JavaArts Fire Relief Fund–2

Just over a month ago a terrible fire burned down the JavaArts office and storeroom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The homes of 9 families were destroyed, leaving many people homeless. Fortunately no one was hurt.

We are devastated, however, by the loss of 150 artworks by eight artists. Many of whom JavaArts has been working with for many years. Those works were moved there just that day from our gallery space which we were kicked out of when the house owner sold it a few weeks before.

The work of eight artists: Anida Yoeu Ali, Chath PierSath, Genevieve Marot, Neak Sophal, Nicolas C Grey, Oeur Sokuntevy, Qudy Xu-Min and William Graef are valued at $20,000 and accounts for about 10% of the available works on the art market in Cambodia. 

Our initial shock turned into grief, and grief turned into thinking about real and practical things. Each of these artists depends on the sales of their artworks to live, to maintain visibility and to continue making art – it is an important part of who they are.

For 15 years, JavaArts has provided support, space for exhibitions, and artwork storage for artists in Phnom Penh.  It is an important and needed platform for the incubation and production of contemporary art in Cambodia. While many of the artists affected by the fire will continue their work, Cambodia’s art history suffered because those 150 artworks are gone forever. This terrible accident just shows how fragile the Cambodian art scene really is.

Without insurance or other means to cover the artists’ loss of income, we are turning to the community for support.

$20,000 – This amount of the money raised will go to the artists to cover their individual losses. The 150 artworks are in fact valued much higher, but this will cover the loss of income that they would have received if the works were sold.

Over the goal – We also see this as an opportunity to reinvent and demonstrate resilience.  Any money raised over $20,000 will be put in a fund for an artist-led project to be developed by the eight artists affected by the fire.

JavaArts continues to support artists in Cambodia through its exhibition platform and is committed to nurturing emerging talents now and in the foreseeable future.

Without your support, none of this would be possible. Thank you!

The three wonders of the ancient world solving modern water problems

In Peru, Kenya and India, NGOs are helping communities overcome water scarcity using wisdom from the past

 Chand Baoli (stepwell), Abaneri, Rajasthan, India
The Chand baoli near Jaipur extends almost 100ft into the ground, making it one of the deepest and largest stepwells in India. Photograph: dbimages/Alamy


Across large swaths of the Thar desert in western India, traditional techniques for harvesting the little amount of rain that falls has helped people survive the powerful effects of the sun for centuries.

The most beautiful of these are step wells – known as baolis in Hindi – large, stone structures built to provide water for drinking and agriculture. Baolis have existed for at least 1,000 years and were constructed in towns and alongside serais (travellers’ inns), across the desert and into Delhi.

Baolis exist in all shapes and sizes and are essentially reservoirs built into the earth. Groundwater is pulled up from a circular well at the bottom and rainwater is collected from above. A set of steps – on one or more sides of the structure – lead down to the water level, which fluctuates depending on the amount of rain. More recently, electric pumps have been installed in many baolis to help retrieve the water.

“Step wells are etched into people’s collective memory so deeply, they are now part of their DNA, passed on from one generation to another,” says Farhad Contractor of the Sambhaav Trust, an ecological conservation group.

Today, many baolis have fallen prey to rapid urbanisation and neglect. In Delhi only around 15 survive but local groups are fighting to protect and preserve them. While 700mm of rain falls on Delhi every year, half of the city has been declared a dark zone – where the groundwater level has depleted so much that the rate of recharge is less than the rate of withdrawal – by the groundwater authority. Rainwater harvesting, therefore, is key to a secure water supply for India’s second-biggest city.

Workers carry out conservation work at Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliyas baoli in New Delhi.
Workers carry out conservation work at Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliyas baoli in New Delhi. Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/EPA

One such baoli restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture(AKTC) was built in the 14th century in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, a medieval village in Delhi named after Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. In 2008, parts of the baoli walls collapsed due to sewage water seeping into the structure and the local residents using it as a rubbish dump. The pool was drained and the rubbish, garbage and sludge that had accumulated over the past 700 years was removed to reach the foundation of the baoli some 80 feet below ground level. While the water in the baoli is still not potable, it can be used for cleaning and agriculture.

Experts say the baoli model can be replicated anywhere in the world with similar climatic conditions and physiological features. Contractor has been invited to Morocco where he is working on a project to build baolis and smaller wells, known as beris in Hindi.

