vis existing circumstances, such as growing populations, slum areas, high vulnerability to environmental risks and lack of transparency. In rural regions, it has yet to be seen whether such green economy initiatives would be accessed by poor and remote communities effectively, and bypassing any instances of corruption and inefficiencies.

It is nevertheless encouraging to see that the momentum for a green economy is growing. While sound regional and national policies would be able to set the tone for a country’s sustainability, local efforts and capacities are essential to see the process through.

Human Trafficking or Digits Smuggling?

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on February 28, 2011
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Recent developments in the Arab world have attracted tremendous attention from international media. While an army of experts and journalists seem very puzzled about the basic reasons, nature and meaning of the revolts, they all express a striking confidence in describing the events using numbers (concerning anything from the size of Cairo crowd to the numbers of Libyan refugees). This reminds us that the world today is obsessed with, and dependent on, quantification. As Peter Andreas observes, “In practical political terms, if something is not measured it does not exist, if it is not counted it does not count.” Indeed, many people seem to unconsciously assume that the numbers on TV and in newspapers are a product of omniscient experts and even the most fantastic figures generate more credibility than lack of any.

There are however two major problems with our reliance on numbers. First of all, when figures in themselves gain importance, it is easy to forget about their relevance, usefulness and context in which they should be placed. Second of all, we can become easily manipulated by inflated, deflated, or plainly false statistics. This is especially true in the case of phenomena that are particularly difficult to quantify. One such phenomenon is human trafficking.

Journalists, politicians, activists and members of respectable international organizations constantly tell us about the thousands (or even millions) of people that each year become victims of evil traffickers. For instance, both in 2006 and 2010 claims were made that 40,000 women would be trafficked to the World Cups in order to satisfy the desires of profligate football fans.

What these numbers have in common is that they rarely have identifiable sources or transparent methodologies behind them. Indeed, studies conducted after the World Cups revealed that the numbers of trafficked women were pulled out of thin air and had no reflection in the reality. Similarly, the NGOs’ estimates on the numbers of trafficking victims in places like Britain seem to be made up. Even the figures presented by such bodies as the UN are questioned and called “dubious”.

So why do the large figures continue to be produced? First of all, NGO activists, law enforcement officials and politicians understand the best way to secure more power and resources is to present scary, huge numbers. Second of all, no constituency exists for keeping the numbers accurate. Finally, it is because big numbers sell well in the media.

One could argue, that since we will never be able to get any accurate numbers of human trafficking victims, we shouldn’t focus too much on the specific figures, but instead just try to tackle the problem. But I believe that when we ignore the ambiguity of statistics on human trafficking, we also choose to ignore the more and more apparent ambiguity of the very concept of human trafficking.  Let’s not forget that by uncritically accepting various figures, we also uncritically accept the very existence of the problem in the form described by their authors.

Food Security: Whither North Korea?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on February 24, 2011
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Reports of food crises in North Korea are not unheard of. Acute food shortages were reported in the isolated country in 200220072008, and  2010. This year, more of such reports have made headlines, including alarming claims of the country importing animal feed from China to feed its population, and that some North Koreans have been reduced to searching for wild grass to eat.

The current food shortage in North Korea is attributable to a number of factors. External contributors include the recent spike in global food prices and the suspension of aid support, including that of food, from major donors. The United States, which donated over 2 million tonnes of food to North Korea between 1995 and 2005, halted food aid in 2009 over concerns of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests and transparency of food distribution. Additionally, US authorities reported that North Korea had refused US food aid just prior to the suspension. South Korea also froze almost all aid to its northern counterpart following last year’s Cheonan sinking incident and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. This represents a reversal of the Sunshine Policy of Presidents Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun that decoupled food aid from security-related diplomatic matters. This re-coupling is a major (and somewhat controversial) development in inter-Korea relations.

