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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

South-East Asian climate map reveals disaster hotspots

Source: SciDev.Net
Imelda V. Abano

Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.
[MANILA] An attempt to map the potential effects of climate change across South-East Asia has found Cambodia to be unexpectedly vulnerable to disasters.

The map, which considers the region's risk of exposure to climate hazards as well as its ability to adapt to such threats, found that Cambodia's poor ability to deal with disasters dwarfs its relatively low exposure to the risks.

The project, 'Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping for Southeast Asia', was carried out by the International Development Research Centre's Economy and Environment Program for South-East Asia (EEPSEA) as part of a larger-scale study.

The researchers combined historical datasets (from 1980-2005) with climate hazard maps for five climate-related risks. They compared these findings with the vulnerability assessment framework of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change � based on exposure to multiple hazard risks, human and biological sensitivity, and adaptive capacity to climate change.

The study found that some of the most vulnerable areas in South-East Asia were the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and Bangkok, because of their exposure to sea level. The northern part of the Philippines was also particularly vulnerable, being at high risk from tropical cyclones.

But the most vulnerable areas of all, occupying four of the top ten hotspots out of a total of 530, were in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Not only does the city lie at the intersection of all but one of five climate-related hazards � drought, floods, landslides and sea level rise � it is also densely populated. These risks outweigh its high adaptive capacity.

"This is the first comprehensive [climatic] picture of what the region looks like," says Herminia Francisco, director of EEPSEA. "The map illustrates the extent of climate change in the region and that most of the countries are vulnerable to the worst manifestations of climate change. To avert disasters, governments should take urgent and ambitious actions."

Richard Fuchs, IDRC regional director for South-East and East Asia, says: "The challenge for us is to put more pressure on the policymakers to better manage adaptation options in reducing vulnerability in the region."

Philippines senator Loren Legarda, who attended the Manila launch of the map last week (6 March), said that policymakers should now devise ways to prepare vulnerable people for the impact of climate change.

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Awe-inspiring Cambodia

Texts and photographs by Monisha Sharma

As we drove through the Cambodian vegetation on our three-hour journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, listening to dulcet Cambodian melody, nothing could have prepared us for the wonders that lay ahead.

Cambodian history is as rich as it is disturbing. Mired in political turmoil, genocide and cruelties by the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world today. Yet, as we entered the realm of the Angkor, we could not help but be amazed by the bygone cultural splendour that surrounded us.

It is hard to imagine, when you look at the scale and grandeur of the temples, that these were once covered with thick tropical jungles. The rediscovery of the Angkor is widely credited to French explorer Henri Mouhot and it was the French institution École Française d'Extrême Orient (EFEO) that started the restoration process in 1901.

The complex is split into four main regions:
◊ Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom
◊ Le Petit Circuit
◊ Le Grand Circuit
◊ Roluos group

Angkor is the largest pre-industrialised city spanning 400 square miles, so it would be pure foolishness to assume that you could see it all in one day! It would be ideal to either pick and choose where you would want to go, or to put aside 10 to 15 days to see the entire complex. We chose to visit Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Phnom Bakheng (Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom) and Ta Prohm (Le Petit Circuit).

Angkor Wat is the largest and most dominating structure in the development. Almost Aztec-like in its construction, the towers are a popular symbol of Cambodia that is found on almost all its currency notes. There are wide lobbies, libraries and dance halls contained within. Local artistes in colourful period costumes continue to perform in the halls, and you may catch a glimpse of their performances by paying a small fee.
The climb up the Angkor tower is a must for everyone. Although the stairs are high and there is a constant fear of falling, the thrill of achievement and the view of verdant lush rice paddies are well worth it!

As you wander through the expansive compound, it is easy to get lost in the age-old splendour that surrounds you. Intricately detailed stone, sculptures of Apsara's (celestial dancers), war scenes, and other depictions from the Holy Scriptures are breathtaking. You will marvel at the manpower and skill required to complete such a colossal architecture in the 9th century. That feeling of awe never leaves you in Angkor.

There are numerous temples, primarily Hindu, within the compound that are still used, as well as Buddhist monasteries that surround the region. You will repeatedly spy monks at Angkor, their bright saffron clothing directly contrasting with the cool grey stone.

As it often happens in extremely hot tropical jungles, we were hit by a sudden Cambodian rainstorm. Sprinting through the courtyards, we found ourselves at the entrance of a monk residence. In one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had, they allowed us to stay under a shelter until the storm abated and showed us where they lived. There was no furniture or bedding of any sort and a huge hall was ambiguously split up into the kitchen and sleeping area. Their only possessions were food bowls and their brightly coloured robes. We had truly been transported back in time!

