සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #141: විස වගාවට වැට බදින්න ක‍්‍රමයක් මෙන්න!

How can we protect ourselves from slow poisoning by agrochemical residues in our food? In this week’s Ravaya column, I discuss two options for Sri Lanka: organic farming, and the in-situ testing of farm produce for residues (after determining maximum residue levels).

I covered similar ground in English on 11 Aug 2013: When Worlds Collide #78: Homicide by Pesticides: Can we escape?

Pesticides on a Plate

Image courtesy Pesticide Action Network

‘ජාතියට වස කවන්නෝ කවරහුද’ මැයෙන් ගිය සතියේ මා ලියූ කොලම බොහෝ දෙනකුගේ අවධානයට ලක් වුණා.

උඩරට අර්තාපල් හා එළවඵ වවන ගොවීන්ගේ පලිබෝධ නාශක භාවිතය ගැන හෙක්ටර් කොබ්බෑකඩුව ගොවි කටයුතු පුහුණු හා පර්යේෂණායතනය (HARTI) මඟින් කළ සමීක්‍ෂණයක් මත පදනම් වී මා හෙළි කළේ අපේ සමහර ගොවීන් දැන දැන ම විස රසායන යෙදු ආහාර වෙළඳපොළට එවන සැටියි.

තමන්ගේ පවුලේ ආහාරයට නොගන්නා වසවිස සහිත එළවඵ, සෙසු පාරිභෝගිකයන්ට සපයන මේ ගොවීන් ජාතියට වසවිස කවන්නෝ නොවෙයි ද?

සමහර පාඨකයන් මේ සෘජු ප‍්‍රශ්න කිරීමට කැමති වූයේ නැහැ. සති කිහිපයකට පෙර හේන් ගොවීන් ගැන සානුකම්පිතව කථා කළ මේ කොලමින් ම දැන් ඔවුන් හෙළා දකින්නේ ඇයිදැයි කිහිප දෙනකු මගෙන් විමසුවා.

දැඩි සේ එල්බගත් කිසිදු මතවාදයක් නැති නිසා මට සාක්ෂි හා තර්ක පදනම් කර ගෙන එසේ කළ හැකියි. ගොවීන් ඉතා වැදගත් මෙහෙවරක් ඉටු කළත් ඔවුන් ද රටේ නීතියට හා සමාජ සම්මතයට අනුකූලයි. එයට පිටුපාන විට සහේතුකව ඔවුන් විවේචනය කළ යුතුයි.

ගොවියා හා ගොවිතැන මැදහත්ව විග‍්‍රහ නොකර හැගීම් බරිතව ප‍්‍රතිපත්ති සම්පාදනයේ බරපතල අහිතකර විපාක අප සැවොම අත් වි`දිනවා. ගොවීන්ට ගරුසරු ඇතිව සැළකිය යුතු බව ඇත්තයි. එහෙත් ඒ ගෞරවය ඔවුන්ට හිමි වන්නේ පාරිභෝගික අපට වින නොකරන තාක් කල් පමණයි.

Pest and farmer cartoon

රසායනික පොහොර හෝ අධික විෂ සහිත පලිබෝධ නාශක නොයොදා, ස්වාභාවික පොහොර හා පලිබෝධ පාලන ක‍්‍රම මගින් බෝග වැවීම කාබනික ගොවිතැන (organic farming) ලෙස හඳුන්වනවා.

මුඵ රට ම එක්වරම මෙබඳු කාබනික ගොවිතැනකට යොමු විය හැකි නේදැයි එක් පාඨකයෙක් යෝජනා කළා. තර්කයක් හැටියට එය ඉතා හොඳයි. එහෙත් ප‍්‍රායෝගිකව එය කිරීමට දිගු කලක් ගත වනවා. දැඩි නීතිරීති හා දණ්ඩන හරහා මෙබන්දක් කඩිනම් කළ නොහැකියි.

ඇත්තට ම කාබනික ගොවිතැන ශී‍්‍ර ලංකාවේ කලෙක සිට කරනු ලබනවා. එයට කැප වූ ගොවි සමිති හා සංවිධාන ද තිබෙනවා. ඔවුන්ගේ නිෂ්පාදිතයන් දේශීය වෙළඳපොළට යම් තරමක් මුදා හැරිය ද බහුතරයක් පිටරට යවනවා.

අපේ රටේ නිපදවෙන හොඳම තේ කොළ පිටරට යැවෙන්නා සේ ම බොහෝ කාබනික ආහාර ද විදෙස් වෙළඳපලවලට යන්නේ ඒවාට ඉහළ මිළක් ගෙවන්නට යුරෝපය, අමෙරිකාව, ජපානය වැනි රටවල නැඹුරුවක් ඇති නිසායි. මෙරට වෙළඳපොලේ ද කාබනිකව වැවූ සහල්, පළතුරු හා එළවඵ අනෙක් (රසායනික යොදා වැවූ) ආහාරවලට වඩා මිළෙන් ඉහළයි.

