Telling the Story of the Environment in Asia

From water shortages in Nepal and China to floods in South Asia, climate change and other environmental issues are having a dramatic effect on Asia’s most vulnerable populations.

Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) works with journalists and journalism networks throughout Asia to find innovative solutions to these pressing concerns. EJN conducts training workshops and develops training materials, supports story production and distribution, provides small grants for environmental and climate change reporting, and creates and supports unique data mapping platforms.


Ayesha Shakya, Nepal

A woman washes dishes at a water fountain in the mountains
A woman cleaning utensils in Upper Mustang. (Credit: Gopen Rai and Nepali Times)

In her two years as a journalist, Ayesha Shakya has witnessed the effects of climate change in remote parts of the Himalayas first hand. Whether it is melting glacial lakes or erratic rainfall, Ayesha’s multimedia journalism helps us understand that it is Nepal’s most marginalized communities who are worst affected.

“Small communities living in the Himalayas are bearing the brunt of global warming. Because Upper Mustang is so dry and in the shadow of the Himalayas, I wanted to go there to report on the water crisis that’s making life so difficult for the villagers,” said Ayesha.

Read more: The Himalayan Ticking Time Bomb

Krista Langlois, Marshall Islands

A woman sits on a stone wall and a boy stands next to it
Sarah and her brother Josa outside her boyfriend’s parents’ house in Rairok, a village just outside the Marshall Islands’ capital of Majuro. (Credit: Krista Langlois)

Life on the Marshall Islands is defined by the ocean. Since few plants grow in the sandy soil, the majority of food is harvested offshore. Residents lived in relative isolation until 1857, when the first wave of outsiders arrived — Christian missionaries. During the Second World War, the islands were used as a strategic base and after for atomic bomb testing.

“Through all of this, Marshallese culture adapted and survived. But today, it’s facing the one battle that might be impossible to win,” says Langlois. “Climate experts predict that because of rising sea levels caused by greenhouse gas emissions, the Marshall Islands could be uninhabitable by the end of this century.”

Read more: A More Vulnerable World

Stella Paul, India

A group of women sit in the grass talking; most are wearing saris
Journalist Stella Paul, speaking to women in India affected by climate change. (Courtesy of Stella Paul)

Renowned Indian environmental journalist Stella Paul won a prestigious award for shining a light on the connections between gender and climate change. But Stella says women’s voices need to be heard and data channels need to be improved if effective mitigation policies and measures are to be introduced following the COP21 talks in Paris.

“As it stands, women are the ones bearing the brunt of climate change — but if women were given training in using these types of technologies, they would have the power and knowledge to fend for themselves in times of great need,” says Paul. “Right now, we’re talking about the rich-poor gap when it comes to global warming, but we need to be talking about the gender gap too.”

Read more: Climate Change through the Eyes of Women

Neha Sethi, India

Neha sits at a table with a glass of water
Neha Sethi, environmental journalist, India.

Neha Sethi is a principal correspondent for ET Now, the Economic Times News Network in Noida, India. She has previously been a reporter and editor for the Hindustan Times, Voice of America and Governance Now, reporting on environmental, gender and political issues. In 2009, Sethi produced a documentary on the effects of climate change on the Himalayas.

“Once I started reporting on environmental issues, my interest in it started growing. In a diverse country like India, adapting to climate change is a necessity. It needs to ensure that people living in the Himalayas are safe from earthquakes, floods and landslides, and the population living near the coast needs to be protected from cyclones and tsunamis. At the same time, the country needs to ensure that the less privileged do not suffer and are provided the basic services, including electricity and water.”

Read more: Reporting on the Environment in India

Imelda Abano, Philippines

Imelda poses with terraced farmland in the background
Imelda Abano, journalist, Philippines

Imelda Abano is a freelance journalist with an extensive background in environmental, health and development issues in Asia. She currently writes for the Science and Development Network based in London, the Inter Press Service, the Women’s International Perspective News Service based in U.S., and the Business Mirror in the Philippines.

“Prior to writing about climate change issues, I wrote on women’s issues — health especially, HIV/AIDS, water and other development topics. Essentially, I realized that all these issues are intertwined in climate change. As a journalist, I wanted to do my part so people — especially the decision-makers — can make a global response.”

Read more: Communicating the Urgency of Climate Change


Air Pollution Sensors

An article in Nature described EJN’s project using low cost sensors to track environmental data.

A city is covered in smog; snow-capped mountains are in the background.
View towards a smog-filled Ulaanbaatar from the Zaisan Memorial. (Credit Elnar Fredriksen/CC)

“When winter descends on Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the air turns foul. Here in the world’s coldest capital city, residents light open fires of coal or wood to heat their uninsulated houses. Soot fills the skies, and people don face masks to ward off smog so thick it can hide buildings a few hundred meters away.

“Everyone agrees that more resources need to go into monitoring air pollution, which kills around 7 million people a year. ‘It’s the largest, single most important, health risk in the world,’ says Joshua Apte, an environmental researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, who sees an emerging role for cheap, plentiful pollution gauges. ‘The fact that you can buy 50 low-cost sensors for the cost of one regulatory sensor is a tremendously powerful thing.’”

