The Politics of Flooding in Bangkok

  • December 1, 2016
  • Munk School of Global Affairs
With the disastrous Bangkok flood of 2011 as backdrop for his case study, Dr. Danny Marks, UCRSEA Postdoctoral Fellow, set out to challenge the dominant approach to examining flooding as the natural and inevitable consequence of climate change rather than a more serious governance issue. In an UCRSEA Partnership Project-hosted seminar held on December 1, Dr. Marks demonstrated how floods are also the result of political and social decisions, which exacerbate, instead of mitigating, the problem and thus, increase the vulnerability of affected communities. The 2011 flooding was the worst the country experienced in terms of deaths and economic losses. Compared to previous years and as data showed, the magnitude of flooding was not as great as it was in 2011. These would suggest that this calamity was not just a result of nature and climate change, but a combination of both natural and social processes. The latter arose largely due to poor disaster governance in the urban transition of Thailand’s Central Plains. They included mismanagement and the failure of infrastructure, uncoordinated land use change, land subsidence, and the filling in of canals. However, it has been the Thai Government’s practice to implement structural measures to control and manage water and protect communities from it. Danny argued that an urban political ecology (UPE) approach, which rejects the separation of the urban and the environment, is a more appropriate way of analyzing and finding solutions to the problem. This approach views cities as hybrids and historical products of human-nature interaction.  It rejects the separation of nature and city, i.e., that humans have transformed nature in cities. By viewing cities as landscapes of power, UPE raises the question of how power determines who gain access to resources in the city, such as why some urban communities are located where they are. For his study, Danny employed a two-tier approach: (1) community-based methodology, in which 100 interviews in four communities (Bangkok Metropolis, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi and Samut Sakhon) were conducted focusing on how socioeconomic processes affected vulnerability to the 2011 floods; and (2) actor- and discourse-based methodology, in which 100 key informants were interviewed on how processes were shaped by the practices of discourses by actors at multiple spatial and temporal scales. He also examined and analyzed historical data dating back since the last century, the urbanization and seemingly unequal development of Bangkok and surrounding areas, the Thai Government’s land use and flood management schemes, and socio-economic indicators. Among his conclusions were: (1) socio-environmental causes led to the 2011 flooding; (2) the most powerful groups in Thailand profited from changes to the urban environment; (3) state practices before 2011 contributed to the floods; (4) the high degree of political and economic inequality contributed to unequal production of vulnerability and hence, injustice; and (5) research on and solutions to flooding must, therefore, be social and political, including addressing power structures. For more on Danny’s study, go to https://ugecviewpoints.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/the-2011-thai-floods-an-urban-political-ecology-analysis/
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Complex Urban Systems Writeshop

  • November 28, 2016 - November 30, 2016
  • Bangkok, Thailand

Representatives of UCRSEA partner organizations met in Bangkok on 28-30 November 2016 for the Partnership’s second Writeshop, which is focused on increasing the understanding of complex urban systems frameworks, supporting partner organization representatives in documenting their research findings, support the process of producing written outputs, and sharing lessons learned during the course of the attendees’ UCRSEA research projects.

The Writeshop was hosted by the Thailand Environment Institute.

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Theory of Change Training Workshops

  • November 1, 2016
  • Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia

The Partnership organized and held training workshops in Hanoi, Vietnam (17-18 November), Khon Kaen, Thailand (21-22 November) and Phnom Penh, Cambodia (24-25 November) to develop an overarching Theory of Change Framework for the Partnership and to strategize ways for team members to apply that framework to their own projects. The workshops also aimed to strengthen capacity and technical skills of team members in project planning, and in monitoring and evaluating their work.

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Case Studies on Building Urban Climate Resilience in SEA

  • November 1, 2016
  • Munk School of Global Affairs

UCRSEA held a seminar on November 1 focusing on findings on recent fieldwork conducted by four graduate students in Cambodia and Thailand. UCRSEA held a seminar on November 1 focusing on findings on recent fieldwork conducted by four graduate students in Cambodia and Thailand.

Angelica de Jesus, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, spoke on the “Dual challenges of migration climate change: Experiences of Myanmar labour migrants in Phuket, Thailand.” Using the framework of structural violence, she discussed how Myanmar labour migrants have been discriminated against by state actors in Phuket and gave examples of discrimination in the healthcare and water sectors. This discrimination, she argued, compounds their vulnerability to the effects of climate change in Thailand. She also highlighted how social constructs, such as gender, residency status, place, and family, shape labour migrants’ lives in Phuket.