සෞඛ්‍යාරක්‍ෂාව සඳහා වුවත් වැඩි මිළක් ගෙවා කාබනිකව වැවූ ආහාර නිතිපතා මිළට ගත හැක්කේ අප කීයෙන් කී දෙනාට ද? කාබනික ගොවිතැන වෙළඳපොළ ප‍්‍රධාන ප‍්‍රවාහය වීමට නම් මේ මිළ පරතරය තුරන් කළ යුතුයි. එසේ නොවන තාක් කල් එය ඉහළ මධ්‍යම පාංතික සුඵතරයකගේ හා පරිසරවේදීන්ගේ වරප‍්‍රසාදයක්ව පවතිනවා.

අපේ කලාපයේ ජනගහනයෙන් දෙවැනි කුඩා ම රට වන භූතානය වසර 2020 වන විට සිය ගොවිතැන මුඵමනින් ම කාබනිකව කිරීමට ඉලක්ක කරනවා.

2013 පෙබරවාරියේ නවදිල්ලියේ පැවැති ජාත්‍යන්තර තිරසාර සංවර්ධන සමුඵවකදී භූතාන් කෘෂිකර්ම ඇමති පේමා ග්‍යම්ෂෝ (Pema Gyamtsho) මෙය ප‍්‍රකාශයට පත් කළා. සොබාදහම සමග සහජීවනයෙන් විසීම මූලික කර ගත් බෞද්ධ දර්ශනයට අනුව යමින් ද සිය ජනයාගේ සෞඛ්‍යය සැළකිල්ලට ගනිමින් ද මේ තීරණයට එළඹුණු බව ඔහු කියා සිටියා.

මුඵ රටේ ජනගහනය ලක්ෂ 7ක් සිටින භූතානය වැනි කුඩා රටකට මෙබඳු වෙනසක් කිරීම ලෙහෙසියි. දැනටත් කෘෂිරසායනික භාවිතා කරන්නේ එරට ගොවීන්ගෙන් සුඵ ප‍්‍රතිශතයක් පමණයි.

‘‘කාබනික ගොවිතැනෙන් පමණක් අපේ සියඵ ආහාර බෝග නිපදවා ගැනීමට යොමු වීමට අපට වසර කිහිපයක් අවශ්‍යයි.’’ භූතාන අමාත්‍යවරයා කියනවා.

භූතානයේ කාබනිකව වවන රතු සහල්, ඇපල් හා හතු ආදිය දැනටමත් ඉහළ මිළකට දියුණු රටවලට විකුණනවා. මුඵ රට ම කාබනික ගොවිතැන පමණක් කරන විට ඔවුන්ට ලෝක වෙළඳපොළේ තම නිෂ්පාදිත සඳහා වඩාත් හොඳ ඉල්ලූමක් මතු වනු ඇතැයි අපේක්‍ෂා කළ හැකියි.

භූතානය පිවිසි මාර්ගයට රටක් ලෙස අපටත් කෙදිනක හෝ යොමු වීමට හැකි නම් ඉතා  අගෙයි. එහෙත් භූතානයේ මෙන් තිස් ගුණයක පමණ ජනකායක් සිටින අපේ රටේ ආහාර අවශ්‍යතා සහ වෙළඳපොළ සංකීර්ණත්වය ඊට වඩා ඉහළයි. ඒ නිසා කුඩා රටවල් මෙන් ඉක්මන් ප‍්‍රතිපත්ති වෙනසකට යොමුවීම අපහසුයි.

සමස්ත ගොවිතැන කාබනික කිරීම දිගුකාලීන ඉලක්කයක් ලෙස තබා ගනිමින් අපට ඉක්මනින් ගත හැකි යම් කි‍්‍රයාමාර්ග ද තිබෙනවා.

ආහාරපානවල පැවතිය හැකි උපරිම පලිබෝධ නාශක ශෙෂයන් (Maximum Residue Levels) නිර්ණය කොට නීතිගත කළ යුතුයි. එම සීමාවන් නීතිගත නොකර තිබෙන තුරු වෙළඳපොලේ විකිණෙන ධාන්‍ය, එළවඵ හා පළතුරුවල වසවිස ඇති බවට තහවුරු කළත් නීතියෙන් දඩුවම් කිරීම අපහසු වනවා.

මේ ප‍්‍රශ්නයේදී සෞඛ්‍ය, පාරිභෝගික හා කෘෂිකර්ම අමාත්‍යාංශ මනා සේ සම්බන්ධීකරණය වීම ඉතා වැදගත්. එසේ ම පලාත් පාලන ආයතනවලට ද පාරිභෝගික ආරක්‍ෂණ අධිකාරියට ද මීට වඩා සකී‍්‍රයව මැදිහත් වියහැකියි.

Dr. Bhichit Rattakul

Dr. Bhichit Rattakul

මෙහිදී මට සිහිපත් වන්නේ 1990 දශකය අගදී තායිලන්තයේ බැංකොක් නගර ප‍්‍රදේශයේ ආණ්ඩුකාරයා (Governor of Bangkok) ලෙස ඡන්දයෙන් පත්වූ ආචාර්ය භිචිත් රතකුල් (Dr Bhichit Rattakul) ගත් නිර්භීත කි‍්‍රයාදාමයයි.