Read more: Environmental science: Pollution patrol

Geospatial Databases and Open Mapping

Willie Schubert, Senior Program Coordinator for EJN, was interviewed in a SciDevNet podcast on mapping for international development and the Third Pole project, a simple, searchable catalog of water-related datasets sourced from leading organizations monitoring water in Asia.

“This project is important because it helps understand the natural system of one of the highest regions on earth and a source of over ten major river systems that provide irrigation, power and drinking water for over 1.3 billion people, nearly 20% of the world population,” said interviewer Lou Del Bello. “But the area is endangered by climate change and knowing more about this geography and climatic patterns is important to make predictions on the impacts of extreme weather events.”

Listen to the full interview.

The Third Pole dataset is helping environmental activists and journalists understand and react to the rapid changes taking place in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, also known as “Asia’s water tower.”

“There was drought so we had to share the little water brought a long distance from irrigation canals to the field. This delay in rice planting is resulting in a late harvest,” explains Ratna Darai, 47, a farmer in Daraipadhera, Nepal during an interview with reporter Ramesh Bhushal.

The effects were clear, an erratic monsoon means an uncertain harvest in a nation where agricultural production is not on pace with population growth. Water insecurity is a major driver of conflict and uncertainly in the world’s most populous continent.

Read more: Open Data in Asia’s Water Tower:

SMS Based Reporting

Local journalists in the Philippines are posting news and information on environmental issues and communicating with disaster-affected communities using an innovative new SMS-based reporting platform called EnviroNews. The platform was launched by the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

A girl carrying a pink backpack walks through ankle-deep water in a flooded street
Flooding in the Philippines (Credit: Dino Balabo/Internews)

“When disaster strikes, we want to get and deliver information as fast as we can. We want to give vital information and alerts on weather condition or flooded areas to local communities. It is a powerful reporting system especially in a disaster-prone country like the Philippines,” said Bulacan-based journalist Dino Balabo, who has been sending SMS and stories during the recent typhoon.

Read more: Local Journalists in the Philippines use SMS to Get Information to Their Communities


Covering the Oceans and Fisheries

A man poles a boat down a river carrying 4 passengers
During fisheries reporting workshop, journalists take a field trip to the Indonesian island of Nusa Lembongan, including a visit to a seaweed farm and protected mangroves. (credit: Internews)

Journalists in China and Indonesia have participated in events aimed at improving local media coverage of ocean and fisheries issues. Although each country is a key player in the global supply of seafood, marine issues are not widely covered in their mainstream media, as an EJN report analyzing Indonesia’s coverage of these issues make clear.

“While environmental issues such as pollution or toxic waste have become major public concerns in China, relatively speaking, fisheries and ocean-related environmental issues are rarely covered in the Chinese news media. Even when they are covered, reporting rarely mentions scientific evidence, arguments for policy, and remedies.” — From a report on Chinese media coverage of fisheries issues, carried out by researchers at Hong Kong University, commissioned by EJN.

Read more: Improving Coverage of Oceans and Fisheries in China and Indonesia

The Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Most Vulnerable Communities

As the Earth’s average temperature increases, contributing to rising sea levels, warming oceans, and glacial retreat, it is the world’s poorest and most marginalized people that are the most vulnerable. Many of the affected communities are in Asia, including the Assam region of India where repeated floods have destroyed the houses and livelihood of the indigenous population, leaving them increasingly at risk to being exploited, including by human traffickers; and Pakistan’s Kalash valleys, home to the ancient Kalash tribe, where many parts of the mountain region are struggling to repair the damage wrought by the floods from monsoons.

To bring these stories to light, EJN through its Human Dimensions of Climate Change project, selected thirty-two journalists from a highly competitive pool of applicants to highlight the disproportionate impacts of climate change on communities living in Asia and five other continents, as well as hard-hit island nations.

The Impact of Dams in Southeast Asia

Hydropower development is racing across Southeast Asia’s Mekong region, and EJN is helping journalists investigate the costs and benefits for the environment and communities. EJN supported 15 journalists to meet researchers, affected communities, Cambodian government officials and local NGOs in a workshop, “Understanding Energy: The Benefits and Costs of Hydropower”, focusing on hydropower dams in Cambodia.

“We can see the situation villagers are challenged with,” said Mr. Khoun Narim, a reporter with the Cambodia Daily newspaper. “And their life in the future, and how the water will change when the dam will be completed.”

Read more: Southeast Asian Journalists Explore Dams and their Impacts

Exploring 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. EJN launched The Mekong Eye, a dynamic new GeoJournalism web portal that gathers the region’s most compelling stories, contextualized by maps, data, and visuals to help people understand how rapid development is impacting the environment.

“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.”

Read more: Mekong Eye Explores Environmental Challenges in Southeast Asia

Brian Hanley is Internews Regional Director for Asia Programs. In Asia, Internews supports environmental and climate change reporting and environmental journalist networks through the Earth Journalism Network.

Children stand outside a shack made of bamboo next to a river
Children in Assam’s flooded landscape (Credit: Mubina Akhtar)