The land of heroes
Our heroes
Our land
Cambodia Kingdom

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cambodian Campaigner Get World's Children's Prize In Stockholm

By Bjarne Wildau

Somaly Mam of Cambodia, who has campaigned against trafficking and child prostitution was Wednesday named winner of the World's Children's Prize. Queen Silvia of Sweden, one of the patrons of the prize, was to present the award, worth 150,000 dollars, at a ceremony on Friday.

Somaly Mam was sold to a brothel as a young girl, and has campaigned against trafficking for the past 12 years. She has set up three safe houses for girls rescued from brothels and offers them food, health care, schooling and job training, organizers said.

Her organization, that is known under its French acronym, AFISEP, has helped some 3,000 former sex workers.

However, Somaly Mam's campaign against the sex trade in Cambodia has "earned her many enemies and death threats. Her own 14 year-old daughter was kidnapped, raped and sold to a brothel" two years ago, organizers said.

Somaly Mam was selected by a jury of former child soldiers, street children, bonded workers and refugees from 17 countries.

Somaly Mam was also winner of the Global Friends' Award in a worldwide vote among some 6.6 million children.

The World's Children's Prize award, was established in 2000 by the Swedish non-governmental organization, Children's World.
Read more!

Far Reaching Impact of the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia

Deep in the former opium-growing region of the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia, a new road has opened that is bound to change the social, economic and environmental fabric of the region forever. But unlike so many changes in Asia that have been studied only after their impact has occurred, researchers were on the ground for this one from the very beginning.

Using a combination of high-tech satellite technology and traditional boot-pounding research, they are working to understand the impact of change on a region that has largely existed in steady isolation for generations.

The road, inaugurated with great fanfare in early April by the prime ministers of Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, will link the city of Kunming in southern China through northern Laos to Chiang Mai in Thailand and then on to Bangkok, nearly 1,100 miles away. This new “Route 3,” the first modern ground link between China and Thailand, cuts directly through the formerly isolated high mountain areas of the region - the famed “Golden Triangle.”

Among those researching the impact of the road through Montane Southeast Asia is East-West Center researcher Jefferson Fox. Under grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA worth about $1.5 million, Fox and his colleagues are studying how the road will affect the environment, land use practices and daily life in the regions it penetrates.

But in larger ways, their study will contribute to the understanding of how projects such as this have impacts far beyond the direct economic or physical changes that drive them in the first place.

Working with economists, geographers, sociologists and others, Fox put together a high-tech database, which in turn has led to a greater understanding of dynamics of change.

“We’re looking at the road as a metaphor for change,” Fox said.

A half-century ago, this was a remote mountainous region populated by indigenous people who survived on traditional shifting cultivation and subsistence hunting. From far northern Thailand through Laos and into China, “you wouldn’t even know you were in three different countries,” Fox said.

But change inevitably came. Opium production became an export crop, and, later, cash crops such as rubber began to take over. The Chinese, Fox notes, were particularly successful in establishing rubber in the semi-tropical areas of southern China with a system that became a combination of state-run enterprises and private small landholders.

In Thailand, an interest in land preservation led to the creation of land set-asides and national parks that left traditional indigenous people marginalized or dispossessed, he said. In Laos, the indigenous people are increasingly becoming sharecroppers for outsiders who are eager to plant more and more rubber.

The introduction of year-round “monocrops” has had an immediate and measurable impact on the environment, Fox says. This is particularly true with an introduced crop such as rubber, with its high demands for land and water resources.

The only thing holding back even further expansion of rubber and further loss of the existing environment and traditional cultures in the area was lack of an adequate means of getting that product to market.

Hence, the road.

Traditionally, such development projects happen, and then scientists come in to study their impact after the fact, Fox said. In this case, the study began before the road was completed and led to a solid baseline of information that can be used to accurately paint a before-and-after picture.

Whether that change is good or bad can be a matter of perspective, Fox said. But what is without question is that transformation is coming to the region on a scale that could not have been imagined previously.

“We’re really on the verge of a major change in land use in the uplands of Southeast Asia,” he said. “It was going to find a way to happen anyway, but not at this speed.”

What is important to scientists such as Fox is that, this time, the change - beginning with the physical and environmental transformations and moving on to all the associated impacts - is being watched and measured. It makes sense, he said, to monitor land-use change as the baseline for understanding these massive changes taking place.

“These cultures were built around their land use,” he said. “If you change land use policies, you’re going to have an impact on your culture.”

Along with that change of land use come new environmental problems, such as demand for water and loss of biodiversity; the shift from a subsistence to an export economy; social change as people move toward cash jobs and urban centers; and the influx of new people and ideas carried easily along the smooth new Route 3 road.

One concern is the spread of disease, particularly HIV/AIDS, which is known to “flow along roads,” Fox said. The fact that Kunming and the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai are known for high incidence of AIDS makes this unhappy change inevitable.

Another concern, he said, is the potential for an uptick in smuggling. While opium production has been largely curtailed, there is still a lucrative black market for tropical hardwoods and lumber. Illegal forestry could expand with easy access to the new road, he said.

Over time, Fox said, the story of a place transitioning from subsistence to a commercial economy “is not a new story.”

“But a major road that opens up an area that has been totally isolated is not that common,” he said. “Here we have three countries, three (land use) policies. It’s a great opportunity for understanding.”

Jefferson Fox is a senior researcher at the East-West Center in Honolulu, specializing in land-use and land-cover change in Asia, and is coordinator of the Center’s Environmental Change, Vulnerability and Governance research group.
Read more!