Externalities in Indochina: Mekong River Dams

The Mekong River. The backbone, the structural and economic lifeline of Indochina. This mystic river snakes through six countries, providing economic livelihoods to over 73 million people, sustaining local and national economies. As pictured by the map, the source of the river trickles from the Tibet Plateau, winding through mountains and hills to form farming rich regions before emptying into the Mekong Delta. However, the Mekong is a prime example of one of the greatest hurdles facing large scale environmental sustainability. Before the problem can be elaborated on further, the concept of externalities, the greatest issue facing the region, must be explained.

An externality, at a basic level, is any action done by a party or entity that has consequences on another party that held no direct relation to the action. A simplified example of an externality is when a person smokes in a crowded room. The action is smoking, and the party suffering the consequences are the individuals in the room. Situations like these play out all around the world, but they have a particular focus in environmental sustainability, as the actions of one group or nation often have lasting implications on that of other political bodies.

Before discussing the exact problems nations of the Mekong are plaguing each other with, it is important to note that the region has a long history of overarching regulation. Following two successive intergovernmental organizations, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) “was founded in 1995 to coordinate water resources planning and development across Southeast Asia’s lower Mekong River Basin,” (Jacobs 354). While organizations like the MCR and its predecessors are viewed as saviors of the Mekong, it is crucial to pinpoint that these administrations have been backed, sponsored, and funded by various development actors such as the United States, International Monetary Fund, and other regional stakeholders. More importantly, the goals of these organizations fluctuate widely, often enforcing the will of the institution providing financial support, typically placing economics over environmental security and local livelihoods. In the end, the MRC is nearly powerless in comparison to governmental administrations like Thailand or China, restricting the effective positive work it can do in the region.

As a whole, the biggest externality issue facing the region is the construction of dams upstream in order to create hydrological power. China in particular, has planned “at least 17 dams on the Lancang’s mainstream, though the most controversial project is the seven-dam Lancang cascade,” (Yeophantang). A general consensus exists that construction of dams upstream have permanent and lasting consequences on the nations composing the Lower Mekong Basin, including reduction of arable land and ecosystem failures. As if the ecological and local effect to livelihoods is not enough, the construction of dams also places power in the hands of players like China, who are capable of directing how much or little water nations and citizens receive, creating a political hegemony.

Not only are externality issues arising between powerhouses like China and the other Mekong nations, but also between nations in the lower basin themselves. In fact, Thailand has begun pumping Mekong River water into its own waterways, “[diverting] small volumes [of water, with] Vietnam [saying] it had recorded the lowest levels of the Mekong River since 1926,” (Cochrane). The power grab to seize control of the Mekong is one that holds not only hydrological power, but a ploy to maintain dominance over other nations. Conversely, due to a recent drought spell in the basin, China decided to release water from its dams, flooding the region, effectively demonstrating how these dams place too much ecological and political power in the hands of nations like China. Moreover, as one individual states discrediting what many describe as “goodwill” from the Chinese, storing water is already against the “natural flow” of the river, citing this as only creating more problems to come (Bopha).

Photo of Jinghong dam from above, alluding to the amount of water China released downstream.

While the problem highlighted does deal specifically with the ecological damage of dams and water diversion, the main concept I am displaying is a worldwide environmental issue of externalities. This concept is a common thread throughout development and one that is not often discussed, purely because few consider it. Too often, policies are focused on the “big picture,” whether that is economic prosperity, a development goal set by an institution, or just large scale infrastructure projects, as in the case of China with its dams. These actors are often “paying little attention to social considerations including local communities’ perspectives and concerns,” (Duong). Although, development is meant for growth of these local communities and livelihoods, often policies implemented by governments and institutions end up supplying economic growth as planned, but the growth does not extend to those that need it or often these local communities are harmed in addition to regional environmental degradation. An interesting question to pose, and one that warrants debate, is how can economic growth continue in areas like Indochina, while promoting sustainable development to local ecological systems and people? Is this feasible, or will externalities always be present and one group deemed to suffer while the other thrives in what developers term the development paradox?


