The Costs of Climate Change: Aggravating Caste-Based Discrimination

4 Mar









By Spogmay Ahmed, PISA Staff Assistant

To many, climate change is simply another story in the news, a phenomenon left for the experts to solve. Rather, it is a harsh reality that exploits the already existing social and political discrepancies that mark everyday affairs. In South Asian countries like India, Nepal, and Pakistan, parts of society are organized according to a caste system. This form of social order permits little mobility and subjugates those individuals comprising the lower ranks of society. To add to the institutionalized inequality that low-caste communities face every day, climate change only exacerbates their vulnerability. When natural disasters strike, these people are left homeless, defenseless, and are even exploited for their labor. With the unpredictability of climate change threatening all populations, low-caste communities are left neglected and in dire need of political attention.

The “Equality in Aid” report recently released by the International Dalit Solidarity Network analyzes the pernicious impact of caste-based discrimination on Dalits, or ‘untouchables’ at the undermost level of the caste system in South Asian countries. For example, though untouchability was outlawed in India’s 1950 constitution, discrimination against lower-class individuals persists. Without proper accountability mechanisms in place, the government cannot be sure that laws are being effectively implemented at the local level. Therefore, structural inequality leads to the marginalization of these communities. Dalits are typically landless, and the few assets they own are often not formally recognized. During times of crisis, Dalits are disposed to lose everything they have, and their untouchable status leaves them at a loss for receiving emergency aid. To add to this maltreatment, Dalits are even taken advantage of with complete disregard for the trauma they may have experienced themselves. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, for example, Dalits in India were forced to remove corpses and debris with little or no compensation received. Dalits have been denied fundamental resources, such as health care, shelter, and access to clean water. Additionally, their lack of documentation leaves them ineligible to claim their land and property rights. Priority is offered to higher-class people, while discrimination against Dalits often goes without retribution. The structural repression Dalits face as a product of their low social status is only aggravated by administrative ignorance and governmental limitations.

The report lists a number of recommendations to address the problems caused by caste-based discrimination. First, humanitarian actors must ensure that the issue is publicly recognized. To promote disaster prevention and response, they must engage directly with low-caste communities to advance their needs. Second, humanitarian actors must agree to a common approach that fosters consensus and encourages stronger response mechanisms. Last, they must support laws and policies at all administrative levels that recognize the situation of marginalized groups, advance accountability, and adequately address the effects of caste-based discrimination. These steps are fundamental to effectively tackling the social barriers low-caste communities regularly face.

Climate change has been attracting increasing attention around the world, but some of its effects have been utterly overlooked. As environmental concerns make their way onto the international stage, regional concerns need not be neglected. Inevitably, climate change impacts both developed and developing countries. It is important that these countries do not fall along dividing lines, but recognize the realities that are really at stake. Among these realities is the pending exploitation of regional, low-caste populations. Since natural disasters can strike unexpectedly, it is crucial that preparedness and response be carried out in an effective, equitable fashion.

“Using Indigenous Knowledge to Promote Local Leadership and Sustainable Resource Management in Myanmar”

24 Sep

As part of PisaSpeak’s  month-long guest blogger Series – “Tell us what you’re doing in the field” we heard from Priscilla Clapp, blue moon fund, about the need for integrated watershed management in Myanmar.  This week’s post comes from Rainer Eizenberger, Program Coordinator, Heinrich Böll Stiftung and focuses on a new program that taps community leaders in an effort to build support for indigenous knowledge in natural resource management.  

Guest Blogger:  Rainer Eizenberger, Program Coordinator Southeast Asia, Heinrich Böll Stiftung

Photos: Rainer Eizenberger, Participatory Indigenous Natural Resource Management Workshop, Myanmar 2013


EditorImage: Suzanne Kelly-Lyall

While Myanmar has seen remarkable political changes over the past few years, conflicts over natural resources and environmental degradation have been on the rise. Reports about conflicts over land, mining projects, hydropower mega-projects and others dominate the recently liberalized local media landscape. In many cases the conflicts are linked to investment projects from neighboring countries (mainly China and Thailand) which result in unsustainable resource extraction with detrimental effects for both- the environment and the local and indigenous communities. As more investment in the resource sector is to be expected following Myanmar’s economic liberalization, it could put further pressure on already vulnerable communities. This is especially the case in the resource rich ethnic areas.