The current food crisis in North Korea is also exacerbated by internal factors. Reports of inequitable distribution of available food aid remain. Foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks are killing thousands of draught oxen, cows and pigs  – animals which are essential to agricultural production and consumption. The country is enduring its coldest winter since 1945, with frigid temperatures increasing the demand for fuel while adversely affecting industrial activity and agricultural outputs. As a result, North Korean industries have slowed down, rice prices are rapidly vacillating, and the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have warned that up to 5 million North Koreans are at risk of famine.

In an unusual turn of events, North Korea has asked its 40 embassies abroad to appeal to foreign governments for aid. North Korea has also directly requested that the US resume its food aid, even pledging to allow international monitors to oversee its distribution to the public. Additionally, the North Korean government has allowed the WFP and FAO to send missions to North Korea to assess the food security situation.

The political undercurrent influencing food aid to North Korea continues to drive international responses to this crisis. Despite North Korea’s apparent readiness to negotiate, the US remains reluctant to reinstate food aid to North Korea unless better oversight and monitoring in distribution is guaranteed, especially in light of internal food aid distribution issues such as diversions of aid to the military. Meanwhile, other Western countries have insisted that any food aid to North Korea would need to be part of a concerted multilateral effort.

While it may be too much to hope that North Korea’s willingness to compromise on the food security issue signifies the dawning of a new era in its relations with the rest of the world, it will certainly be interesting to observe how internal food security concerns continue to influence how North Korea conducts itself on the international stage.

Will the Southern Sudanese Independence Referendum Provide A Lasting Solution to the Conflict?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 23, 2011
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ON 7 February 2011, the final result of the referendum to determine the status of southern Sudan was released: 98.83 per cent of the more than 3.8 million registered voters in southern Sudan chose to separate from the north. This referendum was the final culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which brought a formal end to Africa’s longest civil war and it heralds the birth of a new country: the Republic of South Sudan. The 25-year civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), which was described in various ways as one between northern and southern Sudan, Arabs and Africans, and Muslims and Christians resulted in the death of an estimated two million people. There are concerns that the referendum would plunge the country back into full blown civil war. Such fears however were unfounded. This is because there was recognition that the conflict between northern and southern Sudan had entered a stalemate and neither side would gain a decisive victory. Also, increasing pressure from the international community led both parties to return to the negotiating table. In any case any relapse into war would have exacted huge social and economic costs. A report by Frontier Economics estimated that a relapse into war could cost Sudan more than USD 100 billion over 10 years. A peaceful settlement to the longstanding conflict, even though ending a unified Sudan, was therefore the only viable alternative. The relatively peaceful manner with which southern Sudan secedes from the north is thus described as a “civil ending to a civil war”.

Source: The New York Times, 2011.

However, there is a possibility of the two countries relapsing back into conflict because there are still a number of delicate and potentially combustible issues that need to be resolved. One such issue concerns the permanent demarcation of the north-south border. Although 80 per cent of the border has already been resolved, 20 per cent of it is still being contested. The Abyei region has been identified as the reason why it remains so because “many of the ingredients of the wider north-south war—the oil, the proxy forces, the historic rivalries—are distilled in the Abyei region”. Like the rest of South Sudan, the Abyei region was also to hold a referendum in January 2011 but the process was held hostage by politicians from both North and South Sudan. It is imperative that South Sudan and North Sudan initiate dialogues early on to resolve all outstanding issues in order to prevent future escalation of conflicts between them.

Just Food?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on February 17, 2011
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The skyrocketing food prices of 2010 have again raised global concern on the issue of the global food insecurity. Similar to the 2008 food crisis, price volatility once again poses to have dangerous threats to state stability. In 2008, civil unrest took place in Asia and Africa mainly in some poor countries such as Bangladesh, Burkina Faso and Cameroon. Similarly, protests in Tunisia and Egypt have also been discussed to have been triggered by the 2010 food crisis.

Interestingly, anger that embeds in such riots was argued to be caused more by “a feeling of exploitation than a fear of starvation”. Such a feeling is understandable throughout society’s most vulnerable groups, as the poor often spend more than one-third of their income on food.  Thus, these groups suffer the most from price volatility, shocks that could threaten their survival.