Bopha, Phorn. “Cambodian Thanks, Caution, as China Opens Mekong Dam.” Voice of America. Voice of America, 18 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Cochrane, Liam. “Mekong River Diverted into Thailand’s Waterways, Worrying Drought-stricken Neighbours like Vietnam.” ABC News. ABC News, 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Duong, Hoang. “Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Study Misses Key Impacts from Upstream Dams.” Thanh Nien Daily. Thanh Nien News, 19 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Jacobs, Jeffrey W. “The Mekong River Commission: Transboundary Water Resources Planning and Regional Security.” The Geographical Journal Geographical 168.4 (2002): 354-64. JSTOR. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

“Mekong River Basin.” Great Rivers Partnership. The Nature Conservancy. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Yeophantong, Pichamon. “China in the Mekong: Building Dams for Whose Benefit?” Global Economic Governance Programme. University of Oxford, 1 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Indigenous Land Entitlement as Sustainable Development

Colca Canyon agricultural terraces

While I lived on an organic farm in Peru, every day I saw contrasting images of sustainability and development at play. The farmers I worked for farmed in traditional Quechua fashion, which is similar to permaculture farming. They attempted to re-use everything; bamboo that was overtaking other plants was cut down and then used as poles to tie weaker plants to, stones were used to beautifully line pathways and any extra food was given to the chickens. However, an hour away from this fertile, sustainably focused valley lay such bad traffic that we never left the farm except for at five a.m. Cars spewing fumes furiously vied over limited space darting and swooping with little regard for the pollution caused. Tragically, I believe that the bustle of cities is seen as better developed than the quiet farm where we lived, practicing centuries old traditions of earth stewardship.

Now that I have provided some basic information on sustainable development, the Peruvian economy and an example of a current, successful grass-roots development project in my previous post, I would like to take this post to examine land rights for indigenous peoples in Peru and how this relates to sustainability and development.

In 2011 the Peruvian government approved a bill that gave indigenous people the “right to prior consultation on legislation or infrastructure projects that would affect them or their territories” as detailed in The Guardian. However, the government’s goals with this bill are questionable because their main aim was to increase foreign investment by decreasing the likelihood of social conflict over extractive practices. Furthermore, despite the increased protection, the Peruvian government still has the final say if conflicts arise. Despite these glaring setbacks, this was a landmark bill that “mark[ed] an important moment for Latin America,” according to Carla García Zendejas (as quoted in The Guardian).

A report later produced by Peru’s national indigenous group Aidesep berated Peru for “failing to protect the rights of indigenous people in its Amazon rainforest, [and] putting at risk the individuals and the carbon stored in their lands,” according to the Peruvian Times. Aidesep argues that the real cause of deforestation is “explicit colonization programs on the part of the government,” as quoted in the Peruvian Times. Community leaders have asked for land titling and protection but to no avail, which demonstrates how hollow the 2011 bill giving rights to prior consultation was. The report goes on the request legal and financial support from the government for indigenous groups to chart their own development trajectories and asks for structures to “ensure economic interests do not trump all other considerations” (as quoted in the Peruvian Times).

The Center of Development for the Amazon’s Indigenous People (CEDIA) is one example of land titling as sustainable development and has reportedly managed to protect extensive tracts of the Amazon rainforest due to their strong relationship with the Peruvian government according to the Blue Moon Fund Group which works to financially support mitigating climate change. One of CEDIA’s current projects listed on their website is Community Forest Management for Biodiversity Conservation through the Titling Territories and Institutional Strengthening Community in three watersheds of the Southern Peruvian Amazon. This project seeks to increase conservation areas and to build capacity for communal management of territories. As CEDIA explains in a report of this project, “many communities in the basin of the Apurimac, Urubamba and Alto Madre de Dios rivers still lack recognition of their ancestral territories and consequently were not entitled. In other cases their communal territories are not entitled to use their ancestral areas and require expansion. Many of these territories over which they have no title, have been invaded and are currently under coca cultivation and illegal logging.”