Furqan Asif, a PhD student at the University of Ottawa, presented “Leaving the coast: the interplay of wellbeing and resilience for coastal fishing communities in Cambodia”. He discussed how environmental degradation, overexploitation of fish stocks, and the effects of climate change are negatively affecting the abundance and diversity of coastal fisheries, thereby hurting livelihoods and exacerbating poverty in coastal communities in Cambodia. He also discussed how his research seeks to use the social well-being approach to help better understand the resilience of these communities.  He also described how migration affects the social well-being of fishermen in his case study communities.

In his presentation, “Deconstructing Perceptions of Vulnerability and Risk in Khon Kaen’s Informal Spaces”, Nathan Stewart, an MA student at the University of Toronto, focused on how climate change vulnerability in informal spaces is perceived and planned for by informal community residents, NGO workers, and government officials in Khon Kaen, Thailand, a secondary city in Northeast Thailand. It is a city with a high informal population which could be negatively affected by the effects of climate change. He contended that a disconnect exists between the understanding of these risks by informal communities and the understanding by government officials and NGOs.  He then concluded that these perceptions of vulnerability can influence the development and performance of urban planning policies across multiple scales.

The “Role of Public Participation in Sustainable Development: Building Light Rail Transit in Khon Kaen” was presented by Anshul Bhatnagar, also an MA student at the University of Toronto. He discussed the transportation problems in this city and the different ways stakeholders’ were addressing them. The majority of 55 interviewees felt that a light-rail system is the best response for the city and are confident that this project will bring new opportunities, create jobs and benefit the environment.

Some themes that emerged in the presentations and the question-and-answer sessions were the myth of community solidarity, the linkages between governance structures and vulnerability to the effects of climate change, and the importance of empowering marginalized communities.

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Inaugural Dawei Collaborative City Exchange Trip

  • October 25, 2016 - October 28, 2016
  • Dawei, Myanmar
The inaugural Dawei Collaborative City Exchange Trip took place on 25-28 October 2016 with 15 UCRSEA team members learning about the impacts of Dawei Special Economic Zone development from local stakeholders. Photographs are available here. Read UCRSEA staff blogposts of the trip here.
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Warm welcome from Mahasarahkham University

  • May 1, 2016
  • Thailand

In May, project partner Mahasarahkham University invited members of UCRSEA team to spend the day at the University to discuss urban climate change issues, the project and the partnership.  Mahasarakham University has recently become a partner in the project, thanks to the hard work of Ajan Yanyong Inmuong, Dean of Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies.

The First National Academic Seminar on Urbanization and Climate Change Resilience in Southeast Asia featured excellent updates on local climate issues as well as a warm welcome to the team by the President of Mahasarakham. The work to be done in the region is quite exciting, said Co-Director Amrita Daniere, and we look forward to working with faculty, local activists and government officials on water and heat-related issues over the next four years.

UCRSEA team members in attendance included Co-Directors Pakamas Thinphanga and Amrita Daniere, Richard Friend (Institute of Social and Environmental Transition-Regional Office), Pimolwan Singhawong (ISET-Regional Office), Krongjit Kitikard (Thailand Environment Institute), Anusara Phosri (Thailand Environment Institute), Kwanruen Yodkham (Thailand Environment Institute), and Ishtiaq Afridi (intern, University of Toronto).

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Engaging Cities in Climate Resilience

  • April 28, 2016
  • Hanoi, Vietnam

The very first UCRSEA Writeshop was held on 28 April 2016 at Vietnam National University, Hanoi, Vietnam. This Proposal “Writeshop” focused on building the capacity of graduate students in Southeast Asia to better design research proposals and research projects. Learn more about the event here.

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2016 UCRSEA Annual Workshop: Addressing the hallenges of climate vulnerability in urban areas

  • April 24, 2016 - April 27, 2016
  • Hanoi, Vietnam

Opening the Second Annual Meeting and Workshop of Urban Climate Resilience in Southeast Asia Partnership Programme in Hanoi, H.E. David Devine, Canadian Ambassador to Vietnam, highlighted the importance of building resilient urban futures for the countries in the Mekong region. With extensive droughts and record high temperatures across Southeast Asia, the threats of climate change are increasingly apparent. In one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions in the world, Mekong cities face changing risks and vulnerabilities; there is an urgent need to reshape critical urban systems and infrastructure for safe service deliveries.

Over 60 academics, civil society representatives, government officials and post-graduate students from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Canada came together at the event, co-hosted by the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES) at Vietnam National University, to discuss the implications of regionalization, urbanization and climate change and to address the challenges of climate vulnerability.

The UCRSEA project aims to develop innovative research partnerships and contribute to influencing policy change by generating scientific evidence and providing space for informed public dialogue.