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But large baolis need large catchment areas, and in Delhi space is an issue. While the majority of the physical structures of baolis are protected – some by being sited inside historic monuments – urban development in Delhi has had a greater impact on their water levels; storm drains divert rain away from baoli catchment areas.

Diwan Singh, an activist with non-profit Natural Heritage First, says that even though many baolisin Delhi are surrounded by buildings, the wells can still be recharged. “Catchment area management is the key. In the small areas of land between the baolis and buildings, rainwater harvesting pits could be built to divert rainwater away from the storm drains,” he says. “Once in the pit, water will percolate through the soil and recharge the nearby baoli, allowing modern development and ancient structures to co-exist side by side.”

Nivedita Khandekar


construction sand dam kenya
The construction of a sand dam involves building a concrete barrier or wall across a seasonal river. Photograph: Geoffrey Kamadi

Makueni County – just over 100 miles south of Nairobi – has one of the most inhospitable environments in the country.

The region’s sandy loam soil supports little else besides the thorny, stunted shrubs that stretch for miles, interspersed only by gigantic baobab trees or some species of the hardy acacia. The only food crops cultivated here are sorghum, cassava and pigeon peas – drought-tolerant crops. With an average annual rainfall of just 600mm, meaningful agriculture is nearly impossible.

Water access is a big problem. In Kenya, 63% of the population use an improved source of drinking water and 46% live below the poverty line. Women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa spend up to four hours a day fetching water, according to the One campaign.

But things are changing for the better, thanks to an ancient water harvesting technique being used in the dry regions. Sand dams, which were invented by the Romans in 400BC, have become an important source of water for domestic and agricultural needs.

Sand dams are constructed by building a concrete barrier or wall across a seasonal river with a firm bedrock. As the river flows, sand in the water is deposited behind the wall. Over time, layers of sand build into a reservoir for water, which remains stored in the sand once the river level drops. Evaporation is virtually impossible below a metre of sand – no matter how intense the sun – and the water is clean and safe for immediate drinking as the sand acts like a filter.

woman sand dam kenya
A woman collects water stored beneath the sand. Photograph: Geoffrey Kamadi

The Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) has been facilitating the construction of the dams alongside Excellent Development (ED), a UK-based NGO that has enabled the construction of 838 sand dams in rural dry lands across eight countries. The work of ED has improved access to clean water for more than 800,000 people, according to Jonny McKay, the NGO’s communications manager.

Not only have the sand dams improved water security for local communities. Villagers are also coming together to form self-help groups to construct the dams with assistance from the NGOs, and to initiate agro-based economic schemes.

“We are able to practise agribusiness now that we have water available for irrigation,” says Elizabeth Ndungune, the chairwoman of the Star Thange self-help women’s group in Ulilinzi. Using water from the sand dam built on the nearby River Thange, the group can now grow kale, tomatoes, beans and other crops. They sell whatever they harvest and pool the proceeds, which help families pay for school fees.

While sand dams are a cheap and simple solution to some complex problems, they can fail if they are not applied in a way that meets the users’ needs. “The biggest challenge is ensuring that the technology is applied to specific local conditions and people’s needs, rather than simply being replicated from one place and situation to another,” says McKay.

But the initiative is gaining momentum and expanding not only to other parts of the country, but to Tanzania, Chad, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and even to India.

Geoffrey Kamadi


suqakollo peru
Resembling an ornate garden maze from above, suqakollos are a patterned system of raised cropland and water-filled trenches. Photograph: Ronald Reategui

On the hardscrabble, treeless highland plain that joins Peru with Bolivia, farmers have eked out an existence for thousands of years amid bitter winters and the harsh sun, at 4,000 metres above sea level and higher.

As scientists predict climate change will make the Altiplano’s weather even more inclement and unpredictable, today’s farmers are reviving an ancestral system of cultivation and irrigation using what looks like an intricate piece of land sculpture.

Resembling an ornate garden maze from above, suqakollos – or waru-warus – are a patterned system of raised cropland and water-filled trenches.

Alipio Canahua, an agronomist working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), says that the ancient agricultural system, which could date back 3,000 years, actually creates its own microclimate.