Source: Nasser Nouri/Flickr

Critiques further underline the issue of injustice in the global food system, in which initiatives to control price volatility often leave the poor more impoverished than helped. Short-sighted policy responses aiming to maintain state stability, such as export bans, tend to create uncontrollable price hike in other countries which hurts the poor. As a result, food riots represent a way for the marginalised groups to seek equal access to food as one of their basic human needs.

It would then seem that social concerns such as equity are equally as important as more widely-cited challenges such as the changing climate and decreasing areas of productive land. To put it another way, equity which embraces the fairness of all components in the food system is strongly related to food security. Thus, to achieve human rights to well-being and access to food security, fair mechanisms and systems are essential.

The Thai-Cambodia Border Dispute and Implications for ASEAN

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 14, 2011
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As someone who is passionate about evolving practice in ASEAN and whether it might portend a greater role for the body in ensuring human security in the face of prominent intra-state challenges, the recent flare up of the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia is sobering. As well as violating the cardinal ASEAN principles of non-use of force and the peaceful resolution of disputes, the violence is believed to have left 3 Thais and 8 Cambodians dead and an estimated 30,000 displaced. Moreover, the recent eruption of tensions poses an important test case for ASEAN. For better or for worse, the trajectory that the conflict as well as resolution efforts take over the coming days and weeks will have potentially significant implications for the grouping. Amongst the most disconcerting are the possible effect the conflict may have on member states’ perceptions of ASEAN’s relevance and ultimately, the negative influence it might exert on the momentum towards a Southeast Asian political-security community.

The border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia has its origins in a settlement between the Kingdom of Siam and the French colonial government in Cambodia a century ago that saw the Preah Vihear temple awarded to Cambodia. In 1962, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reaffirmed Cambodia’s sovereignty over the temple, but failed to rule on adjoining territory. The listing of the temple as a UN World Heritage site in 2008, however, sparked a fresh series of disputes, with the February clashes the most recent and violent flare up. Although border disputes are not uncommon among ASEAN members, observers of the recent violence invariably implicate the role of domestic political manoeuvring on both sides.

In the wake of the clashes, and in spite of Thailand’s preference for solving the problem bilaterally, Cambodia has called on the UN Security Council to engage and for UN peacekeepers to establish a buffer zone along the border. The Thai and Cambodian Foreign Ministers, and Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, representing ASEAN, are subsequently expected to attend a UNSC briefing on Monday. It is expected that the UNSC meeting will pave the way for a much-needed regional (binding) mandate to resolve the dispute. Kavi Chongkittavorn has suggested that Natalegawa’s urgent convening of a meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers on February 22nd is seen to be in anticipation of this, and will allow ASEAN to decide on a course of action for dousing potential further conflict – and salvaging its reputation.

While Cambodia’s internationalisation of the issue may have undermined ASEAN’s centrality in regional peace and security, the other side of the coin is that Cambodia’s course of action reflected a lack of faith in ASEAN’s capacity. The ASEAN Charter already provides for good offices, conciliation and mediation to solve disputes (see Articles 22 and 23), and it is crucial that ASEAN utilise this mandate – either through continued efforts by the ASEAN Chairman or a neutral party. Ultimately, the biggest hurdle to the effectiveness of current mechanisms is the requisite will on the part of member states. Countries’ perceptions of ASEAN’s legitimacy as an effective peace-broker are likely to play a key role in determining this. In this vein, in order to reaffirm its centrality in and capacity for regional conflict management, rather than merely asserting its relevance through the rhetoric of a political-security community, there must be measurable progress on concrete initiatives already provided for in the Charter and political-security community blueprint. This could mean, for instance, enhancing the region’s capacity for peacekeeping.

A Practitioner’s Thoughts on Cancun

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on February 10, 2011
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In a recent public seminar, a climate change negotiator in Southeast Asia gave his thoughts on the UNFCCC meeting in Cancun in late 2010 (COP16). His comprehensive presentation addressed three questions: (1) Why did Cancun succeed? (2) What did Cancun achieve? and (3) What was not done in Cancun?