I believe that the movement to entitle native land could have a significant impact on sustainability efforts. As I explained in my last post, the Quechua culture is very much tied to the land. As I read in the article “Fragile Lands, Fragile Organizations: Indian Organizations and the Politics of Sustainable Development in Ecuador,” traditional practices are often sustainable “by virtue of their biological diversity and structural congruity with the natural environment.” Although this article is written about Ecuador, the countries border each other and both contain the fragile lands of lowland Amazonia and the Andes, and both are home to the Quechua people. The authors of this piece see traditional practice combined with modern technology as the most ecologically and economically viable strategy for environmental stewardship and note the importance of local organizations in mobilizing these strategies.

Because of the importance of traditional strategies for sustainable development, land entitlement and rights take on a new meaning in terms of development and sustainability. Land rights are of the utmost importance in restoration and in working to debunk the myth that development needs to come with bustling, polluted cities, mass consumption and distance from indigenous land stewardship practices. As we saw with the example of CEDIA’s work, community managed sustainability projects can reach a long way.



Works Cited:

Bebbington, Anthony J. et al.. “Fragile Lands, Fragile Organizations: Indian Organizations and the Politics of Sustainability in Ecuador”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 18.2 (1993): 179–196. Web.

Cabitza, Mattia. “Peru Leads the Way for Latin America’s Indigenous Communities | Mattia Cabitza.” The Guardian. 12 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/sep/12/peru-land-rights-indigenous-communities>.

“Community Land Management–Current.” Cedia: Centro Para El Desarollo Del Indígena Amazónico. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.cedia.org.pe/en/proyectos/gestion-comunal-del-territorio-present-2/>.

“Peru Criticized for ‘Disregarding’ Rights of Indigenous in Amazon.” Andean Air Mail and Peruvian Times. 5 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.peruviantimes.com/05/peru-criticized-for-disregarding-rights-of-indigenous-in-amazon/23404/>.

“Working with Peru to Support Long-term Conservation in the Amazon – Blue Moon Fund.” Blue Moon Fund Working with Peru to Support Longterm Conservation in the Amazon Comments. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.bluemoonfund.org/projects/working-with-peruvian-government-to-protect-15-million-acres-of-the-amazon/>.





Consumers vs. the Consumed: The Beginnings

Today Americans consume food like there is no tomorrow.  We eat and eat and eat without a thought to where our food comes from and how it ended up on our plates.  While most of the food Americans eat travels long distances before it reaches the mouths of consumers “as much as 90 percent of Americans could eat food grown within 100 miles of their home” (Ferdman 1).  This privilege is the result of the United States being the global developed super power that it is.  While many Americans don’t think about where their food comes from, many people living in the Global South have watched their food disappear.

Diving deep into the tangled and confusing web of the agricultural world is no fun matter and may make you think twice the next time you sit down to eat a meal.  However, developing an understanding of how agriculture has changed to benefit consumers in developing worlds is a must for anyone who advocates for human rights.  For this reason, my blogs will explore agriculture from different lenses in order to highlight the exploitation of farmers and peoples in the Global South, both in the past and the present.

The concept of agriculture has existed for thousands of years.  Different cultures and peoples developed their own way of growing and producing food in order to survive.  Essential to agriculture is land, which is “fundamental to the lives of poor rural people since it is a source of food, shelter, income, and social equity” (Behnassi and Yaya 4).  Most importantly, agriculture was often the focal point of communities; it was the starting point that people would build upon.  However, the age of imperialism sparked a change in agriculture that forever altered the way people grew crops around the world.  Imperialism laid the foundation for the development project and globalization, the results of which can still be seen today.

Global and local changes in agriculture have drastically increased the global production of crops, but mostly at the cost of those living in the Global South.  In India, nutritional inequalities appear to be widening for vulnerable demographic groups, furthering gender and income disparities in the region (Pritchard and Rommohan 1).  The emergence of monoculture, genetically modified organisms, pesticides, and new legal systems are a few of the key issues that have negatively impacted millions of farmers in India and around the world.  Debriefing these key issues will allow me to shed light on the exploitative methods of agribusinesses, governments, and transnational corporations.