“It captures water when there are droughts and drains away water when there’s too much rain, meaning that it irrigates the crops all year round,” he says. “When it comes to temperature, we’ve measured a rise of three degrees centigrade in the immediate environment around it – this can save a significant percentage of the crops from being killed in frosts.”

A suqakollo can also be a small oasis in the scorching daytime sun, which yellows even the coarse highland grass, known as ichu – the main fodder for the alpacas and llamas herded by the local Aymara people.

Canahua has been leading the resurgence of this ancient farming system with local communities, restoring old suqakollos and building new ones.

Sonia Ticona, a local indigenous Aymara leader who has been working with Canahua, says that in her village, the women work harder than the men to dig the trenches which are filled with water.

Sonia Ticona, local indigenous Aymara leader
Sonia Ticona, a local indigenous Aymara leader, explains that her community are reviving techniques used by their great-great-grandfathers. Photograph: Ronald Reategui

“Our great-great-grandfathers used the suqakollo system then at some point, and we don’t know why, they stopped. Now we are restarting it and bringing it up to date – men and women working together.”

Potatoes have been sown this season – next year it will be quinoa – in a carefully planned crop rotation, explains Canahua. While the yields are smaller than cultivating in larger fields, beating the plummeting winter temperatures, which can reach -20C, can prevent devastating crop losses.

The suqakollos project is one of several globally important agricultural heritage systems (GIAHS) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which is working with the regional governments of Cusco and Puno. Along with Peru’s agricultural ministry, the FAO is promoting family farming with the GIAHS methodology.

Canahua’s only frustration is that it’s not possible to make the suqakollos as big as Puno’s pre-hispanic people did. Archaeologists say that people have lived on the Altiplano – on the shores of the highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca – for some 8,000 years, and traces of the ancient canals still mark the high plain. Roads and boundaries between communal lands, however, have limited the space available.

John Preissing, the FAO’s representative in Peru, says the pilot project has produced more than double the normal crop yields.

“We can’t isolate just the fact that we‘re using suqakollos but we can say that between the water management, the soil management and the fertiliser management, we are reaching double the harvest numbers.”

Figures for 2013-14 indicate that suqakollo’s crop yields for quinoa are 3.2 tonnes per hectare, more than double the average of 1.3 tonnes per hectare for the same crop grown on the plain.

Ancestral crops like quinoa, and its kiwicha and kaniwa varieties, could make this labour-intensive, complex farming system worthwhile; international demand for the superfoods has multiplied the price, bringing in extra income for these smallholder farmers.

Dan Collyns

  • This article was amended on 19 August to correct a sentence stating that women and girls in Kenya spend between six and 12 hours a day collecting water. It should have said that women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa spend up to four hours a day collecting water.

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Free Maps from New York Public Library

The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division is very proud to announce the release of more than 20,000 cartographic works as high resolution downloads. We believe these maps have no known US copyright restrictions.* To the extent that some jurisdictions grant NYPL an additional copyright in the digital reproductions of these maps, NYPL is distributing these images under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. The maps can be viewed through the New York Public Library’sDigital Collections page, and downloaded (!), through the Map Warper.

What does this mean? Simply put, “it means you can have the maps, all of them if you want, for free, in high resolution.” Maps like that above, of New York’s Central Park, issued in 1863, ten years before Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux completed their historic re-design.

3D printers are a surprising new weapon in the fight against landmines


A bevy of 3D-printed pseudo landmines.


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Inside a design laboratory in Phnom Penh, 3D printers run day and night to create safe imitations of some of the world’s deadliest weapons.

The plastic results sit harmlessly on tables and shelves next to their inert — but real — counterparts. There’s a grenade, an M42 cluster munition and a PMN2 landmine, one of the most common found in Cambodia.

“This is a booby trap,” said engineer John Wright, handling a different item about the size of a flashlight.

He describes a hypothetical scenario in which a book has been placed on top of the trap to lure a potential victim.

“What it would do is as they picked up the book, this would fire,” he said, taking his finger off a red plastic part, causing a loud snap.

Releasing pressure sends a firing pin down the length of the device, which would in theory be attached to a detonation cord, setting off “something really big, some explosives,” he said. “That would then go off.”

These 3D-printed fake bombs are changing the way demining is being taught around the world.

