Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BP Oil Spills Beyond National Boundary

Destruction of nature will come back to haunt us
Published on June 17, 2010
The BP oil spill is a dire reminder that environmental protection is an issue for which we are all responsible

There was concern that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could cause political tension between the US and the UK, after US President Barack Obama called BP "British Petroleum", even though the company dropped the name long ago. The fact that the president identified the company directly with Britain led to debate across the Atlantic on whether this environmental catastrophe would spill over to affect the "special relationship" between the US and UK. There were concerns that Obama might be stirring anti-British sentiment. Obama later tried to defuse the issue, with British Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure to defend his country.

Obama quickly called Cameron, saying he was not trying to blame Britain for the disaster. Obama was quoted as saying that he had simply reacted furiously to BP's delay in capping the leak sooner. BP is nowadays considered a multinational company that has business interests around the world

There was also the question of whether the potential political row had been overplayed. In fact, such sentiment might not actually exist.

The real issue here is not the national identity of the company, but the fact that the environment is an issue of concern to us all. Oil spills like this affect wider eco-systems, and are an issue that all countries have to address.

The disaster shows that environmental damage is never really limited to any country's boundaries. The impact of this disaster on the environment will be massive. The oil spill not only affects the beaches along the coasts of Alabama and Florida, it adversely affects the quality of the natural habitat in a much wider area. Scientists have said the amount of oil gushing out of the well is far higher than previously estimated. The US Geological Survey has calculated that as many as 40,000 barrels a day could escape before containment efforts are finally successful.

The spill is also having a severe impact on the human economy, as it affects shrimping and fisheries, as well as tourism. As for the US coastline and its eco-system, sea birds are being decimated and the thick oily sludge is destroying beaches. It's a disgrace that we can damage the environment in such a way by our carelessness.

The quest for new energy resources is a response to greater industrial development and the rapidly growing demand for fuel. This is true the world over, especially in fast-growing economies like India and China. The big question is how we can maintain our need for consumption and at the same time utilise resources in a sustainable manner.

This episode has shown us yet again that industries must function responsibly to avoid their operations leaving a lasting impact on the environment. But are we capable of learning this lesson? Sadly, the answer is probably not.

Here in Thailand, although there are other immediate concerns, the government must remain vigilant in imposing and enforcing environmental regulations and safety requirements for industries. New sources of green energy that are sustainable and leave the least impact on the environment must be promoted and supported

We all are accountable for the environment and we should all be mindful of our consumption and the effects of the energy that we waste. If we cannot do this, an increase in consumption and the growth of industries will not be sustainable. We will be left only with a polluted environment that is not contained within our national boundaries.
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June 17, 2010 11:26 am (Thai local time)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

EDITORIAL: A society at war with itself: Yes, that's Thailand

Published on June 10, 2010
We thought we lived in a tolerant and peaceful country, but apparently that is no longer the case
Thailand ranks 124th in the recently released Global Peace Index (GPI) of 149 nations, way down in the lower half of the survey. The figure reflects the country's unsatisfactory performance and political violence. Overall, the GPI report suggests that the world has become less peaceful over the last year, despite a drop in the number of armed conflicts. But uneven economic development is also a source of conflict, as evidenced in Thailand.

For Thais, the ranking should not come as a surprise, as we have seen so much instability in recent years. Thailand was once a peaceful nation. However, the political conflict and general confrontational atmosphere, as well as the insurgent violence in the deep South have changed that perception. It is unfortunate, as we have long prided ourselves on being tolerant advocates of peace.

The release of the report is timely. However, peace cannot be brought about by any one party alone; it requires cooperation and effort from all in society.

The GPI report says that societies that are peaceful also perform exceptionally well in many other ways. They have higher per capita income, high levels of personal well-being, more freedom, they perform better in terms of economic sustainability, and appear to have a more equitable distribution of social spending.