කෘෂිරසායන අනිසි භාවිතය තායි ගොවීන් අතර ද බහුල නරක පුරුද්දක්. මධ්‍යම රජයෙන් මෙයට පිළියම් සොයන තුරු බලා නොසිට අගනුවර හා තදාසන්න ප‍්‍රදේශවල වාසීන්ට වඩාත් සුරක්‍ෂිත ආහාර ලබාදීමට ආචාර්ය රතකුල් වැඩපිළිවෙලක් යෙදුවා. ඔහු වෘත්තියෙන් විද්‍යාඥයකු වීමත් මෙයට උදව් වන්නට ඇති.

බැංකොක් හා අවට වෙසෙන මිලියන් 10කට වැඩි ජනකායකට අවශ්‍ය එළවඵ හා පළතුරු සැපයෙන්නේ සයි මූම් වොං (Si Moom Wong) නම් තොග වෙළඳපොළ හරහා. එරට පුරා වවන බෝග නිෂ්පාදිත දිනපතා මෙහි ගෙන එනවා. දිනකට ලොරි 2,000ක් පමණ බැගින්.

මේ තොග වෙළඳපොලේදී නිෂ්පාදිත සාම්පල් ලබාගෙන එහිදී ම ඉක්මනින් පලිබෝධ නාශක ශේෂයන් සඳහා ඒවා පරීක්‍ෂා කිරීමට ජංගම රසායනගාරයක් පිහිටුවනු ලැබුවා.  ඕනෑ ම ගොවියකුගෙන්, අතරමැදි තොග වෙළෙන්දකුගෙන් හෝ වෙනත් අලෙවිකරුවකුගෙන් සාම්පල් ලබා ගෙන පිරික්සීමේ නිල බලය ලත් රසායන විද්‍යා තාක්‍ෂණවේදීන් පිරිසක් ඔහු එයට අනුයුක්ත කළා.

නීතිගත උපරිම පලිබෝධනාශක ශෙෂයන් ඉක්මවා ගිය සියඵ ම එළවඵ හා පළතුරු තොග පිටින් අලෙවියට ඉඩ නොදී ප‍්‍රතික්ෂේප කරනු ලැබුවා. මුලදී මේ දැඩි පියවරෙන් සැලූණු ගොවීන් හා වෙළඳුන් උද්ඝෝෂණ කළා.

ඕනෑ ම රටක ගොවීන්ට ලොකු ජනමතයක් හා මාධ්‍ය අනුකම්පාවක් මතු කළ හැකියි. එහෙත් අපක්‍ෂපාතී, නිර්භය හා පාරදෘශ්‍ය ක‍්‍රමවේදයක් හරහා ආචාර්ය රතකුල් ඇතුඵ කාර්ය මණ්ඩලය මේ බලපෑම්වලට කිසි විටෙක හිස නැමුවේ නැහැ. මධ්‍යම රජයේ දේශපාලන බලපෑම්වලට ද නතු නොවී නීතිය දිගටම කි‍්‍රයාත්මක කිරීමට අවශ්‍ය පෞරුෂය හා කැපවීම මේ නගරාණ්ඩුකාරයාට තිබුණා.

මේ නීතිගරුක පුද්ගලයා සමග සෙල්ලම් කරන්නට බැරි බව ටික දිනකින් ම තායි ගොවීන් තේරුම් ගත්තා. මහන්සියෙන් වවා ගත් ඵලදාව විකුණා ගන්නට  ඕනෑ නම් පලිබෝධ නාශක අධික ලෙස භාවිතය නොකළයුතු බව ඔවුන්ට වැටහුනා. සති කිහිපයක් ඇතුළත තොග වෙළඳපොලේ ප‍්‍රතික්‍ෂෙප වන තොග ප‍්‍රමාණය සීඝ‍්‍රයෙන් පහත වැටුණා. ඒ කියන්නේ පාරිභෝගිකයාට වඩාත් හිතකර ඵලදාවක් ලද හැකි වූ බවයි.

පලිබෝධ නාශක ශෙෂයන්ගේ උපරිමය ගැසට් කිරීමෙන් පසුව අපේ රටෙත් මෙබන්දක් කළ හැකි නම් කෙතරම් අගෙයි ද?

පිටකොටුවේ හෝ දඹුල්ලේ තොග වෙළඳ සංකීර්ණයන්ගේ ඉක්මන් පරීක්‍ෂාවන් හරහා ප‍්‍රතිඵල කාටත් පෙනෙන ලෙස ප‍්‍රකාශයට පත් කරමින්, සීමාව ඉක්ම වූ තොග සහමුලින් ම ප‍්‍රතික්‍ෂෙප කරන්නට හැකි වේ ද? එයට අපේ ගොවීන් හා වෙළඳුන් කෙසේ ප‍්‍රතිචාර දක්වයි ද?

අපක්‍ෂපාතී හා නිර්භය ලෙස නීතිය කි‍්‍රයාත්මක කිරීම පමණක් සෑහෙන්නේ නැහැ. මහජන සම්බන්ධතා, මාධ්‍ය ආවරණය හා පාරිභෝගිකයන්ගේ සහයෝගය දිනා ගැනීම ද අවශ්‍යයි. බැංකොක් නගරාණ්ඩුකාරවරයා උපක‍්‍රමශීලිව ඒ සියඵ සාධක පෙළ ගස්වා ගත්තා.

