Project News

UCRSEA Partnership Update (September to December 2016)

The latest Partnership Update is now available here.


Dawei Collaborative City Exchange Trip, October 25-28, 2016: Observations and Perspectives – Blog posts from UCRSEA Staff

Blog articles by Jonathan de Luca, UCRSEA Intern and Jasmine An, UCRSEA Communications and Research Associate, are available here.


UCRSEA Working Paper Series: The Politics of Flooding in Bangkok

Dr. Danny Marks makes the case for the 2011 Bangkok flooding problem.
Dr. Danny Marks makes the case for the 2011 Bangkok flooding problem.

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/


UCRSEA presents Case Studies on Building Urban Climate Change Resilience in Southeast Asia

Furqan Asif, Anshul Bhatnagar, Nathan Stewart and Angelica de Jesus pose for a picture after their presentations.
Furqan Asif, Anshul Bhatnagar, Nathan Stewart and Angelica de Jesus pose for a picture after their presentations.

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.


UCRSEA Working Paper Series

UCRSEA Postdoctoral fellow, Danny Marks’ paper “The Political Ecology of Urban Climate Justice in Thailand” is now available as part of the UCRSEA Working Papers series. This paper addresses a gap in the literature on urban climate justice by examining inequity at the “urban scale” and adds to growing discussions and acknowledgment about the need for climate justice at the city scale. The study examines instances of climate injustice in Bangkok, Thailand, a city not only highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but also with one of the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world. Ultimately, the main argument presented is that the city’s governance of climate change has unjustly benefited the upper echelon of society, while low-income communities have been adversely affected. Click here to read the paper.


The climate resilience of SEZ employees in Koh Kong, Cambodia
Jason Horlings (Master’s Candidate, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa) spent Fall 2016 in Koh Kong, Cambodia, exploring the  climate resilience of employees at the Special Economic Zone in Koh Kong. He shares his experience through photographs taken during his research trip. Access the album here.


UCRSEA Partnership Update
Please find attached our latest Partnership Update (May to August 2016). ucrsea-partnership-update-may-to-august-2016


U of T Sustainability Student Visits Vietnam to discuss communities in need – Mayur Mukati, UCRSEA intern
“At a Symposium lecture “Our World is in Need” by David Begbie, the topic of how the feeling of powerlessness instills inaction was discussed. Begbie argued that even wealthy and powerful people feel that – Jasmine An they are “not big enough” to bring about change. From the C-level executive to the middle manager to the renowned scientist, they all share a nagging insecurity. But with self-awareness and confidence to persevere anyone can be a leader who drives change.”

Read the full story here. http://tsss.ca/2016/08/u-of-t-sustainability-student-visits-vietnam-to-discuss-communities-in-need/


U of T students tackle climate change in Southeast Asia
“Cities are both the cause of and the solution to environmental change,” says Nathan Stewart, a University of Toronto urban planning graduate student. Since April, he has been conducting research in Thailand on the effects of climate change on the population of a city called Khon Kaen, located in one of the poorest regions of the country. Stewart is part of a team of researchers participating in the Urban Climate Resilience in Southeast Asia (UCRSEA) Partnership, a collaboration between academics in Canada and four Asian countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.    U of T graduate student Mayur Mukati has been watching the country change from within. He spent the summer working with the UCRSEA team in Yangon, Myanmar. Mukati was observing the urban development of the country, taking note of the barriers getting in the way of healthy growth.

To read full story, please click on link : https://www.utoronto.ca/news/u-t-students-tackle-climate-change-southeast-asia


Reflections halfway through my internship
Anshul Bhatnagar, University of Toronto
July 2016
The most common question my friends and family back in Canada and India ask is “how is Thailand ?” and most of the time my general reply is “good.” If I am replying to someone who I feel close to, though, then I usually explain about UCRSEA, Mahasarkham city, about the food market Talat-Noi, and I don’t stop talking for next 20 minutes.