The Bayon Temple, part of the Angkor Thom city, is famously known as the "smiling faces" temple. To view the silhouettes perfectly, visit this temple at noon. The shrine dedicated to Buddha is still an active worshipping point at the temple, where the statues have been covered in saffron robes and surrounded by incense. The large welcoming smiling faces are reflective of the people you will meet during your stay here. Despite their hardships, Cambodians are excellent hosts.

Phnom Bakheng, one of the most popular sunset viewing points, was the first hill top temple constructed in Angkor. It is a half hour hike but there is the alternative Elephant transportation for those not feeling up to the climb. It took us at least thirty minutes to hike up the rain-ravaged, tree root covered stairs. The temple is a representation of the mythical Mount Meru and you really do feel like you are on top of the world. Enjoy the beautiful colours of nature, whether it is the bright orange pinkish hues painted in the sky, or the emerald green foliage that surrounds the base of the hill. There is typically a huge crowd at the top but, from that vantage point, nothing can come between you and the setting sun!

Ta Prohm is absolutely unique in its disarray. It is the only temple that has not been restored. With tree trunks larger than its pillars, one is transformed into an archaeologist on the hunt a la Indian Jones. This is also where Angelina Jolie spent about 6 months shooting 'Lara Croft - Tomb Raider' and then adopted the now famous Maddox Jolie-Pitt. The combined stone and wood ruins make for some great photography, so don't forget to bring your camera!

After about two days, it is easy to be 'templed out'. Thankfully, Siem Reap offers a great variety of restaurants. Wat Bo is one that is extremely popular with backpackers. If your palate is feeling exceptionally adventurous, you may find fried beetles and grasshoppers at Siem Reap's night food market to your liking. Khmer cuisine is in itself heavily influenced by the neighbouring Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese styles of cooking. Bok L'hong and Somlar kari nom banh jok are some popular local dishes. You can also catch an Apsara dance performance that often includes a buffet spread at many hotels in the city.

If you are an avid shopper like me, head over to the Central Market. Locally produced silk ties, scarves and cushions are great take home gifts for friends and family. Local art available in the Angkor compound make for great souvenirs and also provide an avenue to support the local talent.

When we boarded the plane out of Siem Reap's international airport, we left holding two bags bursting with colourful souvenirs and a camera full of vivid pictures. More significantly, we left with unparalleled memories of destitute but ever smiling Cambodians, visions of the monks at Angkor, and an experience to recount to friends!

Monisha Sharma is a poor analyst who considers herself very lucky to have any opportunity to travel. She loves experimenting with new foods, cultures and learning more about "the world around us". Currently working in Canada - surrounded by snow and below zero temperatures, she is incredibly envious of everyone in Singapore enjoying their tropical sun-filled winter.
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Foundation to fund Cambodian children victimized by Canadians

Janaya Fuller-Evans, Special to Vancouver Courier

Cambodian children victimized by Canadian pedophiles will get help from Canada, says the founder of Vancouver-based Ratanak Foundation.

While the Canadian government ended foreign aid to Cambodia this month, Brian McConaghy is determined that the foundation's centre will take in all children exploited by Canadians in Cambodia and foot the rehabilitation bill.

Though it's an expensive commitment, McConaghy says the situation is too dire to be "financially pragmatic."

"Some of these kids have been raped thousands of times," said McConaghy, a former RCMP forensic scientist. "It's a worst case scenario."

McConaghy says the child sex trade in Cambodia is directly linked to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. "It goes right back to the killing fields."

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 until 1979, allegedly killing 1.7 million people. Cambodian social structures such as law and education were eradicated. The country is still dealing with the atrocities of the recent past.

"The last thing you want is a poverty-stricken culture with no moral compass paired with incredibly rich pedophiles from the West with no moral compass, either," says McConaghy. "And that's what we have."

Ratanak was established in 1990, after McConaghy visited refugee camps in Thailand during the Cambodian civil war. Originally providing medical aid and funding for orphanages, the foundation started helping exploited children in 2005.

McConaghy has travelled to raise money to maintain the foundation's programs, just as the Canadian government has cut foreign aid to Cambodia, among other countries.

Canada's aid cuts came down as the first of five Khmer Rouge officials went to trial for genocide at a U.N.-assisted tribunal, 30 years after the regime ended.

Kaing Guek Eav--also known as Duch--is charged with crimes against humanity. Duch ran the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh where approximately 16,000 people were tortured and killed.

McConaghy doesn't believe the trials will heal the country, though he does think they are a necessary step. "I think Cambodians will go back to their homes feeling strangely empty. I feel it is going to be a big disappointment."

But forgiving and forgetting isn't the answer either, according to Ian Townsend-Gault, University of B.C law professor and director of Southeast Asian legal studies.

"The crimes of people like Duch, who is on trial, are so horrendous," Townsend-Gault said. "And there should be an accounting for it."