UCRSEA’s distinguished International Advisory Board highlighted the importance of the project’s research at the three-day event. Bhichit Rattakul, formal governor of Bangkok, Thailand and Director of Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), highlighted the importance of engaging with the eight selected project cities to translate research on resilience into practical solutions that can be taken up by other cities in the region. Professor Nay Htun (Stony Brook University) warned of the urgency of addressing climate futures, and the risks of a world that is four degrees warmer than pre-industrial times. Dr Bach Than Sinh from the National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies (NISTPASS) in Vietnam reminded those in attendance of the need to ensure that urban futures are ecological viable and socially just.

A key element of the UCRSEA partnership is support for the training of early career academics and post-graduate students. As part of the annual meeting and workshop, UCRSEA hosted a writeshop at Vietnam National University on April 28th to build up the research proposal writing and design capacity of Vietnamese graduate students.

The annual meeting and workshop, held on 24-27 April 2016, included a field trip to Ninh Binh, one of the project’s eight focus cities. Photos from the annual meeting and workshop are available here.

Funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, UCRSEA is a partnership between the University of Toronto and the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) with a network of key universities, non-governmental organizations and government bodies in the Mekong region and Canada.

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Enclaves of Capital in Myanmar: Urbanization and the Dawei Special Economic Zone

  • March 25, 2016
  • University of Toronto
On 15 March, Carli Melo, Master’s Candidate in Planning at the University of Toronto, presented her research conducted as part of her summer 2015 internship with the UCRSEA project. She was based at and worked with Mercy Corps in Myanmar. Learn more about Carli’s experience here.
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Who governs the “in-between”? Climate change, beneficial flooding, and the everyday resourcefulness of local resource management in peri-urban Myanmar

  • March 22, 2016
  • Munk School of Global Affairs,

Climate change is having an impact on the severity and timing of river level fluctuations across Asia (Tanner et al 2009, Xu et al 2009, Palmer et al 2008, Dudgeon 2000). Flooding and flood-related disasters in mainland Southeast Asia make news around the world and are generating increasingly severe economic and political disruptions as they impact an urbanizing region. In Myanmar—a so called “water hotspot”—flooding is considered a crisis for state water management and governance, particularly in urban contexts. Moreover, in work on water and resilience, alongside an emphasis on ‘crisis’, we have seen water continually linked to scarcity and ‘disaster’ (Tanner et. al 2015, Mukheibir 2010). What these debates could better elucidate are the ways that everyday people work to address hydro-social practices in a changing climate, and the implications of this work for water management and social outcomes (Driscoll Derickson and MacKinnon 2015, MacKinnon Derickson 2013, ISET-I 2015).

One way that we can better understand the impacts of climate change on water and river fluctuations and take an approach that highlights the work of everyday people is to examine the impacts or changes to beneficial flooding and to its associated agro-ecological practices in mainland Southeast Asia, where the monsoon climate and regular flooding have been adapted by residents into local cultivation practices. In the places where flood-linked agriculture is practiced, the challenges and transformations posed by climate changes interact with both the current processes of urbanization and with historical and traditional technologies that have been developed to ‘harness’ river fluctuations. Riverbank gardening is one such hydro-social practice in Southeast Asia that produces food for/from both rural and urbanizing environments, and requires cultivators to understand and work around a river’s fluctuating water levels, the rise and fall of which shapes local ecologies, climate and the growing season.

This paper/presentation by Vanessa Lamb, UCRSEA Postdoctoral Fellow, investigated the practices of riverbank gardeners in urbanizing monsoon landscapes as one way to understand changes to beneficial flooding as related to both climate change and the multifaceted processes and impacts of urbanization. She drew on a framework that emphasizes the historical emergence of such practices, their contemporary challenges, and the role of everyday people in their management. Drawing three examples together, she argued that examination of these gardeners’ practices and strategies of ‘resourcefulness’ reveal the work of individuals and institutions governing overlooked in-between spaces—which might otherwise be described as ‘un-governed’ or ‘ungovernable’—in everyday practice. She argued that these spaces are being adaptively managed and governed by local residents, in connection with municipal (and other) authorities.

Vanessa is also an affiliated researcher with the York Centre for Asian Research, York University (Toronto, Canada). She worked and conducted research in Southeast Asia on natural resource access for the past 10 years. She completed her dissertation, Ecologies of Rule and Resistance, focused on the politics of ecological knowledge and development of the Salween River at York University’s Department of Geography. She was recently awarded an ASEAN-Canada Junior Fellowship for continued Research on water politics and transboundary environmental governance in Southeast Asia. She is also the lead PI for a new CGIAR WLE Greater Mekong project on water governance titled: Matching policies, institutions and practices of water governance in the Salween-Thanlwin-Nu River Basin: Towards inclusive, informed, and accountable water governance.

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