For the second year running, New Zealand is rated the most peaceful country in the world, with Iceland climbing back up to second place, after dropping from the top slot in 2008 to fourth place last year. Japan ranks third. Fifteen of the top 20 countries are western or central European states, and all Scandinavian countries are listed in the top 10, suggesting that small, stable, democratic countries are the most successful models for development. At the same time, Iraq was found to be the least peaceful country for the fourth year running, followed by Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan. Russia ranked 143rd.

The GPI report added that what is important is not whether peace creates economic success, rather the realisation that what creates a peaceful society also allows for a fuller expression of human potential, and in many diverse forms.

The challenges are global. They include economic management, environmental sustainability, and measures to tackle a wide variety of social ills. Conflict often arises from the failure to adequately address the cause of discontent and create remedies. The GPI report says that this can be seen in the breakdown of the Copenhagen climate-change talks, burgeoning government and private-sector debt, the lack of regulation of the speculative aspects of the financial system, and our inability to even articulate good capitalist models that aren't totally based on consumption.

Meanwhile, the conflict in Thailand can be attributed to the country's ineffective economic management, which has led to a disparity of income distribution and opportunity. As a result a significant number of people feel they have been unfairly treated or even victimised. The red-shirt movement thus arose as people in rural areas have been unfairly deprived of economic opportunities. It is not simply a question of economic failure or disadvantage, but a feeling of being unjustly treated over a long period of time. In comparison, during the financial crisis of 1997, when a large number of Thais were left unemployed, there was no social unrest because those affected didn't feel that they had been systematically treated unfairly; the crisis was the result of financial mismanagement that affected people across all social classes.

Another challenging issue for Thais is that of limited resources. The issues of sustainability and the irresponsible consumption of resources have increasingly become issues of conflict in Thailand. Increasingly, communities will require industries and individuals to be more accountable for their consumption.

Peace requires an understanding of the problems and the sustainable solutions. As the GPI reports says, peace "is a proxy for many other things that create the optimum environment for humanity to flourish. These can be defined as the structures that create peace and the social attitudes that support it".

Peace is a key to co-existence. But peace will not come from passive action; it requires everyone's contribution. One cannot ask for peace without contributing to the process and playing a meaningful part in enriching society. We can start the process at the individual level by trying to understand ourselves and others, trying to seek and apply wisdom, and trying to use our potential to the full.
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June 10, 2010 04:16 pm (Thai local time)

PIx of Elephant and Flat Standley Doll in the jungle. you can see the rhino's a..)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Simple Life in Nepal

Life is simple
Dr Christy Standerfer would be proud to learn that the facilitation techniques that she taught us in school have come into play in the rural area of Nepal. Yes, we started the facilitation by asking the participants to set up the ground rules for the meeting. And we encouraged the active involvement of the participants by asking them to divide in groups, writing their expectations of the meeting as well as the roles and responsibly of the sub-committees that will be formed. And yes! We made a nice tea break. I thought it would be under control throughout.. until the rains came..
The sound of rain dropping hard on the zinc-roof of the facilitation hall made it impossible for us to hear anything. So we had to suspend the workshop.
But Nepali people took it easy. It’s not a big deal ! We could have a nice break! A local vendor in a nearby hut was asked to serve us nice Nepali milk tea during our “extra monsoon tea break”. When the rain stopped, we resumed the workshop only to face another unpredictable factor.
Pigeons disturbed the workshop by knocking the zinc roof so loud that we could not hear what the participants were talking. One of our staff had to go out to shoo them away by throwing rocks to the roof of our hall building. No worry.. no animal masscare here. We just wanted the birds to fly away.
Under the hot sky which made us all sweat very hard that my white shirt now turned permanently yellow, I found what happened here funny that I could not hold my laughter. How on earth could Peter Block be able to imagine that a bird could sabotage a facilitation session from the zinc roof-top. Otherwise, he should have included in the appendix of his book.
Otherwise, our workshop went well according to our plan. The participants wrote good comments after the meeting. Moreover, although this is the harvesting season where the farmers would rather spend time working on their rice field than sitting in the two-day meeting, around 30 participants showed up during the two-full day workshop. The workshop was done in Nepali but I could feel the energy of the meeting through their gesture and active participation.
I like working with READ Nepal because the organization is a real community based. All of READ Nepal’s staff are local people, which is a plus for the organization as they reached out to the communities and closely involved with the communities throughout Nepal. The staff went outside the capital city very often. During our trip, we had dinner with the community people. Malaria was not the pronlem as our small guest in Jhuwani provided us with cuty mosquito net.
Life is tough but the experience was worthwhile. During this trip, I rode the elephant for the first time in my life. And it was not scary as I thought it would be.
READ Nepal recently received a funding from Norwegian government to implement the rural and literacy development project. The workshop applied Best Practice such as facilitation format and micro-finance credit model of Grameen Bank. I believed that everything happened for a reason. And now I know that it’s not co-incidental that I was assigned to read “Price of a Dream” which is based on Grameen Bank, during my Communication Class.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Editorial: Thai Inequality Must Be Addressed