Why did Cancun succeed?

Compared to the UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 (COP15) which was deemed a failure, COP16 was relative success. While  may COP16 benefitted from the low-expectations on the UNFCC process after the failure in Copenhagen, three factors could be highlighted for COP16’s success. Firstly, Mexico demonstrated skilful chairmanship and leadership at COP16. Secondly, although criticised for being a piecemeal effort, the Copenhagen Accord was nevertheless a political understanding amongst major parties and hence a political framework that COP16 could build on. Finally, ensuring success of the meeting was in the interest of major powers, such as the US and China, as blocking climate negotiations would be detrimental to their image. As such, these major players made the effort to express their concerns without causing further delay in the negotiations.

What did Cancun achieve?

COP16 essentially restored some faith in the multilateral process which was lost due to COP15. There are four significant outcomes of COP16. First, a multi-lateral political decision was made that the to ensure that global temperature increase remains below 2 degrees. Second, the voluntary pledges for carbon emission reductions by countries would be formalised and compiled into a document, thereby creating a ‘soft norm’ for other countries to follow suit. Third, COP16 ensured the adoption of a framework for transparency and accountability for not only developed but also developing countries. This would involve a peer review process known as the International Consultation Analysis (similar to the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Policy Review and the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review). Fourth, a $100 billion Green Climate Fund would be established to provide developing states with the necessary financial assistance they need, particularly in terms of adaptation measures and technology transfer.

What’s next?

While the above mentioned outcomes are a step forward for addressing climate change, two important areas have not been addressed. Firstly, little was said about adopting a global legal binding treaty as embedded in the low expectations for Cancun was the assumption by many policymakers that a legal binding treaty would not be adopted. Second, there was little mention of renewing the Kyoto Protocol since countries such as Russia and Japan have indicated that they are not interested renewing their commitments in the Kyoto Protocol It is unclear whether these issues could be addressed in the next UNFCCC in Durban later this year. Nevertheless, the outcomes of COP16 are commendable in breaking political deadlocks and sustaining the momentum for further international cooperation on climate change.

Cancer in developing countries

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on February 9, 2011
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4 February was World Cancer Day, and to mark the occasion, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released a report titled ‘Global Cancer Facts and Figures’. The report noted that changing lifestyles linked to economic growth in developing countries are driving up the global incidence of several cancers. The WHO estimates that 84 million people will die of cancer between 2005 and 2015 without intervention, and there is an increasingly larger incidence of reported cancers in developing countries. Estimates vary: according to a recent article in the Lancet, in 1970, approximately 15% of newly reported cancers were in developing countries, increasing to 56% in 2008, and is estimated to rise to 70% by 2030; while Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO has stated that around 70% of cancer deaths occur in developing countries.

Despite the discrepancies amongst estimates, the general prediction is that the cancer incidence is on the rise in developing countries. However, such a trend may not be detrimental to the health of populations in developing regions. As noted in the ACS report, the shift in the global burden of cancer from economically developed countries to economically developing countries is ‘simply due to the growth and aging of the population, as well as reductions in childhood mortality and deaths from infectious diseases in developing countries’. Economic development is imperative to improving health as it is a foundation stone in countering curable infectious diseases such as cholera and malaria through the improvement of basic infrastructure, hygiene and sanitation. The predicted increase in cancer deaths may arguably reflect the epidemiological transition countries experience as they develop into advanced economies where ‘degenerative and man-made diseases displace pandemics of infection as the primary causes of morbidity and mortality’. Populations with increasing life expectancies and lower mortality from infectious diseases would necessarily mean that people would be dying from other ailments, and such a shift is reflected in the increasing incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases.

On the other hand, the ACS report also argued that economic growth could be detrimental to health and could worsen the burden of cancer due to the  ‘adoption of unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors related to economic development, such as smoking, poor diet, and physical inactivity’. Inasmuch as economic development may bring about such lifestyles, the key word here is ‘adoption’. It reflects an active choice in which people have the option of assuming such routines in their everyday lives. However, without economic development and the accompanying infrastructure, adequate sanitation and medical services, many people in developing regions have little say in the matter, subject to the vicissitudes of life and prone to contracting fatal yet easily curable infectious diseases.