Enter Heinrich Boll Stiftung and EcoDev/Alarm…..


“In order to empower local communities to manage their natural resources in a more sustainable way it is crucial to build up a critical mass of local development practitioners and NGO workers who are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with these new challenges.” To this end, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia together with EcoDev/Alarm and several other local partner organizations, joined hands to create a specialized Training of Trainers Program on Participatory Indigenous Natural Resource Management. Over the past year, more than twenty trainers representing local organizations from all parts of Myanmar have acquired new skills and knowledge at one of several weeklong workshops conducted across the coImageuntry. The training program includes participatory methods such as Participatory Action Research, moderation and visualization skills (VIPP), exposure to legal frameworks regarding natural resource rights and more. In local communities, future trainers learn to appreciate and explore indigenous and local knowledge and the value of indigenous knowledge for sustainable development at the local level. After completing the program the participants receive certificates issued by the Right Livelihood College and continue the training program within their own organizations. As part of the program two manuals on Visualization in Participatory Programs (VIPP) and Participatory Action Research (PAR) are now available in Burmese Language editions and distributed at no cost as hard copy and e-book for downloads to local civil society organizations.

Want to tell us about the fantastic work you’re doing and how it makes a difference?  Send my your written or audio post:

Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar

10 Sep

Special Guest Bloggers:

Sheridan Hyland, Program Associate, blue moon fund and Priscilla Clapp, Retired Minister Counselor, U.S. Foreign Service

Former Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Burma, for the blue moon fund


 Within the past few years, we have seen the Union of Myanmar, formerly Burma, open itself to the international community and begin a promising reform process.  These new changes provide both opportunities and challenges for Myanmar’s development, and one of the most important components for development is water.  A significant portion of Myanmar’s population still resides in rural areas, and as a result agriculture accounts for the dominant share of the country’s water usage.[1]  The energy sector, however, specifically the hydropower, has been steadily increasing its water usage as Myanmar seeks to expand economic productivity, raise incomes, and alleviate the acute poverty of the majority of the population.  With four key rivers as identified by the Government of Myanmar– the Ayeyarwady, Sittoung, Thanlwin, and Bago – as well as numerous important tributaries[2], Myanmar’s water resources are significant and offer potential solutions to many of the development challenges the country faces, if they are employed wisely and efficiently.

As greater emphasis on environmental challenges has become global, it is clear that careless use of natural resources cannot continue indefinitely, and Myanmar’s government, civil society, and population have recognized that water resources management systems must be put in place to ensure sustainable development of the country’s economy and resources.  Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), in particular, has gained significant traction in Myanmar.  IWRM is a practical and goal-oriented process for water use that “promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.”[3]  Participation of key stakeholders – in water and other sectors, as well as the politically influential and the politically disadvantaged – in the process is crucial.  In Myanmar in particular, it is also important to assemble existing and new information from the different ministries and civil society organizations to put into conceptual models for policy planning purposes and to make this information easily accessible to all.[4]  These tactics allow stakeholders to identify positive and negative consequences of proposed actions and make informed decisions on the most feasible policy solution.

By utilizing IWRM as a tool for water and land use in Myanmar, the government not only has a means for conserving waterresources, but it can help prevent further social tensions fromescalating.  Many of the country’s most disadvantaged peoples will be negatively affected by poorly designed water use and development policies, so it will be crucial to develop a participatory process offered by IWRM to allow these groups to lend their voice to the identification of key problems and the search for a solution that will not disadvantage them further.  Because Myanmar’s government and population recognize that their country is unique in terms of its natural wealth and beauty, key stakeholders recognize that as development progresses, they have the opportunity to ensure that the process is done in a sustainable manner from the beginning.  While nearly everyone in Myanmar can agree on the need for economic development, many also agree that the country must not squander its resources as so many others have done.