With $100,000 in seed funding from the State Department and a diverse cast of collaborators pitching in, the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a leading demining group with offices in the US and Cambodia, created what’s called the Advance Ordnance Training Materials kit at its design lab in Phnom Penh.

Wright is Golden West’s chief design engineer.

The AOTM comes in a large suitcase that carries 10 3D-printed devices. Each model contains different arming and firing mechanisms that technicians venturing into the field need to understand.

The idea is to teach the principles behind why something explodes. As such, while they look recognizable as different types of bombs, they are not exact replicas in shape and size. For one thing they are built to be bigger. The lab has designed several additional devices for the next phase of the project, like the PMN2 landmine, meant to be more of a piece-by-piece clone.


3D printing has been used to make replicas of landmines before, but Golden West says what separates their models from predecessors is intricacy and detail. In the finished product, the anatomy of different bombs is completely on display, like a car with the hood up. Deminers will learn like mechanics.

The project has its roots in 2012 when an MIT professor named J. Kim Vandiver was visiting one of his graduate students in Phnom Penh. The student was working with Golden West on a method for removing fuses from unexploded bombs. Vandiver met with the group’s Cambodia country manager, Allen Tan. Over coffee Vandiver asked Tan, who is also Golden West’s director of applied technology, about possibly teaming up on something with the Singapore University for Technology and Design.

“I asked him to think of projects that SUTD students might contribute to. In the course of the conversation, we came up with the idea to 3D print training aids,” Vandiver said by email, explaining that MIT and the school in Singapore have an ongoing partnership. “SUTD had great 3D printing capability to test out the idea and interested students.”

Tan, a former explosive ordnance disposal technician who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the US Army, said that 3D printing solves multiple problems of teaching the trade. First of all, it’s faster and more productive than injection molding. Small changes in design can be made quickly and precisely.


It’s important to have flexibility with production because of the limited global supply of non-hazardous ordnance. Even with what there is, transportation is a headache.

“There’s these pieces of inert ordinance that sit in EOD classrooms. And when you go into a new country, you cannot bring inert ordnance, ship it trans-nationally, because it’s considered a weapons system still,” Tan said in an interview. “I can’t get it on an airplane, I can’t ship it via FedEx.”

Finally, there’s the advantage of the visual and tactile training aid.

“Most of our best guys who work for us here in Cambodia, they didn’t get to go to high school. It was Khmer Rouge time,” Tan said, referring to the radical communist movement that killed nearly 2 million people from 1975 to 1979. “You are talking about a workforce that isn’t used to learning from books, learning from powerpoints.”

“The reason that EOD technicians or operators, the reason that they need to understand how bombs work is that they can make good decisions on how to deal with a bomb when they find one,” he added.

By “bomb” Tan means to imply a broad group of ordnance including cluster munitions, mortars, rockets, artillery and landmines.

About two years passed between the first brainstorming coffee session and the first sale. The break came when Tan was presenting the kits to an annual demining conference held in South Africa last year. Representatives from the United Nations approached him afterward, pre-ordering 10 sets for use with peacekeeping missions in Africa.

Since then, orders have come from PeaceTrees Vietnam; the International Committee for the Red Cross in Switzerland, which is using the kit in Laos; and, amazingly, the American military’s School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal.

“Which is the school I went to in the US Army!” Tan said.

The kits cost $7,000 — with discounts for NGOs. The money is supposed to be reinvested into the project, making it self-sustainable and not reliant on donors.

In Cambodia itself, the Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS), a nonprofit that trains local deminers, purchased two sets.

Masato Kon, a 58-year-old explosive ordnance disposal expert with JMAS and a former longtime member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, said in an email that it was “love at first [sight]” when he saw the kit.

“I was impressed with the design,” he said.

They don’t just help his Cambodian students learn, they help him teach.

“It is clearer and easier to explain the mechanism and structure of ordnance to beginners with tangible 3D models than photos or drawings,” he said

Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia Report

250 million more people are expected to live in cities in South Asia over the next 15 years. How can the region better manage its urbanization to create more livable and prosperous cities for all?

  • Urbanization provides South Asian countries with the potential to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations in both prosperity and livability.
  • A new World Bank report finds the region, while making strides, has struggled to make the most of the opportunity. One big reason is that its urbanization has been messy and hidden.
  • South Asia faces a choice: Continue on the same path or undertake difficult and appropriate reforms to improve the region’s trajectory of development. It won’t be easy but such actions are essential in making the region’s cities prosperous and livable.


