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The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

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Trapped by change

By: Thomas Cristofoletti - Posted on: December 23, 2013 | Laos

The impending Don Sahong dam has the potential to cause environmental catastrophe and destroy the livelihoods of the area’s daredevil fishermen

By Denise Hruby         Photography by Thomas Cristofoletti

Southern Laos’ 4,000 Islands region is often described as a unique and unspoiled microcosm. It is home to grazing water buffaloes, lush green rice fields, Southeast Asia’s largest waterfalls and the nearly extinct Irrawaddy dolphin. Suffice to say, numerous postcards have doubtless been shot in the area.

A 30-metre-high, 256-megawatt hydropower dam doesn’t quite fit the picture.

In October, however, the Laos government informed neighbouring countries and the Mekong River Commission – a regional body set up to support multilateral decisions – that construction of the controversial Don Sahong dam was to go ahead and that building would begin in November.

Environmentalists and scientists alike said that the dam would put at risk the entire ecological integrity of the Lower Mainstream Mekong, as well as the livelihoods and cultural identity of about 60 million people who depend on the river.

In Si Phan Don, the local name for 4,000 Islands, where the dam will be located, locals were unaware of the plans just weeks before construction began.

“The dam? I have heard that there were plans many years ago, but that’s all I know,” said Newachiti Kamla, a weathered 43-year-old fisherman.

Local media, all controlled by Laos’ ruling communist party, have left fishing communities in the dark regarding the devastating impact the dam is expected to have on their lives.

Like most people living on one of the 4,000 Islands, Newachiti is dependent upon fishing to support his family. To secure a decent catch, he dives into the strong currents of the Liphi waterfalls and the much larger Khone Phapheng falls – the largest in Southeast Asia and the reason the Mekong River is not navigable from China.

For a good catch, Newachiti must risk his life. “It’s very dangerous, especially when we use a trap. The traps are in the waterfalls, and when we jump in to check them, we have to be very careful,” he said, while tying nets beneath his stilted house.

Newachiti and the fishermen of Si Phan Don know all too well the pitfalls of the Mekong. Their fathers and grandfathers have taught them well, as did their fathers and grandfathers before them, he said.

The river’s current changes between the wet and dry seasons, and setting up traps, fixing them and checking for a catch is perilous work. Every year, the handmade bamboo traps, some of which are as tall as the fishermen themselves, are set. Fish become stuck because the only way to exit is swimming against the strong current – a natural advantage for the fishermen, but also the biggest danger to their lives. Many have drowned despite being skilful swimmers.

During the wet season, fish from further north migrate downstream to Cambodia and Vietnam, passing Si Phan Don. It is a bounteous time for local fishermen, with millions of fish caught in their nets and traps. The majority of the catch is transported to Pakse, the provincial capital, while the remainder carries on to Thailand.

“In June, July and August, it’s the best catch. Around December, the fish go back to Laos, so there is a lot of fish again,” Newachiti said, adding that in each of those four months, fishermen can make several hundred dollars. “The rest of the year, the fish are very small; too small to be sold. So there is no income, and if I catch any, I keep them for my family.”

Soon, however, his nets might be empty, even during the wet season.

Laos expects the Don Sahong dam to be completed by 2018. Environmentalists and scientists say the development will cause vast and irrevocable damage to the area and have a negative effect on the lives of millions of people in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The Don Sahong… will block migratory fish, which is 70% of Mekong fish, from swimming upstream and downstream in the only channel that allows the fish to reach the upper part of the Mekong,” said Ame Trandem, the Southeast Asia program director at advocacy group International Rivers.

By stopping most fish from being able to migrate, the dam will greatly reduce their numbers in the Mekong and also impact the potential catch for local fishermen, Trandem added.

Research and advocacy have done nothing to change Laos’ stance on damming the Mekong. In a 2007 letter to the Laos government, 34 international scientists warned of the dam’s impact, saying that it would “far exceed the net return from the project” and that it was not in the best interests of the region’s people.