Cancer is an increasingly important health priority, but the growing incidence in developing countries may not necessarily be negative. However, it is vital for governments, international organisations and NGOs to address the underlying factors of disparities in cancer survival rates between developing and developed countries, which reflect varied access to health services and differences in the strengths of health systems.

UN International World Day of Social Justice: Drawing Attention to the Causal Link between Development and Conflict

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 8, 2011
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The UN marks International World Day of Social Justice on 20th February.  The term social injustice – including poverty, exclusion and unemployment – has varying implications for populations, and in turn is inextricably linked to domestic security. This was highlighted by the UN Secretary – General (Sec-Gen) Ban Ki Moon, at the Munich Security Conference. He linked the ongoing crises in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East to the lack of “broad-based security” – encompassing human insecurity and injustice in terms of poverty, diminished or disappointed expectations or the lack of good governance – as breeding social instability. These statements draw attention to social inequality and the lack of development as causes of internal conflict and violence. However, most often it is internal conflict and violence as causes of prolonged internal social inequality and lack of development, that is emphasised. This is seen in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 – Conflict, Security and Development. Ban Ki Moon’s statements reinforced that the causal connection between social inequality and lack of development on intrastate political instability needs greater political traction.

This is especially relevant to Southeast Asian countries experiencing protracted intrastate conflicts such as in southern parts of Thailand and Philippines. Horizontal inequalities contribute to the durability of separatist conflict, as seen in Aceh, Indonesia. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy introduced in 1971to reduce horizontal inequalities in the face of social riots, although controversial as an affirmative policy, is often cited for its long-term success in maintaining peace between the economically weak but demographically dominant Malay and economically powerful but minority Chinese communities.

Academic research has made theoretical developments on the causal connections between social inequality, and intrastate conflict and violence. Cederman et al. find that socio-economically excluded groups are more likely to experience conflict, especially when they are able to organise themselves based on common experiences of violations of civil-political rights. Accordingly, the academic and policy-making communities have embarked on the development of early warning mechanisms to prevent conflict as seen in the SIPRI report. This is supported by the UN.

Theoretical progress must be matched with political will on the part of state leaders to address domestic social inequalities and lack of development towards ensuring intrastate conditions for peace and security. Indonesian President Yudhoyono recently commented to fellow head of states at the Davos Conference 2011 on the centrality of Non-Traditional Security issues such as poverty and hunger, in adversely affecting the social and political stability of intra-state structures. He highlighted the transnational effects of these NTS issues triggering global consequences. Hence, he stressed the need for individual states to adjust their mindsets on security issues and drew attention to the collective imperative to address global imbalances through financial inclusion, social safety nets and aid for trade. ASEAN has made progress in expanding its political-security frameworks in recognising NTS issues. However, it remains to be seen to what extent regional developments will influence and support state leaders in overcoming domestic societal imbalances. Addressing these issues will require a human development approach that is inclusive of all its peoples so as to sustain internal peace and security.

Friedman: The World Needs a Green Revolution

In a recent lecture in Singapore, Thomas Friedman spoke about climate change and the urgent need for breakthroughs in clean energy research, and drew parallels between two major non-traditional security issues in recent years – the economic crisis of 2008 and the ongoing ecological crisis. According to Friedman, New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, these two issues are two sides of the same coin, in which unsustainable economic growth patterns are a primary factor. Citing the example of his home country, he noted that America’s growth pattern has been both financially and ecologically unsustainable.

In highlighting the similarities between the economic and ecological crisis, both contexts – market and Mother Nature – have experienced similar accounting practices, primarily the way in which risks have been underpriced, gains privatised and losses socialised. Underpinning these practices has been a short-term mindset, which Friedman observes to have led to a breakdown of sustainable values into situational values. This, he notes, is dangerous because the only way to moderate the market and Mother Nature effectively is by adopting sustainable values.