Urbanization provides South Asian countries with the potential to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations in both prosperity and livability, but a new World Bank report finds the region, while making strides, has struggled to make the most of the opportunity.

One big reason is that its urbanization has been messy and hidden, according to the report titled, “Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.” Messy urbanization is reflected in the widespread existence of slums and sprawl. Sprawl, in turn, helps give rise to hidden urbanization, particularly on the peripheries of major cities, which is not captured by official statistics. Messy and hidden urbanization is symptomatic of the failure to adequately address congestion constraints that arise from the pressure of urban populations on infrastructure, basic services, land, housing, and the environment.

South Asia’s policymakers, the World Bank report says, face a choice: Continue on the same path or undertake difficult and appropriate reforms to improve the region’s trajectory of development. It won’t be easy but such actions are essential in making the region’s cities prosperous and livable.


Key Findings

  • South Asia’s urban population grew by 130 million between 2001 and 2011 – more than the entire population of Japan – and is poised to rise by almost 250 million by 2030.
  • Productivity linked with the growing number of people living in the region’s towns and cities also increased, but South Asia’s share of the global economy remains strikingly low relative to its share of the world’s population.
  • A key trait of urbanization is that so-called agglomeration economies improve productivity and spur job creation, specifically in manufacturing and services, and indeed those two areas now account for more than 80 percent of the region’s GDP.
  • Inadequate provision of housing, infrastructure and basic urban services, as well as a failure to deal with pollution, are constraining the potential of the region’s cities to fully realize the benefits of agglomeration. The struggle to deal with these congestion pressures is a failure of both the market and policy.
  • The share of the region’s population officially classified as living in urban settlements increased only marginally from 27.4 percent in 2000 to 30.9 percent in 2011, an annual growth rate of 1.1 percent.  By contrast, when it was at a level of urbanization similar to that in South Asia today, China experienced growth in it urban share of population of 3.1 percent a year in moving from 26.4 percent in 1990 to 35.9 percent in 2000. Likewise, Brazil’s urban share grew at 2.5 percent a year between 1950 and 1960, while moving from 36.2 percent to 46.1 percent.  Going back even further, for the United States, the urban share rose from 25 percent to 35.9 percent between 1880 and 1900, for growth of 1.8 percent a year.
  • South Asia’s urbanization has been messy as seen in the widespread prevalence of slums.  At least 130 million South Asians—equivalent to more than the entire population of Mexico—live in informal urban settlements characterized by poor construction, insecure tenure and underserviced plots.
  • Some of South Asia’s urbanization has been hidden, stemming from official national statistics understating the share of the region’s population living in areas with urban characteristics.


  • To ease key congestion constraints, policymakers must address three fundamental deficits facing local government – in empowerment, resources and accountability.
  • Intergovernmental fiscal relations must be improved to address empowerment.
  • Practical ways must be identified to increase the resources available to local governments to allow them to perform their mandated functions.
  • Mechanisms must be strengthened to hold local governments accountable for their actions.
  • Three other interrelated areas for policy action are also instrumental to address congestion constraints and help further leverage urbanization to improve the region’s prosperity and livability: connectivity and planning; land and housing; and resilience to natural disasters and the effects of climate change.
  • Planners and government decision-makers need to invest to strengthen intra- and inter-urban connectivity of South Asian cities, adopt forward-looking planning approaches to guide expansion where it is most rapid on cities peripheries, invest in better quality public urban spaces to enhance pedestrian walkability and livability, and utilize granular spatial planning approaches to permit greater variation in land uses.
  • To turn back the tide of proliferating slums, South Asian cities must embark on land and housing policy reforms and foster innovative housing finance.
  • The first step in developing a resilience strategy in the face of natural disasters and the effects of climate change is to accurately identify and quantify the risks at the national, subnational and city levels. The next step is to build a national geo-referenced hazard exposure database, which includes public and private assets. Additionally, cities should revisit the design and enforcement of building codes and land use plans to avoid building further in risk-prone areas.

