Executive summary of panel discussion by SEA Junction officers Panupong Boontongchuay (James) & Tipakson Manpati (Saiaew)
Climate change has previously been described as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Recently, there have been calls within the global health community to declare a planetary health emergency. The effects of climate change on human health are wide-ranging – from the re-emergence of infectious diseases and exacerbation of chronic non-communicable diseases, to reversals in nutrition gains and generation of mental health stress. Moreover, these impacts will be felt by regions of the world that emitted the least amount of carbon and have limited resources and overall adaptive capacity – which include Southeast Asia. With the health effects of climate change already beginning to manifest in the region and global progress in climate action remaining slow and even dismal, the need for building resilient health systems that can withstand climate-related stress and respond to health consequences becomes much more urgent now than ever before.
In an effort to raise awareness on this complex and urgent issue, SEA Junction collaborated with the Mission of Canada to ASEAN to hold a public discussion on SEA Junction’s venue on 30 January 2020 at 6PM. As stressed by our partner’s representative, First Secretary Mr. Stuart Shaw of the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok in his remarks, climate change is a global issue that affect all countries in the planet and therefore requires global cooperation. The Canadian government view as a priority to partner with organizations in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world to raise awareness and address climate change mitigation and adaptation, including by preventing and reducing the health impacts of climate change.
The event featured emerging public health expert Dr. Renzo Guinto who has investigated the concept of “climate-smart” health systems in coastal municipalities in the Philippines as part of his doctoral degree at Harvard University. He presented a series of negative impacts as consequences of climate change in the region including sea level and temperature rise, the submerge of big cities such as Bangkok and poor air quality in Bangkok. Jakarta and Manila. All these events pose serious health risks to the populations especially the most vulnerable. He illustrated this with the example of Haiyan typhoon hitting the Philippines in 2013, which caused almost 7000 fatalities, demonstrating that the health impacts were equally distributed and the poorer suffered more. He also explored the opportunities for the health sector to lead in mitigating and adapting to climate change and presented a short film that depicts the challenges faced by local health systems in responding to climate change as well as the promise of “climate-smart” health systems that are ready to face this new normal. Key principles underlying the idea of climate-smart healthcare are sustainability and resilience. Sustainability is defined as lifestyle diseases prevention and better access to healthcare while resilience means risk and disaster preparedness and planning as well as climate-related disease monitoring.
The other speaker, Ms. Sim Kook Eng Amy is the director of Internews Earth Journalism Network Asia-Pacific based in Bangkok. She first presented about Earth Journalism Network (EJN), which aims to improve the quality and quantity of environmental reporting worldwide by empowering networks of local journalists and focusing on the areas with low access to information. The network utilizes three principles to support environmental reporting: geo-journalism, networked journalism and education. She then stressed the urgency of climate change and shared her insights about documenting climate change issues. According to the WHO, climate change will cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress and journalists can turn the complex climate science into compelling stories by highlighting the everyday human dimensions of climate change. Especially, more attention should be given to its impacts on human health. Here, she referred to a series of articles on climate change and health that is highlighting the risks of ignoring climate change causes and impacts (see https://earthjournalism.net/special-reports/climate-change-health). An example is the photo essay published in the Guardian entitled “Southeast Asia’s hardest year for dengue” by Ms. Laurel Siegel published in January 2020 which portrays the dengue epidemic in which a sharp increase of reported cases was confirmed from 50,000 to 106,000 from 2018 to 2019 and the poor people living in make shift and low-lying land are mostly at risk.
To conclude the presentation, Amy inspired the participants with an EJN story on the dangers of heatwave to slum dwellers in Pakistan, which led to government attention and ultimately gave the dwellers access to much needed public services. This to stress that good journalism can bring about real changes to our society.
In spite of worries that fears of the corona virus would discourage people to attend a public event, as indicated by low traffic at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) where SEA Junction is located, the venue was full with about 40 participants in the public, from various background. Some of the journalists and photoreporters who contributed to the Earth Network series, including Ms. Laura Siegel, were in the audience and participated in the discussion and contributed to the lively Q&A discussion moderated by SEA Junction Director Dr. Rosalia Sciortino. Also attending was the Mayor of Carmen, the Philippine town in Surigao del Norte province portrayed in the short documentary as he happened to participate in a conference in Bangkok He stressed the link of climate change to (forced) migration and the importance for having more open borders to accommodate climate-affected populations.
Another key point focused on the importance to contextualize knowledge to make it accessible to the entire population. It was noted that climate change in not always translated in a way that it conveys its accurate meaning. For instance, in Thailand it means more “climate warming’ ignoring cooling impacts. This is also related to the need for journalists to use the language that local people would understand with which envisioning the future that everyone, everywhere, enjoys equal access to trusted, quality information that empowers them to live healthy, secure, rewarding lives. In this context, the role of journalism was discussed, the importance of providing balanced reporting, but also taking side with the vulnerable groups in showing how they are affected as well as their resilience in coping with disaster and other threatening conditions. Investigative reporting is also needed to explore the political aspects of climate change and expose the commercial causes, going beyond official government and corporate explanations.
Discussion also centered on the importance to share experiences in addressing climate change not to indulge into pessimistic views of the matters that led to inaction. One of the climate change resilient action is happening in the Philippines. Some hospitals have adopted better waste management and green procurement buying products from the sources that practice green principle. It is the high hope amidst complicated advanced technology that can harm the environment, that that would be put to a halt and more will be developed that can tackle the climate change problems. The audience also reflected on how to make use of existing indigenous knowledge when it comes to climate change while incorporating scientific knowledge. In this context, it was urged to include indigenous people to be a part of conversation for climate change solutions.
Finally, there was interest for the impact of climate change on the spreading of infectious diseases and how changing climatic conditions may play a role in the emergence of zoonotic viruses.
Panupong Boontongchuay (James)
SEA Junction Program Officer
Panupong Boontongchuay has a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences with a concentration on Southeast Asia Studies from Mahidol University International College. James is from Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, South Thailand and speaks Thai, English, Chinese and Indonesian. His passion of Southeast Asia was inspired by ex-Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, who strived to achieve ASEAN-for-all vision. In 2018, he represented Thai youth ambassador of goodwill for the forty-fourth Ship for Southeast Asia and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP). He is specially interested in issues on politics and cultures of ASEAN countries and enjoy learning languages and music to better understand the region.
Tipakson Manpati (Saiaew)
Administration & Logistic Officer
Tipakson Manpati has a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication specializing in newspaper from Chiang Mai University, and a master’s degree in International Development Studies from Chulalongkorn University. She is from a Phutai ethnic community in Kalasin Province, Northeast Thailand and speaks Thai, Phutai, Lao and English. Previously, she was a member of ASEAN Youth – ad hoc group of young people from Southeast Asian countries monitoring the ASEAN policies impacting the youths. She is interested in environmental and sustainable development issues.