Friedman also noted that world was becoming increasingly Hot, Flat and Crowded – Hot due to global warming; Flat due to the increasing mobility of people thanks to globalisation; and crowded to due to population increase. There were five pressing problems that have resulted in this situation – (1) increasing demand for energy and natural resources, (2) Petro-dictatorship, which highlights the inverse relationship between the price of oil and freedom, (3) energy poverty, (4) biodiversity loss, and (5) the adverse effects of climate change.

Friedman nevertheless noted that the solution to these five problems is the need to provide abundant cheap clean non-carbon emitting energy. He emphasised that the main drivers of change in this process would not be regulators and policymakers, but rather innovators and engineers. Friedman also noted that while such calls from clean technology and adopting a more green lifestyle have been increasingly reiterated, he cautioned the tendency of green washing, where stakeholders such as businesses and policymakers have only made incremental changes that suit their comfort levels and justified their actions with “green” as a pre-fix to their existing activities. Friedman likened these trends to having a Green Party rather than a Green Revolution. Friedman also noted that effective change will only occur in a Green Revolution, when the term Green disappears. Moreover, similar to revolutions, certain stakeholders of the status quo will have to lose out.

Friedman’s last point here would certainly be a bitter pill for many in policymaking circles, but is nevertheless necessary. The dosage of these pills would certainly be much more for developing countries in Asia, which face a host of developmental and governance issues in addition to  managing their economic growth and as well as the needs of their large populations. The Green Revolution that Friedman calls for would, therefore, perhaps be the most revolutionary in the developing world. Whether stakeholders in the developing world are ready for this remains to be seen.

Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship: Sustaining the Momentum on Human Rights?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on January 27, 2011
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With Indonesia assuming the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this month, the expectation is that Indonesia will try to gain some headway in advancing the regional human rights agenda. For many, Indonesia’s power vis-à-vis ASEAN lies in its soft power, in its legitimacy as a champion of rights and a defender of democracy. In contrast, the head of Amnesty International recently argued that persistent human rights concerns in Indonesia are likely to prevent the government from realizing its high aspirations of taking a lead on the global stage.

Alongside the democratisation process in Indonesia and the subsequent loosening of authoritarian control, Indonesia’s Pancasila ideology and its image as a bastion of pluralism have certainly come under threat in recent years. In late 2008, controversial Anti-Pornography legislation was passed to the lamentation of minority groups and liberal Muslims, who claimed that the law arbitrarily imposed Islamic values on the whole nation, curtailing civil liberties and denying minorities’ identities. Controversial legislation aside, there has been a perceptible increase in the number of assaults against religious minorities in recent months by Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), in particular Christian groups and the Ahmadiyah religious community, decried by some Muslims as a cult. As the International Crisis Group recently pointed out however, fundamentalism is not restricted to Islamist groups in Indonesia, and tensions are increasingly exacerbated by evangelical Christian groups perceived to be behind a “Christianization” of Indonesia.

Growing religious intolerance is not the only serious human rights – and leadership – challenge confronting Indonesia (see Human Rights Watch’s 2011 World Report). In addition to poor protection for migrant workers and refugees, challenges to freedom of expression, and rising social intolerance (e.g. vis-à-vis sexuality and gender identity), impunity of security forces is a critical concern (brought to the fore again recently when three soldiers prosecuted for torturing two Papuan men received sentences of only 8 to 10 months for abuse and “insubordination”).

If Indonesia’s strength as a leader is seen to lie in its soft power and as a champion of people-centered policies, is its increasingly murky (or perhaps, increasingly accountable) human rights record likely to influence its ability to affect change within ASEAN, particularly when it comes to promoting its regional rights agenda?

At this stage, despite the expectations of a number of commentators, Indonesia’s domestic rights concerns do not appear to be factoring in to its neighbours’ perceptions of legitimacy. As Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya recently stated, ‘…the international community should learn from Indonesia. The principle of Pancasila is still applicable today, applicable for everyone…Indonesia is a country that demonstrates tolerance in every sense of the word’. For now, and from here, it appears that Indonesia’s success – for good or for worse – in moving the rights agenda forward in ASEAN will hinge more on its ability to achieve small, concrete gains – more so than the issue of rights or (in)tolerance within its own borders. Key tests will be its ability to consolidate achievements vis-à-vis the newly-established ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and the adoption of an ASEAN human rights declaration in 2011 that at the very least, does not backtrack on successes already gained.