එසේ නැතිව නීතියේ බලයෙන් පමණක් වෙනසක් ඇති කිරීමට උත්සාහ කිරීම නොසෑහෙන බව මෑත කාලයේ අපේ පාරිභෝගික ඇමතිවරයා ලත් අත්දැකීම්වලින් පෙනී යනවා.

2002දී මා හඳුනන බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය ජාතික මාධ්‍යවේදිනියක් බැංකොක් අත්දැකීම ද පාදක කර ගෙන BBC නාලිකාවට වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපටයක් (Toxic Trail) නිපද වුවා. එහි එක් තැනෙක ආචාර්ය රතකුල් මෙහෙම කියනවා.

‘‘අධික ලෙස රසායන යෙදු ආහාර වෙළඳපොලට එනවා ද යන්න ගැන රජය මෙන් ම පාරිභෝගිකයන් ද නිතිපතා විමසිලිමත් වියයුතුයි. අපේ බොහෝ පාරිභෝගිකයෝ ඉතා හොඳ පෙනුම ඇති, කිසිදු පලූද්දක් නැති එළවඵ හා පළතුරු සොයනවා. එබඳු ඵලදාව  ඕනෑවට වඩා රසායනික යොදා ඇත්දැයි සැක සහිතයි. යම් තරමකට හිල් සැදුණු, කෘමීන් විදි බවට ලකුණු ඇති එළවඵ හා පළතුරු එතරම් දැඩි ලෙස රසායනික යෙදීමකට ලක්ව නැතැයි සිතිය හැකියි.’’

අපේ පරිසරවේදීන් සහමුලින් කාබනික ගොවිතැන ගැන දිගුකාලීන සිහින දකින අතර බැංකොක් අත්දැකීම මෙරට කි‍්‍රයාත්මක කරන්නට එඩිතර දේශපාලකයකු හෝ රාජ්‍ය නිලධාරියකු හෝ සමග සහයෝගයෙන් වැඩ කළොත් කෙතරම් අපූරුද?

හැමදාමත් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී තර්ක කරමින් සිටිනවා වෙනුවට ජනසමාජයට ප‍්‍රයෝගිකව හොඳ දෙයක් කරන්නට පරිසරවේදීන්ට මෙය අගනා අවස්ථාවක්.

සිංහලයට හඩ කැවූ BBC වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපටය විස වගාවට වැට බඳිමු නරඹන්න:

Breaking News on a Restless Planet: Covering Disasters in a Networked Society

Communicating Disasters: ZiF Conference in Bielefeld

How do we cope with a warming planet while living in an increasingly WikiLeakable world? Exactly one year ago, I explored this in my talk given at the University of Colombo during the LEAF Conference.

As I reflected then: “We live in a crisis-ridden world where we have to cope with multiple emergencies unfolding at the same time, impacting us on different fronts. This illustration captures three of them: crisis in biodiversity, man-made climate change, and the new reality of living in a rapidly WikiLeakable world — what I called the Global Glass House.”

I returned to this theme and explored it further this week when giving a keynote address at the Bielefeld University in Germany. I was participating in their international and inter-disciplinary conference on “Dealing with the Disaster of Others”, 26-28 January 2012. The conference was the culmination of a year-long research project on this theme carried out at the University’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF).

I also built on ideas initially discussed in my 2007 book, Communicating Disasters, which was part of the reference material used during th ZiF research project.

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at ZiF Conference on Communicating Disasters, Bielefeld, Germany: 27 Jan 2012

Here’s the Summary (Abstract) of my talk. PowerPoint slides below.

Breaking News on a Restless Planet: Covering Disasters in a Networked Society

by Nalaka Gunawardene
Science Writer, Blogger & Columnist; Director – TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP)

Communicating disasters — before, during and after they happen — is fraught with many challenges. The increased volume and flow of information, enabled by the proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs), fills some gaps — but not all. Other critical elements such as institution building, training and awareness raising are needed at all levels to create societies that are better informed and prepared.

The news media, driven by their quest for what is new, true and interesting, can be useful allies for disaster managers. But the nexus between these two groups has always been contentious, and the acceleration of the news cycle has made it more so. Having to sustain 24/7 coverage for their fragmented and distracted audiences places enormous pressures on news media to break news first — and reflect later. In this scenario, how can empathetic, ethical and balanced reporting happen?

As disasters increase in frequency and intensity partly due to climate change, mainstream media practitioners across Asia struggle to keep up. Disasters are more drawn out (e.g. Pakistan floods, 2010 & Thailand floods, 2011), geographically scattered (Indian Ocean tsunami, 2004) and economically devastating (Tohoku/Fukushima, 2011) than before. This stretches the capacities and resources of many news organisations. Saturation coverage of unfolding disasters can also cause ‘compassion fatigue’ and apathy in audiences.

In today’s networked society, news media are no longer the sole gatherers or distributors of news. Without the trappings and inertia of the institutionalised media, citizen journalists are quick to adopt ICT tools and platforms. What does this mean for communicating disasters that requires care and sensitivity? In which ways can we find synergy between mainstream and new/social media to better serve the public interest on a warming planet? What value-additions can the mainstream media still offer to the coverage of disasters near and far?

