The Mekong River, the longest in Southeast Asia, is at its lowest reported water level in 20 years. The river runs through six countries – China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam – but the highest percentage (35 percent) of the river’s overall water flow runs through Laos.
Downtown Vientiane has experienced reduced water pressure and even the stoppage of water supply; boats are beached for the first time in memory; and the hospitals are without water supply at peak hours.
The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia and one of the world’s least developed countries, Laos relies on the Mekong River as a crucial resource for much more than water. The nation’s economy, food supply, transportation routes, electricity, and more depend significantly on the river.
Laos has the largest percentage of the Mekong’s water but the critical source of the river, the Mekong headwaters, is located in China. At present, there is debate and disagreement over the cause of the low water levels. Many downstream river users point fingers at China’s three upstream dams on the Mekong, but drought and climate change are believed to be major factors, as well.
Currently, there is very little if any baseline data on the health of river systems in Laos, and there are limited resources for monitoring water quality. Without this information, it is impossible to measure environmental changes over time or to formulate effective plans to address degrading and depleting water resources.
The Asia Foundation is working to improve this situation throughout the region. In Vang Vieng, a small but growing port town in Laos, the Foundation spearheaded a community-based water quality monitoring program. In the coming months, with a recently expanded commitment to our environment programming, the Foundation will continue working with local groups to further develop programs to positively impact the future of water quality in Laos.
USAID and The Asia Foundation convened a regional conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that attracted nearly 70 religious and traditional leaders from 14 countries to candidly exchange views and ideas on the critical role that “leaders of influence” play in promoting positive change in their communities and the power they have to affect national development.
Participants shared their experiences from their own countries and regions and focused on key challenges including good governance and corruption prevention; public health; gender justice and equity; and conflict resolution. Attendees went on field visits to the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh’s Imam Training Academy and Leaders of Influence-hosted public health sites, and created action plans on how they might work together in the future to enhance the role of religious and community leaders in advancing development in their respective countries.
The conference was a culmination of the U.S. Government, the Government of Bangladesh, and The Asia Foundation’s effort to engage religious and community leaders in Bangladesh through its Leaders of Influence program. Through intensive training workshops, the program has introduced more than 15,000 religious and community leaders, local government officials, the media, women leaders, and youth to key national development issues, such as education, public health, agriculture, fisheries, governance, human rights, anti-trafficking, and enterprise development.
*Photos by Matthew Pendergast
The Philippines recently completed a historic presidential election with Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, son of former President Cory Aquino, winning the first-ever national election to use computerized polling nationwide. Despite the violence leadingup to the election and on election day, the elections went well by national standards, and ballot counting and the determination of winners took place with record speed.
In fact, the speed of results that emerged in the nation’s first automated election stunned the Philippines. A large number of races were decided extremely quickly—the vast majority of electoral positions were decided within days, while in the past, it was literally weeks before results of manual counting of handwritten ballots would produce results. On Tuesday, May 18, the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) proclaimed the last three (of 12) nationwide winning candidates for Senate, just eight days after polls closed, an astonishing contrast to previous elections.
Leading up to the elections, The Asia Foundation worked with local partners in the Philippines to conduct a series of diagnostic activities that assess election violence and enhance existing formal and informal mechanisms to manage election-related violence. On election day, Asia Foundation staff and partners were scattered far and wide to help observe the elections process. Through almost hourly updates from the Foundation’s Representative, Dr. Steven Rood and his team, our website served as a hub of on-the-ground information on the elections as they were happening.
Now the hard work begins for the Philippines’ newly elected leaders, and The Asia Foundation’s staff will continue to keep our audiences informed on future political developments in the Philippines.
Kang Chunmin was pleased when a law passed in November 2009 to protect the historic city wall built during the Ming Dynasty in the ancient capital of Xi’an, his hometown. He was further pleased to see that his comments on the draft law had actually made it into the final legislation. Kang was onof more than 180 Xi’an residents who provided comments during the drafting phase of the law before it passed.
After seeing the final version of the law, Kang said, “The government has heard the views of ordinary citizens…Public participation in this drafting process not only helped educate the public on the value of protecting our city wall, but also helped build trust between us and the government.”