The missing ingredient at this stage is the IWRM framework for organizing the stakeholders in government, industry, agriculture, transport, and civil society to approach this task together. In January 2013, the blue moon fund in cooperation with the Dutch NGO Deltares and several local and international NGOs[5] engaged in a scoping mission of the Ayeyarwady River to identify key water resources management problems, as well as possible solutions through IWRM.  In July 2013, the blue moon fund, in partnership with the Stockholm Environmental Institute, held a forum on conservation of the Ayeyarwady in Naypyitaw with concerned parliamentarians and ministries. Deltares has recently signed an MOU with the Myanmar government to begin compiling an IWRM data base and conduct some initial studies.  It is also time to begin organizing civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders to participate in these efforts. With continued cooperation at a policy level and on the ground, Myanmar has the opportunity to pursue development, address critical social issues, and preserve the natural resources that make it unique.

[1] “Strategic Plan on Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar,” Inter-Ministry Task Force on Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Global Water Partnership, 2000.

[4] “Report of the Scoping Mission for the Ayeyarwady River Basin: Final Report,” February 2013.


Myanmar in Motion: A Climate-wise Development Approach

5 Sep

In February 2013 Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA) collaborated with Yangon based NGO, ALARM, to offer a week long pre-training program for 45 mid-level government officials from Burma’s line ministries with portfolios most likely to be impacted by climate change. The Myanmar Leadership Institute on Climate Change (MLICC) was designed to build capacity at the national level on mainstreaming climate change into development policies. The objective of the pre-training was to introduce the officials to what PISA terms, climate-wise development (CWD). CWD seeks the advancement of the community in tandem with responsible management of natural resources, investment in human capacity, and good governance. This methodology seeks to mitigate the tension inherent in development policies that seek rapid economic gain and the need for longer-term environmental and political stability.


Climate Change at the Edge of Security – By Suzanne Kelly-Lyall

5 Aug


As a practitioner housed within a leading academic institution Elliott School of International Affairs in a metropolitan center recognized for innovation in energy, security and environmental policy, I have the good fortune to occupy a perch that offers both a broad overview of what has grown to be the field of climate change as well as emerging thinking about its offshoots into security, governance, and sustainable development. Each time I return to the “field” for programming, most recently in Myanmar MLICC, I do so eager to apply new scholarship and test theories with practice. PISA works at multiple levels and across sectors so we also have the chance to explore which theories are “sticky” and which are not. I am on the lookout for new ideas that push boundaries and change the way we conceptualize challenges and solve problems.


A very good example of fresh thinking was on display at a recent Webinar hosted by the Security and Sustainability Forum where Dr. Elizabeth Chalecki, Visiting Fellow at The Stimson Center was the featured speaker. Chalecki’s work on environmental security and climate change is exciting; it challenges the traditional security paradigm and seeks to expand the conceptual framework of security to include climate change both as threat multiplier and possible driver of conflict, a view as controversial among scholars in international affairs and as it is among members of the “community of practice.”

Dr. Chalecki takes a systems approach and in so doing is able to weave seemingly disparate threads of scholarship together for a more comprehensive and in my view, pragmatic take on how policy makers need to view and address climate change. That is to say, it must be a part of a broader security assessment and thus figure into policy planning. Her work asks us to consider the fundamental ways in which each decision, from base location to the energy required to fuel operations is taken and asserts that such choices must be made using an environmental assessment that accounts for climate change.

While the overall message of “securitizing” what have been considered environmental and sustainability challenges may be irksome to traditionalists, I find this weaving of security considerations and climate change useful in real world problem solving. PISA uses this prism at its Climate Change Leadership Institutes (CCLI) where we work directly with policy makers in Southeast Asia who confront challenges like balancing poverty alleviation and economic growth with sustainability. They must do so against the backdrop of a changing and unpredictable climate and the real possibility of conflict over natural resources. As one senior official confided to me, “worrying about maybe, possibly, and if when we have immediate demands for energy, health and education is not possible.” His perspective is not unique among decision-makers in the region. When we can change the dialogue about climate change and reframe it as human security it gets the attention of otherwise skeptical officials. The next step is to strengthen the case for what PISA calls climate-wise development. We need scholarship that utilizes a systems approach to environmental security as Dr. Chalecki so persuasively argues in her book, Environmental Security, a Guide to the Issues.