Chinese Firm Begins Construction at Boeng Kak

Eight years after CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin signed off on a 99-year lease of Boeng Kak lake in one of the most controversial real estate deals in Phnom Penh’s recent history, a Chinese firm has begun construction on the first major development project on the filled-in lake.

Beijing-based Graticity Real Estate Development company started construction last month on One Park, a commercial and residential development billed as “Sophisticated Urban Living” after purchasing 20 hectares from Shukaku, Mr. Meng Khin’s firm, according to Hong Xin, customer manager for Graticity.

Children play in a pool of water this week on land near the development site of One Park, which a Chinese firm began building last month on the former Boeng Kak lake area in Phnom Penh. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)
Children play in a pool of water this week on land near the development site of One Park, which a Chinese firm began building last month on the former Boeng Kak lake area in Phnom Penh. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

“One Park is our first investment project in Cambodia,” Mr. Hong said on Tuesday. “We have 20 hectares [in the Boeng Kak area]. Currently, we are developing phase one on 7.9 hectares, which will be flats and condos. Phase two will include a five-star hotel, shopping mall, high rise offices.”

Mr. Hong said Graticity had entered into a partnership with Shukaku to develop the site, paying $2,500 per square meter of land on the former lake.

Amu Pillay, a spokeswoman for Shukaku, declined to discuss the development.

“Please note that we’re not agreeing or denying any of the information given by Graticity,” she said in an email Wednesday. “We’re merely reserving our comments.”

Phnom Penh City Center (PPCC), the name Shukaku has given to its grand development plan for the lake, has already begun building an office, showroom, roads and drainage infrastructure on the filled-in lake.

One Park, however, is the first sign that the upscale urban development initially envisioned for the area may actually take shape.

Mr. Hong said the majority of the condos in the initial six-story residential building, the frame of which already rises above the mostly barren development site, have already been sold. And he said he was confident that the fierce protests that followed the eviction of thousands of families from the area around the lake following its sale to Shukaku had subsided for good.

“We haven’t had to advertise, and we have still sold over 90 percent of the flats already, so we are confident that there is a market for such properties at Boeng Kak, and it shows that people must feel the protests are over,” Mr. Hong said.

“For the flats, most of the [buyers] have been Cambodians, as they have ID cards and are able to purchase easily,” he added. “As this is our first project in Cambodia, we don’t know what the target market for the condos will be yet, but we imagine they will be popular with foreigners: Chinese, Taiwanese and Singaporeans.”

Six-story apartments range from $450,000 to $750,000, Mr. Hong said, adding that Graticity planned to have tenants move into their units by the end of 2017. No date has been set for the completion of the buildings that will house 1,300 condos as part of the project’s second phase, he said.

Workers take a break from construction on the One Park development project. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)
Workers take a break from construction on the One Park development project. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

Plans for the Boeng Kak area have been controversial from the start, and Shukaku has struggled to get development off the ground.

In 2011, the World Bank put a hold on all new lending to the country in protest of the government’s forced eviction of some 3,000 families from around the lake. Evicted residents, along with their neighbors, have expanded their activism beyond the lake, becoming some of the most high-profile protesters in the country and lending their voice to a variety of causes.

A joint venture between Shukaku and Chinese firm Erdos Hongjun Investment Corporation, which began in 2010, fell apart in 2014. In June last year, Singapore’s HLH Group announced that it was planning to purchase land in the area, but called off their $14.9 million agreement with Shukaku in December, citing “commercial reasons.”

HLH claimed at the time that it knew nothing about the evictions and subsequent protests at the site. Mr. Hong of Graticity said he was confident that lingering discontent would not affect his firm’s project.

“HLH didn’t succeed due to the protests at the time. Hun Sen declared in April that the land dispute had been solved, so we came here to invest,” he said. “Now, a lot of companies are interested in the lake, and there haven’t been any more disputes, so everything appears to be OK.”

However, Yorm Bopha, a leading member of the Boeng Kak protesters, said that a group of activists demonstrated in front of the One Park construction site last month.

“Fifty people from the Boeng Kak community protested outside the company [land] and we demanded that they stop construction and wait for a solution first, but they did not listen to us,” she said.