Other residents wondering whether their comments were incorporated and why, (or why not) could get details on the official Xi’an Legislative Affairs Office’s website, where government officials posted responses to their comments.
Examples of local governments working to institutionalize open decision-making practices can be seen across China, and reflect a broader trend in China’s efforts to increase public participation in lawmaking.
The Asia Foundation and its partners have worked to support this trend over the last three years with activities including training for officials, community groups, and professional associations on the principles, practices, and benefits of public participation, and supporting the development of legislative guidelines on public participation to provide concrete guidance on methods and procedures. This is an important step to institutionalizing public participation in China and to ensuring that voices like Mr. Kang’s can be heard.
Micah West is the first Luce Scholar ever to be placed in Laos. In 2009 he started work at the Lao Bar Association, a partner organization in our Access to Justice program. In 2007, the association, with our assistance, launched the nation’s first mobile legal aid clinic. Lawyers and paralegals go to villages so that residents – especially women, ethnic minorities, the poor, and vulnerable – who might have consulted friends on legal matters in the past, can now query lawyers about land rights, property inheritance, lawful contracts, and other issues. Micah recently traveled to remote and mountainous Oudomxay to observe and assist with the effort. There, he helped conduct follow-up meetings with a 15-year-old Hmong woman whose boyfriend disappeared quickly after finding out she was pregnant, leaving her with no financial resources or support to raise their child. Through village mediation they tracked the boyfriend down and a settlement was negotiated. The young woman is now using the money to open a store. “Extraordinary and life-changing,” Micah says of his experience so far. The Luce Scholars program was established by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974, and, in partnership with The Asia Foundation, provides opportunities for young Americans to gain a firsthand understanding of Asia by living and working for a year in an Asian nation.
Spring Annual Fund Matching Grant Launched
This spring, The Asia Foundation launched a matching grant campaign with a goal of raising $125,000 for the Annual Fund. From now through July 15, donations to the Annual Fund will be matched dollar for dollar. The Annual Fund provides critical support for the general operations of our projects across Asia, which span 20 countries and include more than 600 projects. For more information, please visit: Annual Fund.
U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha
The Asia Foundation’s director for law and governance, Kim McQuay, recently attended the U.S.-Islamic World Forum co-hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy and the State of Qatar in Doha last month. The event is recognized as the premier gathering of American and Muslim leaders for discussion of critical issues and partnership opportunities. The Forum included remarks by Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al-Thani, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Malaysian opposition leader and parliamentarian Anwar Ibrahim, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator John Kerry.
From Afghanistan: Rebuilding Schools for Girls
The Asia Foundation has begun repairs on the Lama-e-Shaheed Girls’ School in Kabul – a school with an enrollment of more than 4,500 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. With funding from the Janet Ketcham Foundation, The Asia Foundation will make critical improvements on the school building, which was severely damaged during years of violent conflict and neglect, and also provide brand new textbooks and other educational materials.
Post-Civil War Police Reform and Public Security
The bloody, 25-year armed conflict in Sri Lanka is over, but in small towns like Pussellawa – a high-altitude hamlet in central Sri Lanka – a legacy of rigid, aggressive, inherited policing tactics is preventing police and residents from collaborating to fight a surge in crime. Get a firsthand look at the Foundation’s community-policing forums addressing these problems. See our slideshow here.
Asia’s Fragile Corners
The Asia Foundation has a long history of programs in conflict-affected and fragile regions of Asia. View our recent slideshow here.
Access to Credit: Women Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh
See how a group of women entrepreneurs have joined together to advocate for better access to loans for women in Bangladesh. The Asia Foundation, in partnership with the Bangladesh Investment Climate Fund has provided technical assistance and training to women’s business forums in four districts of Bangladesh since 2008. See video here.
Leaders of Influence
Stay Connected As part of the Leaders of Influence conference, a web presence was developed to keep participants connected beyond the event. Materials and presentations are available on the website and interviews with delegates are available on YouTube. Delegates also continue to share ideas and resources through Facebook and Twitter.