We examine these and other larger questions with reference to recent disasters in Asia.

Here’s the PPT:

Looking back at Asian Tsunami of 2004…and media response

Nalaka Gunawardene talking about 2004 Asian Tsunami

To mark the fifth anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004, TVE Asia Pacific has just released excerpts from an in-depth TV interview I recorded four years ago.

The wide-ranging interview was originally filmed in November 2005 in Bangkok, Thailand, by Thai journalist and film maker friend Pipope Panitchpakdi. He used excerpts at the time for a Thai documentary to mark the first anniversary of the tsunami. It remains one of the best media interviews I have given, for which all credit goes to Pipope.

Selected segments of that interview, in its original English, can now be viewed on TVEAP’s YouTube channel, while the transcript is published on the TVEAP website.

To give a flavour of this belated release of archival material, here are the first two extracts:

Nalaka Gunawardene recalls Asian Tsunami of Dec 2004 Part 1 of 6

Part 2 of 6:



Watch all extracts on TVEAP’s YouTube channel

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears…

where Children of Tsunami stories were filmed for much of 2005

Four countries, eight locations: where Children of Tsunami stories were filmed for much of 2005


They have never met each other. Some have never travelled beyond their native village. On December 26 2004, the sea rose and rose and took everything they cherished.

Documented over the year, locally-based filmmakers returned to Asia’s battered coasts in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand to track the healing and the hurt through the eyes of children.

Asia’s recovery process from the tsunami is being captured through the stories of three girls and two boys aged 8 to 16 years.

Of different races, worshipping different Gods, they live on different shores in different countries. They are the tsunami generation, sharing the vulnerability of a child and the legacy of the tragic tides.

Young survivors of the Asian tsunami let us into their lives to personalise the mass of statistics, aid pledges and recovery plans. “Children of Tsunami” is a tapestry of intimate stories, woven by voices of individual and collective resilience, heroism and recovery.

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears – Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Duration: 24 mins
Year of production: 2005
Countries filmed in: India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand
In each country, a locally based production crew carried out filming for TVE Asia Pacific.

Regional Production Team
Supervising Producer: Bruce Moir
Production Assistant: Yohan Abeynaike
Production Manager: Manori Wijesekera
Executive Producers: Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau and Nalaka Gunawardene

Co-Produced by: Channel News Asia, Singapore
In partnership with TVE Asia Pacific

Broadcast Asia-wide on the first anniversary of the Asian Tsunami, 26 Dec 2005

For more information, visit: www.childrenoftsunami.info

See also: Channel News Asia – Making of a pan-Asian news channel

Pipope Panitchpakdi: “It’s Like Being Out There Naked!”

Pipope Panitchpakdi

“It’s Like Being Out There Naked.”

That’s the reason given by Thai film maker and media activist Pipope Panitchpakdi why he doesn’t want to be present when his films are being screened.

A reporter at the recent Mekong Media Forum held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, noted how Pipope headed for the door when his ambitious 2009 documentary, Mekong: The Untamed began to be screened on the first day.

Asked why he was stepping out, he replied: “I don’t like to watch when my films are shown. It’s like being out there naked.”

Fair enough – there isn’t one right way to handle such public sharing, and each film maker does it differently. I know some who simply want to be there from beginning to end, derive great satisfaction from being acknowledged upfront, and are eager to engage the audience after the screening (I’m one of this type). A few prefer to sit quietly and unrecognised amidst the viewers, observing candid reactions of the audience, and may (or may not) own up in the end. Then there are those who leave the room.

But one thing every film maker I know shares with equal passion is that their film be screened with proper visual and sounds. This isn’t as easily or commonly accomplished as you’d think – I’ve seen a good film sharing moment ruined by technical glitches in too many countries, both developed and developing. Having been the victim of such mishaps, I know just how unnerving and frustrating this can be. Ours may be the digital age, but video and audio literacy levels are still very uneven.

Have you had such an experience as a film maker or film user? If so, please share it here!

The Mekong: One river, six countries, two films — and many views

Mekong River flows through 6 countries, nurturing 65 million Asians


The Mekong is one of Asia’s major rivers, and the twelfth longest in the world. Sometimes called the ‘Danube of the East’, it nurtures a great deal of life in its waters – and in the wetlands, forests, towns and villages along its path.

The Mekong’s long journey begins in the Tibetan highlands. It flows through China’s Yunan province, and then across Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia…before entering the sea from southern Vietnam. It’s a journey of nearly 5,000 kilometres, or some 3,000 miles.

The Mekong River Basin is the land surrounding all the streams and rivers that flow into it. This covers a vast area roughly the size of France and Germany combined.

On its long journey across 6 countries, the Mekong provides a life-line to over 65 million people. They share Mekong waters for drinking, farming, fishing and industry. Along the way, the river also generates electricity for South East Asia’s emerging economies.

Naturally, these teeming millions who share the river feel differently about how best to manage the river waters in their best interests. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) tries to nurture cooperation among the Mekong river countries, but differences still remain.

Some of these surfaced during the Mekong Media Forum being held in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai from 9 to 12 December 2009. As IPS reporter Marwaan Macan-Markar reported, “A heated debate about the future of the Mekong River at a media conference in this northern Thai city exposed a fault line triggered by the regional giant China’s plans to build a cascade of dams on the upper stretches of South-east Asia’s largest waterway.”

