Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay The Mekong Delta Region is one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world: it accounts for over half of Vietnam’s agricultural output and more than 90% of its export rice output, which in turn represents about 10% of the global rice market [Core: FEEDING THE BEAST]. However, the region, with its low-lying geography, is also one of the most vulnerable to climate change [Core: THE WRATH OF NATURE]. In fact, a recent delta-wide study has predicted that the entire Mekong Delta will sink underwater by 2100 at the current pace, triggering a large-scale humanitarian crisis. To understand the scope of this crisis, one must trace the Mekong River. It springs from headwaters in the mountainous regions of Tibet and arcs downward, its fruits enjoyed by China and many countries in the Southeast Asian region – including, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.
Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay Ever since the term ‘fake news’ entered the popular vernacular around 2016, it has been a topic of much debate, even leading to changes in legislature. Of course, advocates of free speech and democracy have long criticized the intentions behind such legislature, since they fear that such policies will only add to the toolkits of authoritarian regimes. One fact is unavoidable: fake news is a real problem in the APAC region. During the recent clashes between India and Pakistan, a flood of fake news spread across India containing videos and images that had nothing to do with the incidents. The issue worsened with some mainstream media republishing such content which fuelled a public outcry for military action against Pakistan in the midst of a heated election campaign.
Image by intographics from Pixabay In 1920, Czech playwright K. Čapek debuted R.U.R.: ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’, showcasing a new artificial race of manufactured laborers.
Image by Charlie Wilde from Pixabay Solar power has been growing at an unprecedented pace over the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. The International Energy Agency estimates that over the 2018-2023 period, there will be 575 GW of newly added Solar PV capacity – more than all other renewable sources combined. China alone will account for 46% of Solar PV’s growth. At first glance, it is not hard to see why solar energy is popular. Since it directly converts sunlight into electricity through the photovoltaic effect, it has no moving parts; its maintenance costs are minimal (other than keeping the panels clean); and it requires no additional fuel to operate the panel.
Image by Judith Scharnowski from Pixabay Asia is missing 163 million women. Let us clarify. At 105:100, Asia has long had the highest share of males to females in the population. Had this sex ratio been the same as to the rest of the world, demographers have estimated that Asia’s population would have comprised of 163 million more women than reported. [Core: FEEDING THE BEAST] The effects on India and China are magnified due to the sheer sizes of their populations.
Image: Stefano boeri Architetti Less than 10 years ago, Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, was an emblem of China’s growing problem of solid waste. Flooded sewage channels, pungent odors and a hideous landscape made the residents of Wuhan keep their doors and windows shut all the time. Before it was closed in 2005, the Jinkou landfill in Wuhan had accumulated more than 5 million cubic meters of garbage since its opening in 1989; even after its closure, more than 100,000 residents living in nearby areas had to deal with issues of gas pollution and pollutants leaching into groundwater. But in 2018, at the Guangzhou International Award Ceremony for Urban Innovation, Wuhan became one of five winners from across the world, showcasing the same waste dump – which had now been transformed into a lush green garden full of cherry blossoms. Aerobic ecological restoration technology had made sixty percent of the living waste biodegrade within two years.
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay The APAC region is home to a curious phenomenon: both malnourishment and obesity strike just miles from each other, often in the same city. The same play area that houses more than 480 million undernourished people also houses some of the highest obesity rates in the world. How can such a state of affairs exist? The APAC region deals with many complexities that stress food systems: population expansion [Core: FEEDING THE BEAST], large, unsystematic influxes of migrants and climate change-related disasters impacting water supply and food production [Core: THE WRATH OF NATURE]. On the other hand, there is the rapid rise of the middle classes and the new demands they bring to markets.
Image by Michelle Maria from Pixabay Climate change debates and discussions around the world take different forms [Core: THE WRATH OF NATURE]. Some argue about what has caused it while some others discuss how best to navigate it without giving up many of the luxuries they already enjoy. The Pacific Islands lie at the front lines of the wrath of nature, and for them the time for such debate is past. In 2016, Fiji lost almost a third of its GDP when Winston – the worst cyclone recorded in the Southern Hemisphere – swirled over the country, leaving much havoc in its wake. A recent study commissioned by the US Department of Defense states that climate change will leave many Pacific Islands completely uninhabitable by mid-century.
Image by Rizwan Saeed from Pixabay Usually, climate change solutions involve highly technical solutions – carbon dioxide removal, greener energy production methods [Core: THE WRATH OF NATURE]. Pakistan is banking on a much simpler solution: planting trees. In 1947, when it gained independence, Pakistan had 33% forest cover, and by the end of 2015, it had dropped to 1.9%. In 2015, Imran Khan, the then head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party governing Pakistan’s northwestern province, announced the “Billion Tree Tsunami”, a monumental challenge of planting one billion trees by the end of 2017.
Image by cinelina from Pixabay Closely related to food security, but with even more political overtones, is water [Core: FEEDING THE BEAST]. Key parts of the APAC seem to be heading full-tilt into a water crisis. The city of Chennai, India – home to nearly 10 million people – has almost run out of water. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, more than 3 million of the city’s slum dwellers face severe shortages of safe drinking water. In China, Beijing’s 21 million residents are running out of water and becoming increasingly dependent on water pumped in from the flood-prone south of the country.
Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay Fukushima was a truly unfortunate incident. It happened at the time when most countries in the APAC, looking to grow beyond coal, were considering the nuclear option. Today, the shadow of Fukushima – and that old ghost of Chernobyl – hang over every conversation around nuclear power. Yet this conversation must be had. The APAC needs to cater to the energy needs of a population experiencing rapid growth in urbanization, industrialization and economic growth [FEEDING THE BEAST].
“The only ones left in the city are street people, feeding off debris; immigrants, thrown out like shrapnel from the destruction of the Asian powers; young bohos; and the technomedia priesthood of Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong. Young smart people like Da5id and Hiro, who take the risk of living in the city because they like stimulation and they know they can handle it.” ― Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash One of the problems of increasing populations [Core: FEEDING THE BEAST] and increasing economic activity [Core: THE NEXT BIG ECONOMY] is that more and more people tend to flock to economic centers. This sparks urbanization, which forces these areas to grow both vertically and horizontally.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief. – T.S. Eliot, the Waste Lands The scientific consensus is clear: climate change is real, and humans are the biggest driver of recent climate change.
“Every period of human development has had its own particular type of human conflict—its own variety of problem that, apparently, could be settled only by force. And each time, frustratingly enough, force never really settled the problem. Instead, it persisted through a series of conflicts, then vanished of itself—what’s the expression—ah, yes, ‘not with a bang, but a whimper,’ as the economic and social environment changed. And then, new problems, and a new series of wars.” – Isaac Asimov, I, Robot The elephant and the dragon No analysis of the APAC region is complete without an understanding of the tensions in the region.
“There’s no such things as survival of the fittest. Survival of the most adequate, maybe. It doesn’t matter whether a solution’s optimal. All that matters is whether it beats the alternative.” ― Peter Watts, Blindsight Let them eat cake One of the biggest concerns for the near future is the wave of progress dubbed “the 4th industrial revolution”.
However, the regional, near-future narrative is not so rosy. The world, in general, will hit 8.5 billion people by 2030. Today, the Asia Pacific region holds 60% of the world's population and the two most populous countries in the world - India and China - and a significant chunk of that future growth will come from this region.