Managing Outbreaks: Is Culling The Only Solution?

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on January 25, 2011
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In the last few days, two East Asian countries – Japan and South Korea – have seen sudden, rapid outbreaks of bird flu (H5N1) and foot and mouth disease (FMD) respectively. The FMD outbreak was first reported in South Korea last week, with some reports claiming that this epidemic could cost South Korea USD1.4 billion in losses from exports, vaccinations, culling and compensation for farmers. Meanwhile, Japan was alerted to new cases of H5N1 in its southwest on 22 January after six chickens found dead at a farm in Miyazaki were tested and found to have died from the virus.

Although FMD and H5N1 are very different diseases, there is a significant common thread in both the Japanese and South Korean outbreaks: both countries have attempted to halt the disease outbreaks by culling a large percentage of their livestock population.

To combat the current H5N1 outbreak, Japan culled 410,000 chickens in Miyazaki in addition to 20,000 chickens in Shimane, where there was a minor H5N1 outbreak last November. This is not, by far, the first time Japan has practiced mass culling in the event of an outbreak: Japan culled about 288,000 pigs, cows and cattle in Miyazaki last year to contain the nation’s first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since 2000. Alongside, South Korea’s government has called for the mass culling of animals (pigs and cows because of FMD, chickens and ducks because of H5N1, as well as smaller numbers of other animals like goats) on a large scale. Reports estimate that over a million pigs have been slaughtered and the total number of all animals killed ranges in the millions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises that culling has been successful in East Asia’s high income economies, but culling is not the sole means to achieving the end of eliminating a pandemic threat. For example, in 1997, Hong Kong’s poultry culling schemes successfully led to an averted flu pandemic. In 2003, Japan and South Korea eradicated H5N1 through quarantine and poultry culling strategies, combined improved biosecurity measures for poultry facilities. After seeing the East Asian culling successes, the WHO was supportive of implementing poultry culling in Southeast Asia, “strongly recommending” its practice. Inspired by their neighbours and encouraged by the WHO, Southeast Asian countries began using poultry culling as a widespread H5N1 management and control technique. Unfortunately, it yielded different results. In Thailand, for example, culling resulted in only a temporary respite; after nearly a year of no H5N1 activity, new cases in humans were discovered in July 2006. What did work in Thailand, however, was a very different approach: effective risk communication particularly to rural communities, a comprehensive early detection system, passive and active surveillance, and strong partnerships with the US Centers for Disease Control in order to obtain laboratory technology and training, heightening reaction time in the event of an outbreak.

Ultimately, in examining the best way to respond to a pandemic outbreak, it remains essential to consider the specific circumstances of the country in which the outbreak occurred including its level of socioeconomic developments, and its geographical and climate peculiarities. The response to any pandemic outbreak should be tailored to the nature and pathology of the virus in question and not the contingency plan in place or the perceived appropriate political response.

Disasters’ Damage on Development

Recent media reports on the new wave of floods and landslides around the world have yet again highlighted the critical need for disaster preparedness and contingency plans to address the increasing intensity of weather related disasters. However, what has also played out more significantly in these incidents have been weather-related disasters’ direct adverse implications on sources of energy and economic development.

This was particularly evident in Australia where the flooding of Queensland’s coal mines are predicted to cause an increase in the price of steelmaking coal as high as $500 per tonne , thus affected more than 90 per cent of Australia’s exports. The economic costs of recovering from the floods are also proving to have indirect costs on other aspects of development, where the education and health sectors are expected to bear the flood’s clean up costs. Such costs would, however, only be the tip of the iceberg as other parts of the country are preparing for impending floods.