At the centre of this debate was Pipope Panitchpakdi, my Thai film-maker friend who recently made the documentary Mekong: The Untamed. He is both an outstanding journalist and an outspoken media activist.

He told the Forum: “The most important issue for people who live along the banks (of the lower stretches) of the Mekong are the dams and how these affect them. They cannot see the river as a pretty sight.”

Mekong: The Untamed chronicles the journey of Suthichai Yoon, a leading Thai media personality, from the headwaters of the Mekong River in Tibet to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The question he seeks to answer through his travels is how the planned Chinese dams affect communities who live along the banks of the river.

“My Mekong journey goes to the heart of Asia’s complexities,” says the narrator as he makes his way from China’s southern province of Yunnan to the north-eastern Thai town of Chiang Khong. The scenes he passes range from the raging waters of the Mekong and hills swathed with mist to riverside communities being torn apart by a building frenzy. “I wonder if the Chinese realise what the people who are impacted by the dam feel?” Suthichai asks at one point.

According to Pipope, another documentary film about the Mekong made by Chinese filmmakers overlooks some serious issues: “There was nothing about a lot of villages disappearing, that there are floods and the doubts people have about the Chinese dams.”

This second film, also showcased at the Mekong Media Forum, is a 20-episode series titled Nourished by the Same River, and has been made by China Central Television (CCTV).

A Chinese journalist on the panel conceded that the planned development targeting the Mekong would provoke a range of responses. “It is natural that different people will have different perspectives on similar issues,” said Zhu Yan, a senior editor at the national broadcaster China Central Television. “In China there is a debate (around the question) of environment or dams.”

The Mekong is both a mighty river and a massive bundle of issues for any film or film series to tackle. And given the multitude of countries, interests and viewpoints involved, it’s unlikely that there will be consensus.

But it’s good that films are sparking off discussion and debate…just what we need for more informed choices to be made in the future.


Read full IPS story: Chinese Dams Expose Fault Lines, By Marwaan Macan-Markar

Tata Young: Singing up a storm for the Ozone Layer

Tata Young - photo by Nirmal Ghosh

Tata Young - photo by Nirmal Ghosh

“Tata Young sings up a storm for Ozone Layer.”

That was a headline in the Bangkok Post newspaper on 8 October 2009, while I was in Thailand for the Ozone Media Roundtable. My friends at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) were ecstatic.

Tata Young, 28, is a Thai-American singer, model and actress who is one of the best known performers in Thailand, with a growing following across Southeast Asia. Last week, she was among the performers at the “What on Earth!” concert in Bangkok, part of the EU Green Days event to coincide with the latest round of negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN-FCCC.

Tata is the latest Asian entertainment celebrity to join the climate bandwagon. Inside the UN Convention Centre in Bangkok, the climate negotiations were making slow progress. Environmental activists and campaigners were trying every trick in their books to speed things up — but governments bickered over selfish interests even as the planet heated up.

Tata’s newest album, Ready for Love, has its cover printed on recycled paper and sports a sticker that says “Protect the Ozone Layer”. Her interest in campaigning for ozone was sparked when she donated her time filming an ozone related public service announcement for UNEP last year.

The PSA is one of four that UNEP’s ozone team in Asia produced in 2008 as part of their public awareness campaign. They all draw attention to an important date that is drawing close: by or before 1 January 2010, all consumption and production of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, one of the main destroyers of the ozone layer would be phased out in all countries of the world. That is a significant achievement under the Montreal Protocol that nations of the world adopted in 1987 to save the endangered ozone layer.

The PSAs started screening in movie theatres in the Philippines earlier this year, to be followed by Thailand and other countries in the region.

Watch Tata Young’s ozone PSA for UNEP:

In June this year, talking to journalist Nirmal Ghosh, Tata Young said: “It’s important that people are aware of the little things you can do to protect our world, are aware (of ozone) and know what’s going on, especially because unlike garbage and other types of pollution, you can’t see the ozone layer.”

Read the full text on Nirmal’s blog: More Than Just Hot Air, 4 June 2009

Tata is now singing and speaking for the ozone layer on her own steam. Unlike some other UN agencies, UNEP does not have a formal goodwill ambassador programme. But she has de facto become one.

Full credit to her for this choice. After all, the Ozone Layer – located between 10 and 50 kilometres above the Earth, and invisible to the naked eye – is not something tangible like cuddly animals or endangered plants. Moving ordinary people to care for something they can’t see or touch is that much harder, even if all life on Earth depends critically on it (the Ozone Layer absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultra-violet days).

Tata used to hit the headlines in Thailand for some songs which were considered a little too ‘hot’ for the conservative guardians of culture. But looking at the less-than-glacial pace kept by climate change talks in Bangkok, perhaps activists should roll out Tata Young to turn on the heat…

‘Saving the Planet’ new Asian TV series is ready for release!

It's planet saving time...and everybody is invited!

It's planet saving time...and everybody is invited!

Can ordinary people help save our planet?

What does it take to change their attitudes and lifestyles to consume and waste less?