Before going ahead with my experience in Thailand and with UCRSEA, I would like to share something about myself. I am a graduate student at the University of Toronto, and I am pursuing my Masters of Science in Sustainability Management. My internship for this programme is the reason behind my visit to Thailand. I was selected as a programme research intern to work with Mahasarakham University (MSU). MSU is a UCRSEA partner organization and provides support through academic research and through opportunities for expanding the UCRSEA network and vision.

The purpose of my internship is to provide assistance to MSU and its activities primarily through research and writing activities. Specifically, I support research on the tram development project and provide analysis on how it contributes to an improved and more sustainable transportation system in Khon Kaen City. My overall duties include, but are not limited to: Write-up of document review and to collect background information about the city’s proposed tram transportation project, focusing on (a) current transportation system in Khon Kaen and project rationale, (b) project development, current status and future steps (including needs and gaps), and (c) usage of sustainability criteria/ concepts/ frameworks/ understanding found in planning documents; identifying and analyzing the role of key stakeholders of the proposed tram transportation project; and analyzing the expected function of the tram and its supporting/ limiting factors by interviewing key stakeholders of the project planning team. I will present my findings at the end of my internship. Apart from these responsibilities, I am also working on developing sustainability guidelines for a smarter transport system specifically for Khon Kaen city.

My experiences are very different and have varied on a different aspect of personal and professional variables, similar to the variance in temperature between Canada and Thailand.

On my first day, I was well received and was provided logistical help. I even got a bicycle on my first day, which marked the end of my journey, which started three days earlier in UBER taxi in Canada. It’s been a month and a half since I have arrived in Thailand and I have experienced so many things. Someone rightly said “Travel is your best teacher.”

On my second day, I was given the opportunity to attend a writeshop conducted by MSU and Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) which was focused on reiterating the UCRSEA’s vision and roadmap. The same day I met Dr. Yanyong Inmuong, Dean of the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies. He shared his valuable insights on ‘Sustainability’ and how it is perceived in Southeast Asia. He made me feel comfortable and ask me to take one to two weeks to get acclimatized and to understand things. It was a meeting that made me feel safe and accepted. The next milestone entry was attending the Public Consultation Meeting over LRT and BRT arranged by the Khon Kaen Think Tank. I along with Ms. Astrud Lea Beringer and Joel (dear friend and our translator) participated in this meeting; it was my first time to attend a public consultation meeting and to understand the viewpoint of the two most important stakeholders – Planners and the Users. This session also gave me an opportunity to network and meet some administrators who are involved in the smart transport project since the beginning.

After few days I was also given an opportunity to attend a Shared Learning Dialogue conference at Khon Kaen, this was also the first time I attended such a meeting to understand how planning and research work is doen at the ground level. Meeting intellectuals and the opportunity to network was not over here. Soon, I was informed that the President of MSU would like to meet us. It was a small meeting of 15 minutes where I along with other interns and the staff of Faculty of Environment and greeted the President. I also presented him with a Token of appreciation from Canada and UCRSEA.

In my first thirty days, a lot of opportunities were offered, and a free hand was given by my supervisor Astrud and Dr. Kontaros Kaomuangnoi. Dr. Kaomuangnoi is my technical supervisor who provides technical guidance and feedback on my ideas and interests. She takes a constant interest in the work I am doing.

After my first 30 days, I was invited by Pakamas Thinphanga, the programme’s Co-Director, to visit Bangkok for a week and to work on a documentary project for UCRSEA. I also worked with the TEI team to monitor the programme’s web traffic and to make it more user-friendly. This visit also gave me an opportunity to sit along with academics from a different set of areas and to brainstorm on how to make Thailand more sustainable. I am keeping my fingers crossed, as

I was also asked to be a part of a forum of Rockefeller Foundation (upcoming sometime in August) to discuss sustainability from my point of view. Until now MSU and UCRSEA have given me many opportunities to excel on professional and personal fronts.