Mekong Eye Explores Environmental Challenges in Southeast Asia

As development surges across Southeast Asia’s Mekong region, experts, governments, businesses and citizens are looking for information. They want news. They need data. And they are looking for a place to tell their stories. The launch of The Mekong Eye, a dynamic new GeoJournalism web portal, gathers the region’s most compelling stories, contextualized by maps, data, and visuals to help people understand how rapid development is impacting the environment.

Along the threatened Mekong River and around the broader region – which includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Southern China– hydropower dams, mines, industry, power plants, transport corridors, and other mega-projects are bringing much needed prosperity to many in the region. But they also strain an already distressed environment. And they are changing lives in thousands of communities.

The Mekong Eye is a non-profit project of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN), a global community of more than 8,000 journalists around the world dedicated to improving environmental coverage. The project’s main support is from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) project, which is led by Pact.

The Mekong Eye will feature stories from a network of over 150 journalists that MPE has built in the region. Through the project, Mekong Eye organizers have been training and supporting journalists, funding story investigations and contributing to the growing “open data” movement in the region.

“We want to help find solutions,” says EJN Global Director James Fahn. “Nowhere else can you find this sweeping view of what’s happening in terms of sustainable development in the region – the changes, the challenges, and the stories. It’s really about the stories that need to be told if we’re to protect the future of the Mekong region.”

Most of the stories are curated from across the region and the globe. But the site also features new stories by network partners and original content to help persuade regular citizens that these issues demand attention.

“A lot of people in the region don’t know a thing about what’s happening,” says News Editor Nantiya Tangwisutijit. “Ask people walking around any shopping mall and very few can tell you anything about how dams are changing life, or how our energy or environmental policies are affecting millions of people.”

EJN has been supporting journalists to cover these issues in a balanced way. The project has helped journalists report on the Dawei Special Economic Zone, construction of dams in countries across the region, and environmental degradation in the delicate Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Development in these areas is a serious threat to the food systems and livelihoods of millions of people.

Over the coming months, The Mekong Eye will be launching built-in maps and data features. In partnership with Open Development Mekong, The Mekong Eye will add map and data utilities to allow readers to access a massive database of regional development and environment data and manipulate interactive maps to get a better spatial understanding of the issues. News stories are linked to maps, that over time will be sortable by topic and region.

“Journalists and development professionals really need to understand the data,” says, Myanmar journalist Nyan Lynn, who is launching a new environmental journalist network for the country. “We’ve got to be able to tell the stories behind data, and show people what it all means in a way they can understand.”

It’s journalists like Nyan Lynn that The Mekong Eye aims to support – to help them get the data they need for stronger stories, and to promote those stories regionally and worldwide. But it’s development professionals, active citizens, government officials, and businesspeople that the site aims to reach.

Through The Mekong Eye, local stories will reach regional audiences. The platform also aims to help niche stories reach the broader public, help regional media and development professionals access resources, and help make original content, maps, and visuals available for any user to republish in their own reports or websites.

For information on becoming a content partner or a journalist in our network, or to submit stories or press releases, please contact [email protected]