For over two years, my team at TVE Asia Pacific and I have been working on a new TV series, modestly called Saving the Planet. It will be released at a regional conference in Tokyo, Japan, on 22 August 2009.

In this Asian series, produced in partnership with Asia Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU), we profile successful initiatives that combine knowledge, skills and passion to create cleaner and healthier environments.

It was filmed in six countries in South and Southeast Asia: Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand.

The groups profiled in Saving the Planet often work without external funding and beyond the media spotlight. They have persisted with clarity of vision, sincerity of purpose and sheer determination. Their stories inspire many others to pursue grassroots action for a cleaner and safer planet.

Watch the series trailer here:

The dedicated website has just been revamped for the launch.

Watch out for more updates!

Remembering the Children of Tsunami, four years later…

Jantakarn Thep-Chuay, known as Beam

Jantakarn Thep-Chuay, known as Beam


For many weeks, Jantakarn Thep-Chuay — nicknamed Beam -– did not understand why her father was not coming home. The eight-year-old girl, in Takuapa in Thailand’s southern district of Phang Nga, had last seen him go to work on the morning of 26 December 2004.

“On that Sunday, the day there was a wave, my dad wore his tennis shoes,” she recalls as she gets into his pair of sandals. “My dad didn’t have to do much work — he just walked around looking after workers.”

Beam’s father Sukaroak –- a construction supervisor at a new beach resort in Khao Lak –- was one of thousands of Thais and foreign tourists killed when the Asian Tsunami hit without warning. His body was never found.

For months, Beam would draw pictures of her family. These, and family photos of happier times, helped her to slowly come to terms with what happened.

The first year was long and hard for the family Sukaroak left behind: Beam, her two-year-old brother Boom, and mother Sumontha, 28. The determined young widow struggled to keep home fires burning -– and to keep her troublesome in-laws at bay.

As if that were not enough, she also had to engage assorted bureaucracies: even obtaining an official death certificate for her late husband entailed much effort.

Just a few weeks after the disaster, the local authorities approached Sumontha suggesting that she gives away one or both her children for adoption. Apparently a foreigner was interested. She said a firm ‘No’.

“Her dad wanted Beam to become an architect. He was hoping for a day when he could build something she draws,” says Sumontha. “If I am still alive, I want to raise my own children. I am their mother. For better or worse, I want to raise them myself.”

The Tsunami destroyed Beam’s school, but she continued to attend a temporary school set up with local and foreign help. Before the year ended, she moved to a brand new ‘Tsunami School’ that the King of Thailand built to guarantee education for all children affected by the disaster.

Sumontha, Beam and Boom are three ordinary Asians who have shown extraordinary courage, resilience and resourcefulness as they coped with multiple challenges of rebuilding their lives after the Tsunami. Theirs is one of eight families that we followed throughout 2005, under our empathetic communication initiative called Children of Tsunami: Rebuilding the Future.

It was a multi-country, multi-media project that tracked how ordinary Asians rebuilt their lives, livelihoods and futures after one of the biggest disasters in recent years. We at TVE Asia Pacific documented on TV, video and web the personal recovery stories of eight affected families in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand for a year after the disaster. Our many media products — distributed on broadcast, narrowcast and online platforms -– inspired wide ranging public discussion on disaster relief, recovery and rehabilitation. In that process, we were also able to demonstrate that a more engaged, respectful kind of journalism was possible when covering post-disaster situations.

where Children of Tsunami stories were filmed for much of 2005

Four countries, eight locations: where Children of Tsunami stories were filmed for much of 2005

Meet the Children of Tsunami

They have never met each other. Yet they were united first in grief, then in survival. Five girls and three boys, between 8 to 16 years of age, living in eight coastal locations in four countries. Their families were impacted by the Asian Tsunami in different ways. Some lost one or both parents -– or other family members. Some had their homes or schools destroyed. Others found their parents thrown out of a job. During the year, these families faced many hardships and challenges in rebuilding their futures.

These remarkable children were our personal heroes for 2005:
Selvam, 13, Muzhukkuthurai, Tamil Nadu state, India
Mala, 11, Kottaikkadu, Tamil Nadu state, India
Putri, 8, Lampaya, Aceh province, Indonesia
Yenni, 15, Meulaboh, Aceh province, Indonesia
Heshani, 13, Suduwella, southern Sri Lanka
Theeban, 14, Karaitivu, eastern Sri Lanka
Bao, 16, Kuraburi, Phang Nga district, Thailand
Beam, 8, Takuapa, Phang Nga district, Thailand

With their trust and cooperation, we captured their unfolding realities unscripted and unprompted.

Read and experience much more on the Children of Tsunami dedicated website

Filming with Theeban in eastern Sri Lanka...now only a memory

Filming with Theeban in eastern Sri Lanka...now only a memory

As I recalled in early 2007, when we tragically lost one of eight survivor children – Theeban – to Sri Lanka’s civil war: As journalists, we have been trained not to get too attached to the people or subjects we cover, lest they affect our judgment and dilute our objectivity. The four production teams involved in Children of Tsunami initially agreed to follow this norm when we met in Bangkok in early 2005 for our first (and only) planning meeting. We also resolved not to reward our participating families in cash or kind, as they were all participating voluntarily with informed consent.