Thailand needs more than a quick fix to inequality

Published on June 4, 2010

Our socio-economic problems are so deep-rooted they will take generations to repair. We must start with the education system

Regardless of how the issue is framed, the current political crisis stems from deepening socio-economic inequality in Thai society. The wealth from economic prosperity does not filter down to a majority of Thais, but has been concentrated within a small group of people. The government's reconciliation plan will not be effective if the issue of unequal access to opportunity is not properly addressed.

The political turbulence over the past few years is a sign that the issue needs immediate and systematic attention. And the reconciliation effort will not produce any meaningful result if it fails to better balance the wealth from economic growth. The key element in this reconciliation effort is to ensure that every voice will be heard and every possible opportunity will be fairly given.

In reality, the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening, not contracting. This is especially evident in the income gap between Bangkokians and those in rural provinces. In 2010 the income of Bangkokians is 13 times higher than that of people in the northeastern region, compared to five times higher in 1987. Over the same period, the number of Thais living under the poverty line was reduced by only 8 per cent. Among Bangkokians, only 1 per cent of people live below the poverty line. In the Northeast, the figure is 13 per cent.

Some of the red-shirt leaders describe this inequality as the "elite" versus the "underprivileged". Ironically, it is not the traditional social hierarchy that has caused the worsening income disparity. The widening gap has become increasingly evident over recent years as people with more opportunity manage to cash in on businesses that apply new technology, or take advantage of monopolistic opportunities that give them unfair advantages over competitors.

However, populist policies and handouts are not the answer to this problem. Measures such as free medical treatment or easy loans can help ease the burden of the poor only in the short term. The root of the malaise lies in lower-income earners still not being able to raise their standard of living in a sustainable manner.

The inequality issue must be solved at the root cause - that is, through educational reform, to enable people to stand on their own two feet. The government must thus initiate programmes that develop individual potential. The knowledge gained from a better quality education will help provide immunity, allowing people to be able to withstand crises.

At present, the rote education system teaches only memorisation, and fails to encourage analysis, independent thought and self-development. His Majesty the King's self-sufficiency concept should be instilled within the education system to help people understand what is really meaningful amidst the whirlwind of globalisation.

Investment should also be allocated to rural provinces rather than concentrated in Bangkok and other major cities. Provincial politicians should become more active in attracting businesses that are suitable and sustainable for local environments, to promote employment in rural areas instead of encouraging millions of migrant workers to move to Bangkok to find better jobs. Companies should also play a greater role in community development. Joint cooperation between the public and private sectors in the provinces should be promoted, as the task of regional development cannot be left to the government alone.

The rule of law must be instilled and strictly enforced, and the sanctity of democratic institutions enhanced. The current crisis has also been caused by the public's lack of trust in these institutions, leading to allegations of double standards applied to rich and poor.