He also says Cambodia cannot change so long as prime minister Hun Sen, a former member of the Khmer Rouge government, is in power. Nor can it change without support from the international community.

While the Canadian government's coffers are being guarded more closely, Ratanak Foundation is surviving due to McConaghy's fundraising efforts. "It's certainly not a banner year for growth but I think we're going to pay all our bills."

Despite the foundation's modest financial success, McConaghy works with other organizations on their projects as well.

Agape International Missions, a Christian non-profit organization in California, partnered with Ratanak to lease a former brothel in Phnom Penh. It was gutted and rebuilt as a community centre and elementary school.

Fairview Presbyterian Church in Vancouver provided the construction materials and sent 10 congregation members to complete the renovations last May.

The centre hosts medical clinics a few times a week. The elementary school should open in September.

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Cambodia: Pride and compassion

It's no secret that wearing intentionally ripped jeans is really a microcosmic manifestation of a person's latent middle-class guilt for being able to afford jeans in the first place. I think that's been pretty much agreed upon by the contemporary pop culture scholarly community. While I've never subscribed to this hobo-chic sensibility, the sentiment has certainly plagued me lately. I'm writing this column from an Internet café in Cambodia, and I'm sure it goes without saying that this country is pretty down in the dumps. Even as well-read (translation: well Wikipedia-ed) as I consider myself to be, I really wasn't prepared to encounter this level of poverty.

It's the first time I've ever experienced something I could honestly describe as gut-wrenching. Little kids approach you at restaurants and beg for the rest of your sandwich, and when you walk down the main thoroughfare of the capital city, there are babies literally sleeping in the street. The slums along the roads are surrounded by moats filled with more trash than their inhabitants could possibly have generated on their limited means, and there are people everywhere missing limbs. All the while, I'm staring out the window of a bus, wistfully listening to depressing music on my iPod (trying to justify the fact that I can even afford an iPod) and consciously not complaining about the glaring lack of air conditioning.

To make my financially fueled guilt complex even more complex, a huge part of traveling in Cambodia is simply trying not to get ripped off. As soon as I crossed the border, the actual government of Cambodia sold me a visa for a hugely inflated price and told me that if I didn't like it, I was welcome to walk back over to Thailand. Afterward, a man charged me $10 for what he promised would be a 20-minute ride in his "cab" to the bus station, which was really only a block away. And you thought tricks were just for kids.

This whole Khmer-traveler dynamic is quite frustrating, but to put it bluntly, they need the money more than we do. So do you just blindly get ripped off and taken for a ride by some mean old fruit lady who sends her little kids off to beg instead of to school? Or alternatively, with the pride of "stupid Americans" everywhere hinging on your bargaining ability, do you haggle down to the last quarter with someone who would genuinely notice if they lost a quarter?

I'm not writing advice anymore, so I'll be the first to tell you - I have no f---ing clue. Personally, I handled it by stealthily sneaking ice cream to child beggars when their parents were forcibly peddling drugs to innocent passersby. Unfortunately, in my lifetime, there probably won't come a time when children aren't forced to work in Southeast Asia, or their agrarian society can yield sustaining amounts of income. Instead of stewing in guilt or donating all of my hard-earned bankroll from The Diamondback, as cheesy as this sounds, sometimes you really do have to settle for a child's chocolate-covered smile ... and, of course, take a prominent role in your campus' activism community and so on and so forth.

Esti Frischling is a sophomore studio art major writing this semester from Thailand. She can be reached at
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Officials: Tamil group not a threat in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Local and U.S. officials in Phnom Penh have downplayed the threat of the non-profit Tamil Foundation, which allegedly had ties with Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers, the Phnom Penh Post reported on Wednesday.

"We got a note from the Treasury (Department of U.S.), and it's something we are required to distribute to the local government. It's just a heads-up. It's not something serious here," the English-language daily newspaper quoted U.S. Embassy spokesman John Johnson as saying.

The U.S. government had sent a generic message to all its embassies indicating that its Treasury Department had designated the Tamil Foundation, a charity based in U.S., as a terrorist group and frozen its assets, according to the spokesman.

Meanwhile, Koy Kuong, secretary of state at the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told the paper "this is just an exchange of information. We don't have a Tamil Foundation in Cambodia."

"U.S. learned that the Tamil Foundation had established offices in other countries, so they are seeking international cooperation, but we haven't heard of this group operating in Cambodia," he added.

The paper on Tuesday quoted national police spokesman Keat Chantarith as saying that "we are looking into the case" of the Tamil Foundation, under the request of the foreign ministry.

In February, the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation sent a letter to Interior Minister Sar Kheng, asking him to investigate the actions of the foundation which allegedly supported the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The foreign ministry sent the letter after receiving a diplomatic notice from the U.S. Embassy warning of the existence of the Tamil Foundation, which had offices in many countries.
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