“Even more to the point: The location of this proposed dam is probably the worst possible place to site a [256] megawatt project since it is the point of maximum concentration of fish migration in the river that supports the world’s largest freshwater fishery,” the letter reads.

Laos never responded to the letter, and media requests for comment have been left unanswered.

Several hundred meters from the dam site, 11 Irrawaddy dolphins have found a natural habitat for themselves. The freshwater dolphin, which is teetering on the brink of extinction, is a major tourist attraction. In small boats, tourists are taken to the area to watch the gentle creatures go about their daily business. Every other minute, one of the short-beaked dolphins emerges to take a breath. Watching them is soothing, even for Kem At, who navigates one of the tour boats. “They don’t jump, but everybody likes them,” he smiles.

The 95,000 truckloads of sediment that will have to be removed to build the dam, however, will change the hydrological balance of the Mekong – a change the dolphins would not be able to adapt to, according to Trandem. “The dolphins are extremely sensitive, so these changes will likely lead to their extinction. Definitely for the area, and possibly for the whole river,” she said.

Mega First Corporation, the Malaysian company in charge of constructing and operating the dam, has dismissed such concerns. According to Yeong Chee Neng, the director of the dam project, the critics are simply wrong and the dam would in fact benefit the region. “It will be better because the dam will make it possible for fish to swim up and down, and that has been proven by our consultants and experts,” Chee Neng said, adding that fish would use the passages the company intends to build on nearby channels.

However, the creation of new fish passages has never been attempted on this scale before, and there is no scientific evidence that supports the claim that fish would migrate through alternate channels – the greatest concern of those opposed to the dam.

Most of the fishermen of Si Phan Don are sceptical of the plans, too. Thong Nhiem, whose family have lived in the same house for generations – a house packed to the rafters with homemade fishing nets and tools to fix his boat – said that he doesn’t know what to believe. Much has been said since Laos first spoke of building nine dams on the mainstream Mekong more than 20 years ago.

“I spoke to the people who live on the islands next to the dam site. They said that the company has told them that it won’t be a problem. They said that the fish will just use another channel,” Nhiem said. “In my village, 80% of the families fish. We will have to wait and see.”

Fishing in the waterfalls, Nhiem said, is a dangerous life, and not a profession he would choose. If his nets were left empty due to the dam, however, he said he would be forced to migrate to Thailand to find employment. “Or maybe we can find work with the dam company,” he said. 

Trouble brewing

By Dene-Hern Chen

Cambodians living along the Mekong River and its multitude of tributaries have a bone to pick with Goh Nan Kioh. After making millions selling Angkor Beer to Cambodians, the Malaysian businessman – who is the director of Cambrew, Cambodia’s largest brewery – is now heading up a very different project in Laos that will affect their livelihoods.

Mega First Corporation, the Malaysian firm responsible for the construction of the controversial Don Sahong dam, has confirmed that Goh also serves as their executive chairman. “Yes, he is the same Mr Goh for Cambrew,” said Khoo Teng Keat, executive director for Mega First, adding that Goh is not the only investor of Cambrew. “Cambrew is 50% owned by Carlsberg. [Goh] is a director but he doesn’t deal with the day-to-day management of Cambrew.”

Danish beer manufacturer Carlsberg declined to comment.

Staff of Cambrew and Mega First may not see any irony in Goh’s dual ventures, but a commune chief in Stung Treng – the Cambodian province less than a kilometre away from the dam site – put it more bluntly.

“One hand is producing beer to destroy our Cambodian health, while the other hand is building the dam that will destroy our fishery sectors,” said Siek Mekong.

Because of this apparent hypocrisy, Siek Mekong has called for a boycott of Angkor Beer among his constituents.

Mega First has repeatedly declined to provide the dam’s environmental impact assessment report.

 

Also view:

“Playing dirty” – Everyday Laotians are finding that joining the Asian Century comes with hidden costs