Given such effects on a developed country such as Australia, one cannot but imagine extensive damage that would occur in developing countries, which also face a range of  pre-existing concerns that include poverty, poor governance and the lack of capacity to address the increasing rate of intense weather related disasters. The recent floods in Sri Lanka for instance have highlighted adverse effects to food security and even possible complications in former conflict regions that have undetonated mines. While the Philippines continues to recover from the massive damage of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, government officials need to also deal with the effects of weather related disasters in other less developed regions of the country.

The future is not all bleak as several studies have already noted the potential costs and risks of various weather related disasters as well as the necessary solutions available to address these climate vulnerabilities. The Asian Development Bank, for instance, has highlighted Southeast Asia’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change and the various measures can be taken to mitigate these effects, while UNESCAP has examined ways of reducing vulnerability to disasters, building resilience and protecting hard-won development gains.

Despite such policy recommendations, it is still difficult for countries – whether developed or developing – to effectively address these concerns. Difficulties in coordination amongst various levels of governance and strained resources remain to be sore points and to some extent outweigh capacity building measures that only often bear fruit in the long term. It is therefore necessary for states to demonstrate their commitment to working with local and regional communities in formulating long term solutions beyond the realm of disasters. States must ensure that communities play a proactive role  not only in mitigating and preparing for the disasters, but also are at the helm of local development initiatives that would be able to sustain themselves, rather than depend on national/federal inputs.

The Hidden Costs and Risks of Nuclear Energy

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on January 13, 2011
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Increasing demands of energy have led many countries, particularly those in the rapidly developing Asia-Pacific to consider nuclear energy as the power supply of choice. This has raised a series of concerns – from issues of socio-economic feasibility and sustainability to geo-political risks of nuclear energy in the absence of effective global rules on sensitive nuclear technologies. Essentially, these boil down to the issue of hidden costs and risks, which have not been factored in by countries – whether with established or preliminary nuclear capabilities. These costs are as follows:-

Firstly, despite technological advancements that have made nuclear reactors significantly safer, the costs of risk management strategies are high. Investment capital costs constitute a full 60 per cent of the total cost of nuclear-generated electricity, compared to 25 per cent for operation and maintenance; and about 15 per cent for the fuel cycle. Natural uranium costs make up merely 5 per cent in this overall equation. These risks must be limited in order to facilitate an investment climate conducive for nuclear industries.

Secondly, there are tendencies to underestimate the various costs associated with nuclear energy. This is due to several factors:- (1) Limited availability of data that mostly originates from the UK and the US; (2) Nuclear planners’ discretion, whereby there is the tendency for them to accept nuclear plant manufacturers’ cost estimates and their inclination towards the choice of unrealistically low discount rates; or use accounting methods that actually shrink capital costs while overestimating the operating capacity of nuclear power plants (NPPs); and (3) Actual costs for NPPs decommissioning are fifteen times what has been regularly publicised.

Thirdly, and particularly in terms of addressing the likelihood of nuclear proliferation, is the issue of managing nuclear waste or spent fuel, which has dual use – (1) it can be used to provide additional fuel for nuclear plants; (2) it can be exploited to generate fissile material for nuclear weapons. While there have been technological advancements in processing spent fuel, the storage of spent fuel has yet to be resolved. Storage requires a location that ‘geologically stable… and be politically acceptable to the governing state (and to its neighbours) in terms of proximity to populations centres and to the movement of spent fuel itself.’ This is critical in countries that do not have the capacity to invest in reprocessing technologies or are initiating a nuclear program from scratch.

Finally, large investments into nuclear technology, which result in a small output in total energy demand may not make economic sense. Nuclear energy would possibly be an attractive option for large consumers like the US and China, even if it is a small percentage of mix. However, a relatively small consumer would need to weigh the investments and economic viability carefully before jumping onto the bandwagon.

Efficient management of nuclear energy thus would need to factor in these hidden costs. However, such high costs coupled with Southeast Asia’s geo-physical conditions, poor culture of safety and relative inexperience with nuclear energy management, countries in the region would be better off channelling their resources to harnessing renewable sources of energy.

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