Good governance must be promoted at every level within the public and private sectors, as well as in civil society. Thailand has one of the world's worst records for graft. Corruption scandals make the news on a daily basis, but very few of these cases are ever pursued to a final administration of justice and punishment for wrongdoers. This abject failure to observe the rule of law only encourages people in power to be yet more corrupt.

If we allow this state of affairs to continue, the reconciliation effort will become just meaningless rhetoric.
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June 4, 2010 11:19 am (Thai local time)

Lesson from the First week in Nepal: Don't take it for granted.

I am writing this blog during a blackout in an evening in Kathmandu. The power here is out, around 5 to up to 8 PM, every evening. Having been here for a few days, I now tried to adjust my lifestyle to live in the blackout. Yesterday, I was walking in Thamel, the downtown of Kathmandu until it’s getting too dark to walk alone.

Today, I showered the dark and I tried to recharge the battery of my laptop whenever I could to make sure that I would be able to use my laptop during the blackout time. Electricity is a luxury here. But Americans or even Thais who enjoy incessant supply of power often take things for granted.

Not only power supply but the availability of international phone lines is also limited. A friend of mine still could not phone me from Thailand. Another friend of mine managed to phone me from America after his fourth try. The voice nonetheless was cut off many times, though. We had to say “hello? Are you still with me” many times in our conversation.

I am not saying this to make you shade tears for me. Instead, I learn to appreciate simple things like the continuity of power supply. Life is not so bad without light. I could spend time looking out the window to see Kathmandu’s sky. After the first night in a tiny room, I decided to move into bigger (and more expensive) room with lots of window.

In spite of the light and etc, I think I made the right choice to come to Kathmandu. First, the city and people are very friendly. After a few days living here, I got to know many people around this downtown area because the neighborhood is so density-population and small that we bumped into each other every day. (FYI: I haven’t really got to know my neighbours at my Little Rock apartment). A seller of handicraft shop close to my guest house would walk to me and talk to me every day whenever I stopped at a nearby shop in front of my guest house for a bottle of cold Fanta. (My room does not have a refrigerator). The rickshaw who drove me only once would ask me whenever I came down from the guest house if I wanted to use his service again.

Coming from Bangkok where some red shirts just burned infrastructure and buildings for nothing, I appreciate Nepali spirit. They are generally happy, even though their infrastructure is poor. Several roads are tiny with one lane and only few of them have sidewalks. Now I started to master the art of pulling my laptop trolley to avoid accident while I was walking and sharing the road with the cars and motorbikes (which can come from every direction!). Thus, every evening when I arrived the guest house after this exciting journey on the road, I would give myself a reward by buying a cold Fanta, drinking it, while watching people passing by. I would sit outside and let my sweat dried a lit before entering the guest house.

READ Nepal’s people here are idealistic and passionate about their work. They are like a family and they treat me like I am one of them. I love the atmosphere during the lunchtime when the staff, around 10, will have lunch together. A staff will cook the same food for all of us every day. Now, I don’t have a heart to leave anything on my plate. On the first day, the cook asked me if there’s anything wrong with her food when she saw the leftover on my plate. Our lunch menu consisted of dried rice and soy bean nuts which I was not familiar with. But now, I enjoy everything she cooked for us because she made it with her generosity. Apart from enjoying free lunch, of course, I love to listen to READ Nepal’s staff discussing interesting issues such as why some of Nepali in the rural area married at very young age, say 10years old, and the new feminist movement in Nepal.

I will be also travelling with READ staff to visit a library in a few hours. This weekend, READ Nepal will organize a two-day workshop for rural people at Jhuwani which is around 5 hours driving from the capital. People here were apologetic about the weather and they reminded me many times that Jhuwani would be very hot. And I would have to remind them that I am from a tropical country of Thailand.