While it is important to be aware of the actors involved in exploitation I will also emphasize the views of the exploited.  The rationalization of agricultural development has changed throughout history, but the disregard of locals’ opinions and ways of life has always been a constant in the discussion.  A 2008 Human Development Report found that even though export-oriented agriculture can benefit subsistence-oriented farmers, greater involvement in the international economy can hurt the same farmers who don’t have the necessary tools to succeed (O’Brien and Leichenko 11).  However, this significant fact is often ignored in the developing world.  For this reason, I hope to incorporate the opinions and voices of those less heard; the voices that really matter.  As one of the many privileged Americans, I cannot experience the exploitation I can only share others accounts of it.

In order to amplify these voices, I will use local papers based in the Global South.  The Hindustan Times, based out of New Delhi, and Brazill, based out of Brazil, will provide current insight on how agriculturally dependent societies have faired during the global changes to the agricultural system.  Rather than projecting Western opinion onto a foreign matter, the locality of these papers will present stories of exploitation from the victims rather than the privileged.

The scholarly book, Sustainable Agricultural Development, edited by Mohamed Behnassi, Joyce D’Silva, Shabbir A. Shahid, will provide me with academic views of how agriculture has developed and changed throughout the course of history.  The book is composed of many scholarly articles that I can use to explain different aspects of agricultural imperialism and development and how each relate to the exploitation of local people.

As mass consumers Americans hold sway in the powerful agricultural system, but in order to release the consumed from their shackles Americans need to open their eyes and educate themselves.  Including research from major western papers such as The Washington Post will give me an understanding of what current attitudes and perceptions Americans hold on the matter of agricultural development in the Global South.

Even though I am not personally effected by the exploitative agricultural system, I am most certainly part of the problem.  However, I am only one of millions living in developed nations across the globe.  Even though this blog will only reach the eyes of a few I hope that my research and writing throughout the next few weeks will open my eyes to what I do not already know.



Behnassi, Mohamed, and Sanni Yaya. “Land resource governance from a sustainability and rural development perspective.” Sustainable Agricultural Development. Springer Netherlands, 2011. 3-23.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “As Much as 90 Percent of Americans Could Eat Food Grown within 100 Miles of Their Home.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 June 2015. Web.

O’Brien, Karen, and Robin Leichenko. “Human security, vulnerability and sustainable adaptation.” Human Development Report 2008 (2007): 1-2.

Pritchard, Bill, and Anu Rammohan. “How India’s Food Security Question Can Be Answered.” Hindustantimes. Hindustan Times, 15 Oct. 2013. Web.

The Freshwater Crisis: Ethiopia

There is nothing more abundant on this planet than water, yet somehow places around the world seem to be running out of it.  California’s been in a drought for at least a decade now but because of their first world privileges children aren’t dying at an unacceptable rate, not like they are in Ethiopia.

Droughts have been a problem in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa for the last twenty years or so but it hasn’t been a severe issue until recently.  Water sources like lakes, rivers, and wells have become so shallow that when collected it is infected with feces and that causes waterborne illnesses like cholera.  When there is barely enough water for a person to consume there’s definitely not enough for someone to bathe and that’s another large factor for causing disease, specifically in young children.  If they’re not shallow they’re dried up entirely preventing people from having access to water completely.

Freshwater 2000 (Arlington Institute)

Although the map above is from 2000, it gives you a good look at what the water shortage in Africa is like.  Ethiopia sits within the horn of the continent where it’s colored orange.  If you bring your eyes down to the key you can see that orange represents 0-1000 m3 of water per capita which is next to nothing.  “Water stressed” is a term used when there is only 1,700 m3 of water per person within an area and Ethiopia falls drastically beneath that statistic.

Aside from the large problem of Climate Change that factors in to Ethiopia’s serious drought, another component is that 90% of developing countries water is dedicated to agriculture.  Top agriculture companies such as Karuturi and Ethio-Agri-CEFT acquire most of the farmland which is dedicated to growing crops like tea and coffee, which is then exported to other countries.  This leaves 10% of the water for the people in these developing countries.