“If there is no solution for the people in the Boeng Kak area, we will continue to protest.”,

Can better spatial planning and management transform South Asian cities?
Aerial view of Dhaka
Aerial view of Dhaka

South Asia’s urbanization has been described as “messy, hidden and underleveraged.” A lot has to do with how South Asian countries manage their cities’ spatial development.

Having visited many cities in South Asia, the sight of the built environment in the region is a familiar one–a rapid expansion of built-up areas and an accompanying low-density sprawl that has, all too often, gone hand-in-hand with poorly managed transportation systems, planning constraints, underutilized land, and a lack of institutional capacity and resources. These forces result in high land and rental costs that make it extremely challenging for cities to support affordable housing and commercial space, and to maintain a livable public realm.

Between 1999 and 2010, the region’s cities grew about twice as fast in area as they grew in population, which suggests declining average city population densities and increasing sprawl. And when the growth of a city’s footprint exceeds the rate at which it can expand infrastructure and regulate development, spatial planning and services provision typically suffer. The implications are severe, especially when the region’s urban population is estimated to rise by almost 250 million people by 2030.

If South Asian cities are to continue harboring the promise of better livelihoods and living conditions for their citizens, then addressing the ability of South Asian countries to manage their cities’ spatial development is critical, in order to alleviate congestion pressures that undermine a city’s livability and hamper agglomeration economies; and to prevent their cities from being further locked in to a pattern of urban sprawl that is prohibitively costly to reverse.

While every city faces its own unique set of circumstances, histories and political economy, the opportunities for planners, government policy makers, and stakeholders to better manage the spatial structure and intra- and interurban connectivity are there. These can be tackled at several levels:

•     Investing in transport links that improve connectivity between cities to create more efficient systems of cities. It is also critical to invest in improved intracity connectivity and traffic management to enhance mobility within urban areas and ease traffic congestion.

•     Adopting forward-looking approaches to planning and guiding expansion where it is most rapid—on city peripheries. This approach will reduce the messiness of urbanization, prevent undesirable spatial forms from being locked in, and facilitate future provision of infrastructure and basic urban services.

•     Unlocking the potential of city cores and carry out rejuvenation where cores have declined by investing in improvements such as better public urban spaces to enhance pedestrian walkability and livability. Promote better management of developable land in city cores through effective land-assembly mechanisms; making better use of publicly owned land; and reusing existing structures in an adaptive, appropriate, and innovative manner.

•     Most importantly, strengthening institutional capacity to plan, coordinate, implement, and enforce development to deliver integrated, coordinated, and smarter planning policies. By so doing, facilitate the formation of more vibrant neighborhoods and public space through granular and contextual spatial planning approaches. Land use planning must constantly adapt to changes in market demand within a framework that takes a long-term view of a city’s development.

There are a handful of successful examples of well-planned cities and initiatives in South Asia but in general, many South Asian cities must face these challenges and decide if they want to continue on the same path or undertake appropriate actions to transform the region’s trajectory of development towards a more prosperous and livable one.

Read the full report and its policy recommendations on managing spatial structure and connectivity in chapter 4 of the recently launched publication on “Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability”.

Watch the US Drop 2.5 Million Tons of Bombs on Laos

(Note: This article focuses on Laos, though Cambodia was also heavily bombed)

Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped around 2.5 million tons of bombs on Laos. While the American public was focused on the war in neighboring Vietnam, the US military was waging a devastating covert campaign to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines through the small Southeast Asian country.

The nearly 600,000 bombing runs delivered a staggering amount of explosives: The equivalent of a planeload of bombs every eight minutes for nine years, or a ton of bombs for every person in the country—more than what American planes unloaded on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. Laos remains, per capita, the most heavily bombed country on earth.

The map above, created by photographer Jerry Redfern, provides another view of the massive scale of the bombing. Each point on the map corresponds to one US bombing mission starting in October 1965; multiple planes often flew on missions.

The unfinished aftermath of the air campaign is the subject of Redfern and Karen Coates’ new book, Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos. This stunning book, seven years in the making, documents how the secret air war is still claiming lives more than four decades after it ended.

More than 100 Laotians fall victim to unexploded cluster bombs annually, delayed casualties of Operation Barrel Roll and Operation Steel Tiger, which dropped 270 million cluster bomblets. Packed by the dozens or hundreds in canisters, cluster bombs are designed to open in midair, scattering small explosives across a wide radius. Yet not all of them detonated, and today, 80 million live bomblets lurk under Laos’ soil.