Making the Case for Climate Wise Development in Burma

15 Mar

Photo courtesy of Sandi Moynihan

This is the first training on climate change for our ministries in Myanmar”

                                                – MLICC Delegate, Ministry of Health

By Suzanne Kelly-Lyall

Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA), Yangon-based NGO ALARM, Heinrich Böll Stiftung (Bangkok/Yangon), and The Chino Cienega Foundation joined forces to offer a week-long Myanmar Climate Change Leadership Institute (MLICC).  Forty-five mid-level government officials recruited from Myanmar’s line ministries with direct responsibility for natural resource management, environmental conservation, agriculture and health, took part in a specialized program to introduce the concept of Climate Wise Development (CWD).

Photo Courtesy of Sandi Moynihan

The collaborative effort included a session on “green finance mechanisms” led by Heinrich Böll Stiftung’s North America Office Associate Director Liane Schalatek, professors drawn from The George Washington University, as well as experts from across the region.  Under PISA’s leadership, principles of CWD were introduced using active learning methods that included analytical, problem-solving exercises rooted in the real-world challenges that Myanmar faces today.  From assessing large-scale development projects such as the proposed Dawei port and how it might impact communities, to considering renewable energy sources and how to leverage natural resources for the common good, the MLICC challenged policy-makers to consider an alternative path to development. 


Photo courtesy of Sandi Moyniha

Photo courtesy Sandi MoynihanImage

PISA uses the urgent and shared issue of global climate change to illustrate the need for environmental governance and sustainable development. In so doing, we introduce the necessity of participatory decision- making and information sharing with sensitivity to existing political norms. During this easily reversible period of transition, together with ALARM and Heinrich Böll Stiftung, PISA successfully conducted a program that will build confidence over time and gradually bridge existing gaps between officials and civil society by unveiling points of mutual concern.  Working within the climate change “frame” enabled discussion of sensitive political and economic matters, from increasing transparency in natural resource management to the ways in which groups are understood to be vulnerable and marginalized.  The MLICC sought to build on the momentum toward adoption of a climate-wise development approach, namely one that is both more sustainable and equitable, which civil society organizations and reform-minded officials alike have sought to launch.  Many of the delegates possessed technical expertise in functional areas such as hydrology, forestry, or public health.  However, few have had the opportunity to share their knowledge across ministries. Consequently, at the beginning of the MLICC, analysis and problem-solving strategies often reflected narrow concerns.  By the end of week, teams had grown comfortable with working collaboratively across ministries, areas of expertise, gender, and seniority.  Teams often succeeded in developing detailed plans of action, showed a capacity for thought leadership and creative approaches to addressing the complex challenges and trade offs that development against a background of uncertainty presents.

The MLICC was strengthened by wedding the resources of three diverse organizations together; each making a distinctive contribution.  Next steps include additional in-country short courses that target important ministries for climate change policy, as well implementing the longer-term goal of providing scholarships to promising, emerging leaders to attend PISA’s Summer Leadership Institute on Climate Change, a three-week intensive program to be held on the campus of The George Washington University.

The Power of Persuasion – Fast and Furious vs. the Quiet Diplomacy of Aung San Suu Kyi

20 Sep

ImageIn a week marked by violence and unrest that culminated in the tragic loss of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens , Aung San Suu Kyi’s message of peaceful reform couldn’t be more welcome.  Two snapshots – one of angry crowds scaling the walls at Embassies across the Middle East, the other a petite, soft-spoken woman addressing overflow crowds in Washington, DC.  At first glance, these two images seem unrelated but a closer examination reveals two expressions of the need for dramatic change.

ImageThe raucous crowds ostensibly expressing rage over a blasphemous film were also venting over disappointment at the pace of change in the wake of the Arab Spring and decades of failed US Middle East policies, in contrast, the “Lady” as she is known by her supporters, persuades with logic, facts, and conviction.  After decades under house arrest, loss of family members, and political isolation Aung San Suu Kyii emerged from isolation stronger and more politically adept. During this week’s address at a USIP/Asia Society sponsored event in Washington, DC, Suu Kyi artfully reminded those who would cast Burma’s engagement with the US as an attempt to “counterbalance China”, that the good of the region requires her country to promote normal and productive relations with China as well as with the US and India.  Rather than point an accusatory finger at her former captors,  Suu Kyi underscores the centrality of rule of law to counter violence as an expression of discontent.

Her message of justice over retribution, reason over disorder, is powerful and needed not only in Burma butImage everywhere: be it the Middle East where the fragility of peace is tested daily or in the US where volatile, confrontational political discourse often threatens to divide rather than unite us.


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