Arturo Vittori and partner Andres Vogler, industrial designers, have come up with an idea to provide fresh drinking water to the people of Ethiopia, and many other developing countries that areas that are struggling as well, without importing expensive, hard to make, development technologies.

warka tower2 warka tower

The image above shows Vittori’s invention, it’s called a Warka Tower.  It can be made by people in their own communities out of materials like bamboo.  What it does is it feeds off of the air and collects the condensation from the atmosphere in it’s net, giving the people gallons of freshwater at a time.  These water towers can be places anywhere therefore someone doesn’t have to hike forty miles to retrieve buckets of contaminated water to drink and bathe in.

It may take a long time to implement these towers throughout Ethiopia and other developing countries struggling with the freshwater crisis,  but I think it’s worth it.  In blog posts following this one I will be looking at different ways to solve climate change related problems in developing countries that are inexpensive and helpful to the peoples of these places.


  • http://www.arlingtoninstitute.org/wbp/global-water-crisis/441
  • http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/this-tower-pulls-drinking-water-out-of-thin-air-180950399/?no-ist
  • https://thewaterproject.org/water-in-crisis-ethiopia
  • http://www.marcopolis.net/top-agriculture-companies-in-ethiopia.htm

Introduction to Climate Change and Inequality

Climate change is one of our planet’s biggest issues at the moment and it is an issue that many scientists are studying to get a better grasp on what to expect and how to lessen the impact. For this blog series I want to focus on climate change and how it has been resulting in social inequality. At first glance climate change seems to be affecting those who just happen to be in the region where impacts randomly strike, but there is clear evidence of a social divide of who it impacts the most.

All over the place I am hearing and reading about how climate change is going to hit the world’s poorest the hardest. This is because near the equator, where most developing countries are located, is where climate change will bring about desertification, more intense storms, and a higher sea level rise. In a region where there isn’t always the economic and technical progress to deal with such issues it will be hard if not impossible for these people to overcome the struggles that will occur.

I think this topic of climate change and social inequality is interesting because it is a major pressing issue that the world is facing today. It is often overlook compared to the threatening issue of climate change in and of itself, but inequality is and will become more of a direct result of climate change that should be studied in an attempt to help those in most need.

One of the major issues behind this inequality is the third worlds desire for the first world to pay for its effects. The first world countries are the ones abusing carbon emissions and impacting climate change the most and third world countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines don’t have the economy to support the drastic impacts climate change has been having on their country. (NY TIMES)

Chapter Six of Benchmarking Working Europe sums up the issues in a clear way with one statistic: “As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has pointed out, while Africa accounts for less than 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, this continent may well, as early as 2020, have between 70 million and 400 million people exposed to water shortage caused by climate change. This shows the other dimension of inequality, in terms of exposure to the impact of climate change” (Benchmarking Working Europe).

Mail & Guardian is a South African newspaper publisher who recently discussed climate change and points out that capital is the real geological force behind climate change (M&G). This is the unfortunate realistic truth in our society today. Money is the determining factor when it comes to making a lot of decisions. “Driven by the need to make short-term profits, capital, through its organization of production, distribution, consumption and social life, has overshot planetary limits, undermined natural cycles and now threatens human beings with extinction by means of climate change” (M&G).

I also found a report that the World Bank published that brings up the topic of ways we can prevent drastic impacts of climate change and inequality. Later on in this blog series I would like to narrow in on this idea of finding a solution because all too often we just hear about the issue and the problems it causes without learning about ways to solve it. (WorldBank.org)

Works Cited

“6/Climate Change and Inequality.” Benchmarking Working Europe. Brussels: ETUI-REHS, 2012. N. pag. Print.

“The Climate Is Ripe for Social Change.” The M&G Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.

“The Inequality of Climate Change.” Economix The Inequality of Climate Change Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.

“What Climate Change Means for Africa, Asia and the Coastal Poor.” World Bank. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.


Environment Friendly Development

Environment friendly development, is it an oxymoron? A necessity? physically possible? These are questions I will try to explore in this blog. One major focus will be agriculture, how can we feed the Earth’s growing population in an environmentally sound way? Can we feed Earth’s growing population in an environmentally sound way? Sustainability is another major topic in terms of environment and development, although what exactly is meant by sustainability is not always clear. Critical development and alternative development will also be explored where these approaches intersect with environmental concerns. The geographical focus of this blog will be the poorest countries in the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa and some countries in Asia.

I have four short examples of what will be discussed on this blog. The first example concerns policy in the Lake Tana region of Ethiopia, where the Stockholm Environment Institute(SEI) led a collaborative project to come up with a plan it believes to be superior to the government’s. The SEI uses a nexus approach in which they try to formulate a coherent policy to optimally utilize water, energy,and food resources. The SEI spent time talking to stakeholders and determining the impacts various plans would have on agricultural output, hydroelectric output from dams in the vicinity of Lake Tana, and water levels in Lake Tana. The SEI plan prioritizes using water for food production and keeping the water levels in Lake Tana high enough to prevent negative impacts on biodiversity and Ethiopians who depend on the lake for their livelihoods. The government of Ethiopia, on the other hand, has prioritized the production of hydroelectricity, which will lower the water level of Lake Tana. The SEI calls on the government and people of Ethiopia to rethink the scale of livestock production to decrease biomass consumption as well as a major rural electrification scheme (SEI, 2014). These findings present many questions. What should the governments priorities be? How sustainable is hydro-power if it interferes with agriculture? Should these policies be formed at the national level, or at more local levels?

The second example comes from Mohamed Behnassi and Sanni Yaya, “Land resource governance from a sustainability and rural development perspective.” The authors argue that “pro-poor, democratic and sustainable” land governance is necessary for rural development. They argue that land reform is necessary to accomplish these measures, and is  along process that should be at the forefront of national and international policy. The authors promote secure land tenure in order to ensure that the land will be used responsibly by its occupants. they call on a stop to widespread “land grabbing” whereby international actors buy large chunks of land in a country. The authors express optimism for sustainable development and environmental practices if land governance can be reformed in many parts of the world, but how can we make that happen?

The final example is a warning to the possible consequences that we face if we do not act. The Guardian reports that much of sub-Saharan Africa is facing the worst drought in decades as the impacts of global warming and an el-nino combine. In Ethiopia, “more than 10 million people will need food aide.” Droughts have been increasing in frequency recently, and leave locals dependent on the international community for aide (Lamble, Graham-Harrison, 2016). In central India a village had its Community Forest Rights cancelled, which has allowed coal mining operations to restart, which are predicted to have negative effects on local biodiversity and human communities “who are dependent on the forest for their livelihoods”(Kohli, 2016).


Behnassi, Mohamed and Yaya, Sanni (2011). Land Resource Governance from a sustainability and rural development perspective. in Mohamed Bahnassi, Shabir A. Shahid & Joyce D’Silva (eds.). Sustainable Agricultural Development (3-23). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Karleberg, Louise, et al. (2014).”Applying the nexus – meeting Ethiopia’s development goals by addressing links between water, energy and food.” Stockholm Environmental Institute. retrieved from:https://www.sei-international.org/mediamanager/documents/Publications/SEI-PolicyBrief-Karlberg-nexus-Ethiopia.pdf

Kohli, Kanchi (2016).”Anything for a mine.” Geography and You. retrieved from: http://www.geographyandyou.com/component/content/article/32-featured-stories/4477-anything-for-a-mine.html

Lamble, Lucy & Graham-Harrison, Emma (2016). “Drought and rising temperatures ‘leaves 36m people across Africa facing hunger’.” The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/16/drought-high-temperatures-el-nino-36m-people-africa-hunger




Environmental Sustainability in the Orient: An Introduction


      The Asian continent as a whole has a long history of agriculture and human interference in terms of geography and the environment. Not only has the Orient been a source of natural wealth and economic growth, but also serving as a center of exploitation. The series of blogposts I am presenting not only highlight the former and current environmental degradation and sustainable planning taking place in East and Southern Asia, but the interconnection of the world in these issues. Not only is this an issue pertaining to the region in which I am focusing in, but it has lasting consequences on both the global community and the individual, a system development crafted.

      It is no mystery that anthropogenic sources are factors in changing climate and landscape of the planet. Moreover, certain human activity is more destructive or altering than other behavior. For example, the Global North, while accounting for a significantly smaller proportion of population compared to the rest of the world, accounts for over two thirds of total carbon emissions. In a similar case, regions of Asia are also huge greenhouse emitters. As a Washington Post article describes, “Southern Asia has about 90% of the global rice fields and represents more than 60% of the world’s nitrogen fertilizer consumption,” (Mooney). The historical and economic context of this region with rice coupled with high fertilizer and agrochemical use illustrates it as an area of environmental concern. This facet only highlights these regions as needing specialized development care, as local economies are rooted in rice production associated with fertilizer use, something that cannot be easily altered.

      While the historical context of communities in these regions with agriculture and land use is deeply rooted and difficult to change, the role of East and Southern Asia on the global scale has shifted dramatically over the past few decades. Particularly in East Asia, stress has been placed on economic development. As one article describes, “The environment remains generally at the fringes of domestic and international politics and in East Asia conventional security concerns continue to dominate,” (Maddock 20). The concept of “security” is one that will be reoccurring in my blog posts, as individuals often place security in material or economic terms, not in agricultural or livelihood perspectives often tied to land use or the environment. Furthermore, sustainable development is often regulated in these areas due to externality issues, in which a decision made in one country, such as the construction of a dam, often has more drastic consequences on a country downstream of the project. Coupled with exponential population growth and agrochemical intensive agriculture, a context is created for serious environmental degradation and global climatic consequences.

      Although future prospects of sustainability remain bleak in these areas, a number of growing sources allude to hope in restructuring the rooted system. The Asia Pacific region of UNEP has recently taken major steps to implement environmentally sustainable livelihoods and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. For example, a meeting for major leaders of the Asia Pacific UNEP region has declared to “[finding] solutions to pressing environmental and health challenges, which can adversely affect the region’s future economic development and poverty reduction,” (“Asia Pacific Environment Ministers”). While the underlying focus is still on economic security over that of environmental safety, at least officials are pressing for urgency and action. On the other hand, companies are beginning to take initiatives themselves. Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies has agreed to derail itself from deforestation by 2020. In fact, the company has committed to the Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), in which it will produce “pulp and paper that is free from fibre or activity linked to deforestation,” (“Asia Pulp and Paper”). Not only is this directly assisting in creating a sustainable world, but also putting forth an eco-conscious business stance that will hopefully spread to other corporations. The attempts to establish a setting or culture of the importance of environmental security is one crucial to the long term economic and environmental wellbeing of the region.

      The continent of Asia is one that has long focused on economic security and outlooks in the short term over that of long term and community level environmental security. Spikes in population, increases in agrochemical use, and rising industrialization all have strained land use and natural resources, creating long term economically and environmentally unsustainable communities who have reached their ecological limits. The purpose of these blogposts is not to simply highlight the fragility in Southern and East Asia, but to pinpoint the exact actions being taken, whether they are sustainable or not, focusing on improvement for the long term. More importantly, connections will be drawn to illustrate how this not only a regional issue, but a global crisis and warning that affects nearly every market and individual, including you and me.


“Asia” from The General Gazetteer; or Compendious Geographical Dictionary by R. Brookes. Eighth Edition. Dublin, 1808.

“Independent Study Shows Asia Pulp and Paper Has Sufficient Plantation for Its Zero Deforestation Commitment.” Asia Today. Asia Today, 5 Sept. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Maddock, R.T. “Environmental Security in East Asia.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 17.1 (1995): 20-37. JSTOR. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Mooney, Chris. “The Hidden Driver of Climate Change That We Too Often Ignore.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

ROAP News. “Asia Pacific Environment Ministers Chart Course for Region’s Development.” UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific. United Nations Environment Programme, 12 May 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Holistic and Sustainable Development in Peru

Before coming to college, I took a gap year and lived in Peru to work in an orphanage and on a farm for six months. I was able to experience an alternative lifestyle which opened wide my world. The farmers I worked for were deeply in tune with the land and nurtured her with the love of a child. All around me, I saw alternative ways of being that de-prioritized material consumption and alternately focused on a return to the earth.

In my current class on international development, we are learning a lot about economic development and traditional development policies and strategies. Looking back on my experiences with rural peoples and indigenous cultures in Peru, I can’t help but wonder if consumption and export driven development is the right kind of development. I hope to use these five posts to deepen my knowledge of alternatives to consumption-based, Eurocentric economic development and how traditional, economic development affects the Peruvian indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples. I also hope to grapple with whether economic development is compatible with human development in the holistic.

In this first post, I will provide some background information on sustainable development, the Peruvian economy and on some current development projects taking place. Sustainable development was notoriously defined as the ability “to ensure that it [development] meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” by the Bruntland Commission in 1987. An article by Kates, Parris and Leiserowitz looks at this definition and seeks to further determine what exactly sustainable development is. They write that sustainable development is an expression of values, that it is measured by indicators, and is defined by practice but ultimately is malleable. While some believe that sustainable development represents a compromise between economic development the environment, many argue, and I agree, that it is an oxymoron and still prioritizes development over sustainability. For a real life example of what climate degradation is doing in Peru, we can turn to an article by the world news agency Inter Press Service, which tells us of rural Quechua farmers who are having an increasingly difficult time planting their traditional crop of potatoes due to climate change and decreased rains.  As one community leader interviewed for the article heartbreakingly states, “Pachamama [mother earth, in Quechua] is nervous about what we are doing to her. All of the crops are moving up the mountains, to higher and higher ground, and they will do so until it’s too high to grow,” he also adds “Nature used to let us know when was the best time for each step, in farming. But now, Pachamama is confused, and we are losing our reference points among the animals and the plants, which don’t have a flowering season anymore.”

According to an article from 2013 in The Economist, there has been increased economic productivity among the poor living in the highlands of Peru. These peasants cannot compete with cheap prices of imports however many have taken jobs outside of the agricultural sector to augment their income as farmers. Annual average income in these rural areas has risen by an average of 7.2 percent each year since 1994 which is believed to be in part due to better roads. A Policy Report of the World Bank, published in 2014 and entitled “Peru: Investments for Environmentally Sustainable Development” describes a current policy (funded by the World Bank) which aims to “enhance environment management through (i) increase[ing] the quality, availability, and reliability of environment data…(ii) improve[ing] mechanisms to identify and address environmental priorities…and (iii) improve[ing] mechanisms for opening up decision making.” All of these are to be attained through investment of capital. According to this same brief, extraction of resources is at the heart of the Peruvian economy and the annual cost of degradation falls between 3.5 and 5 percent of GDP.

One example of a holistic approach to development that is going very well is Corazón Viviente (Causac Sonqo in Quechua, Living Heart in English) which was established by a 76-year-old British woman in 2007 with the help of the local community in Ollantaytambo, Peru. As Heather Buchanan, a volunteer, wrote in the Peruvian magazine Que Pasa this effort was developed in true collaboration with the local Quechua people. Corazón Viviente focuses on providing nutritious food, family planning services, education, disability support and agricultural support to the inhabitants of the area surrounding Ollantaytambo.

Going from here, I hope to explore alternative development in environmental sustainability and in cultural and human sustainability with a special focus on rural and indigenous Peruvians and policies in Peru.


Works Cited:

Buchanan, Heather. “Living Heart Nutritious Food.” Que Pasa Peru. July 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <https://issuu.com/quepasaperu/docs/quepasaperu-july2011>.

Kates, Robert W., Thomas M. Parris, and Anthony A. Leiserowitz. “What Is Sustainable Development?” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 47.3 (2005): 8-21. Web. <http://www.hks.harvard.edu/sustsci/ists/docs/whatisSD_env_kates_0504.pdf>.

Ortiz, Fabíola. “Climate Change Threatens Quechua and Their Crops in Peru’s Andes.” Online news posting. Inter Press Service News Agency. 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-change-threatens-quechua-and-their-crops-in-perus-andes/>.

Peru: Investments for Environmentally Sustainable Development. Rep. Vol. PIDC4399. World Bank. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/LCR/2014/09/30/090224b08279672d/1_0/Rendered/PDF/Project0Inform0evelopment000P147342.pdf>

“The Andean Collection: Diminishing Distance, Falling Poverty.” The Economist: The Americas. The Economist. 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21576116-diminishing-distance-falling-poverty-andean-connection>.