Cleaning up the unexploded ordnance (UXO) has been agonizingly slow. In January, Congress approved $12 million for UXO clearance and related aid in Laos. In comparison, the bombing cost the United States $17 million a day in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Below, a selection of Redfern’s photographs from Eternal Harvest. Learn more about his and Coates’ work at their website.

An aerial view of the countryside around Phonsavanh, Laos, shows craters from the US bombing campaign.

Workers found this unexploded bomb shell in a quarry. It awaits a clearance team, which will attempt to defuse it safely.

Left: Bo Ya, 35, lost his hands and most of his vision 10 years ago when he picked up some unexploded ordnance (UXO). Right: A pile of bomb scrap, shrapnel, and cluster bombs lies next to a new home along the old Ho Chi Minh Trail.

A Vietnamese trader and his family eat dinner by a heap of shrapnel and cluster bombs and an artillery shell. Scrap-metal traders buy bomb debris from Laotians who collect it in the fields and forests.

A technician with an unexploded ordnance disposal team scans for bombs along the new road built atop the old Ho Chi Minh Trail. People began building new homes in this spot before the area had been cleared.

Left: A 750-pound bomb is detonated by a clearance team. Right: A woman and her children paddle down the Banghiang River in a canoe fashioned from fuel tanks dropped by American bombers.

A guesthouse with decorations fashioned from war detritus caters to foreigners in the town of Phonsavanh.

Ethnic Lave kids count the money they earned from selling bomb scrap. 

The lobby of the Vinh Thong Guesthouse in Phonsavan displays an amazing array of defused UXO as well as a mural depicting the 1968 bombing of the Plain of Jars.

Children study by a UXO warning poster in a one-room schoolhouse in Ban Pakeo.

A dud rocket found in a clump of bamboo. It was later detonated by a bomb disposal team.

Left: A planter made from the tail fins of an American bomb in Vieng Xay, a former stronghold of the Pathet Lao communist guerillas. Right: Sou Lin Phan poses next to a large dud bomb in the middle of his village in Xieng Khouang Province.

Mekong dams will wipe out fisheries, study says

Thu, 22 October 2015

Preliminary findings from a soon-to-be released comprehensive report have reinforced dismal projections for the future of Cambodia’s fisheries if 11 planned mainstream hydropower dams are built on the Mekong River.

Presented yesterday on the first day of the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in Phnom Penh, the impact assessment projected more than half of fish catches in regions connected to the Mekong could be lost if the dams – nine in Laos and two in Cambodia – are established in the coming decades.

The blocking of fish migratory pathways and a 50 per cent drop in water nutrient levels caused by the trapping of sediment were noted among the major threats to fish and aquatic life posed by the proposed plants.

Researcher Ian Cowx, director of the International Fisheries Institute at Britain’s Hull University, said the dam could wipe out 100 per cent of fish that migrate long distances.

He said there was no such thing as “fish friendly turbines”, and that reservoirs would stop larvae from drifting downstream, which there is “no technological method to overcome”.

“When you have 11 dams there ain’t a lot left when you get to the bottom” of the stream, Cowx said.

Commissioned by the Vietnam National Mekong River Committee and undertaken by water environment consultancy DHI, the two-and-a-half-year study – set for release in December – focused on the environmental, social and economic impact on the Kingdom’s floodplains, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and the Tonle Sap lake.

Baseline data calculated that fish production in those regions was about 500,000 tonnes for Cambodia and 700,000 tonnes for Vietnam.

If all the hydropower plants go ahead, according to Cowx, “the bottom line is that we have estimated we will lose about 360 to 370 thousand tonnes of fish and aquatic organisms in Vietnam and about 270,000 tonnes in Cambodia.”

Citing its need for cheap electricity to develop its economy, Laos has pushed ahead with its hydro plans.

The Xayaburi dam in the north of the country is under construction while work on the planned Don Sahong hydropower plant 2 kilometres north of Cambodia’s border is slated to begin soon.

A previous study by the Mekong River Commission, which used data from 2000, found the Lower Mekong Basin would lose between 550,000 to 800,000 tonnes, or 26 per cent to 42 per cent, of fish resources, because of planned hydropower development on the Mekong.


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