“But the ground reality was different. 2005, Asia’s longest year, wore on. As survivors slowly patched their lives together again, our film teams found themselves becoming friends of families or playing Good Samaritan. Sometimes our teams would find a survivor family close to starvation and — acting purely as human beings, not journalists — they would buy dry rations or a cooked meal. At other times, finding the children restless or aimless, they would buy them a football, kite or some other inexpensive toy that would produce hours of joy and cheer.

“As commissioners and publishers of Children of Tsunami stories, we didn’t object to these acts of kindness. Journalism with empathy was far preferable to the cold detachment that textbooks recommend.

In 2007, my colleague Manori Wijesekera – who served as production manager of this challenging effort – and I wrote up our definitive account of the project for Communicating Disasters: An Asia Pacific Resource Book. That chapter can be read online here.

Children of Tsunami: The Journey Continues
(25mins) was the end-of-year film that captured the highlights and ‘lowlights’ of our families’ first year following the disaster. It can be viewed online at the Children of Tsunami website.

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears (25 mins) was the shorter version of the end-of-year film that captured the highlights and ‘lowlights’ of our families’ first year following the disaster. We co-produced it with the Singapore-based regional broadcaster Channel News Asia.

Watch the first few minutes on YouTube:

All images courtesy TVE Asia Pacific

Thai audiences in the dark about ‘Children of the Dark’

Yami no kodomotachi (Children of the Dark) movie poster

Yami no kodomotachi (Children of the Dark) movie poster

Human trafficking – peddling and trading of human beings for slavery, sexual exploitation and servitude – has grown to alarming proportions in recent years. It’s among the top five illicit trades in the world, whose net annual worth is believed to be between 9 billion and 42 billion US dollars. The truth is, nobody knows exactly how big it is, but human rights activists and development agencies agree the problem is pervasive.

Of the estimated 2.5 million persons trafficked worldwide, more than half are in the Asia Pacific. At the UN General Assembly for Children in August 2007, it was reported that about 1.8 million children became victims of commercial sex trade in 2000. About one million children in Southeast Asia are said to be involved – Thailand is one centre of this shady trade, drawing on misery in its rural hinterlands as well as poorer neighbouring countries like Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

So what happens when someone goes to the trouble of studying the issue in depth, and then pools talent and resources to make a feature film that exposes international connections that sustain the child sex industry in Thailand? Instead of being welcomed as part of the effort to counter this scourge, the film gets banned.

Yami no kodomotachi (Children of the Dark, 138 mins, original Japanese) is a Japanese-Thai film made in 2008 about child sex slavery. It has been banned in Thailand on the grounds that it was ‘inappropriate’ and touched on a ‘sensitive’ issue.

Watch the official trailer of the film (Japanese soundtrack, Thai captions):

I haven’t seen the film, but according to one reviewer who did, Junji Sakamoto‘s film is based on a novel by Yan Sogil and scripted by Sakamoto himself, shows, with a documentary-like directness, how children caught in the web of a Thai prostitution ring are exploited, abused and, in some cases, murdered when they are no longer sexually salable.

Mark Schilling, writing in The Japan Times in August 2008, noted: “…In being so visually graphic — particularly in the sex scenes in the Thai brothel — Sakamoto treads a dangerous line between hard-hitting social drama and stomach-turning exploitation. He takes care never to show his young actors (whose average age looks to be about 10) and their adult ‘clients’ in the same explicit shot, but he films them engaged in sexual acts or their aftermath. Sakamoto may defend these scenes in the name of realism, but could he have filmed similar ones in Japan, using Japanese children? The short answer is “no.”

The Thai ban prevented ‘Children of the Dark’ from being screened at the Bangkok International Film Festival, held in the Thai capital from 23 – 30 September 2008.

“The ban puts under the spotlight the country’s – or at least its higher-ups’ – seeming unwillingness to let go of the Film Act of 1930, when Thailand was still under absolute monarchy. That law gave a Board of Censors the power to impose cuts or to ban a film it deems inappropriate,” writes my friend and colleague Lynette Lee Corporal in an article just published on Asia Media Forum.

Thailand in denial about its Children of the Dark

Thailand in denial about its Children of the Dark

She quotes my Thai colleague and documentary filmmaker Pipope Panitchpakdi as saying: “Authorities always think that viewers need to be protected and shielded from real issues. They still have that kind of sentiment that the media should function as a gatekeeper. That is, let the good stories in and the bad ones out. It’s okay in certain circumstances but not when talking about real, serious issues.”

Pipope adds: “This country has no problem with hypocrisy; we don’t see anything wrong with double standards. We have sex workers in corners of the city, but we can’t watch people kissing.”

A Bangkok-based journalist who calls himself Wise Kwai, writing in his blog, asks: “When will they (Thai authorities) learn that when they ban or censor a film, the ensuing stink that’s raised causes more problems than if the film had been allowed to quietly unspool? Perhaps if people had seen it, they might criticise it, but they’d also talk about the problems in society that allow children to be exploited.”

Read the full article: Film Censorship Leaves Viewers in the Dark by Lynette Lee Corporal

My Sep 2007 post: MTV Exit: Entertainment TV takes on human trafficking

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers