IN THE JOURNAL | COVER STORY
Asean's sustainable future? Science and technology
October-December 2015
By: David L Carden and Montira J Pongsiri

Science and technology tools also can assist in monitoring and managing resources shared by the region. Fisheries are an excellent example. Much has been written about the health of the world's oceans and coral reefs. Nowhere is the challenge more acute than in Asean, which is the breeding ground for a large percentage of the world’s “pelagic” fish, such as tuna.

To a large extent, Asean citizens depend on pelagic and non-pelagic fish for protein, which is vitally important in human development. There already is as much as 40 percent developmental stunting in certain Asean member states caused by deficiencies in micronutrients (zinc, iron, vitamins A and B12, fatty acids) and protein. And it appears the problem of stunting may not be confined to the current generation. Scientists are studying whether the stresses caused by stunting affect development in the next generation. A report published in the Journal of Nutrition earlier this year presented new evidence showing the adverse impacts on mental development in the children of stunted parents. 

The health of the region's fisheries is vital to meeting the challenge of nutritional deficiency. But there is too little information concerning the state of Asean’s fisheries. What little evidence there is suggests that the stocks of non-pelagic fish in the South China Sea may be as low as 5 percent to 7 percent of their levels in 1960. But the point is no one really knows. What we do know is that fishermen are taking fewer fish and traveling farther off shore to get them. We also know they are continuing to resort to dynamiting coral reefs that destroy important breeding grounds for numerous pelagic and non-pelagic fish species. To make matters worse, large trawlers are coursing Asean’s seas with huge nets, indiscriminately taking all living things in their wake. The problem has become so acute that Indonesia has begun to sink the ships of those fishing illegally in the region.

At the same time that fish stocks are under stress, the need for fish is growing. It is estimated that by 2050 the world’s oceans may need to provide 70 percent more fish to support our population. Most of Asean’s people lives in coastal areas, with a significant number directly dependent on marine and coastal resources for their nutritional well-being and livelihoods. This is especially true of small-scale subsistence fishermen and their families. 

What is needed now is for Asean to know where it stands in relationship to this vital resource. For this reason, the US Mission to Asean encouraged the addition of sustainable fisheries management to the association’s agenda. Through the leadership shown by Brunei, the issue was first addressed during its chairmanship year in 2013, at which time a study was commissioned to begin the process of assessing the health of Asean’s fisheries sector, including in the South China Sea. In a separate effort, scientists are studying vulnerable “hotspots” in the decline of fisheries and the resulting impacts their decline will have on human health in the region.

COMMENTS
Allison 11/03/2015 09:40 AM
David L Carden and Montira J Pongsiri rightly highlight how science and technology (S&T) could help address sustainability issues looming in ASEAN members’ futures. There is clearly a need for greater S&T collaboration throughout the Southeast Asian region, and Carden and Pongsiri provide valuable detail about the activities that the US Mission to ASEAN facilitates. However, I am surprised that ASEAN’s own S&T mechanisms were overlooked for their potential to contribute. ASEAN’s S&T activities trace to the establishment of the Committee on S&T (COST), which first convened in 1978. The high level body is a focal point for coordinating regional cooperation on S&T matters and has responsibility for developing ASEAN’s Plans for Action in S&T (APAST). The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology (AMMST) regularly brings together member leaders and S&T ministers to discuss regional issues of S&T significance, with an informal AMMST (IAMMST) interspersed between them. Contrary to what the authors state, ASEAN does in fact have long term planning initiatives in place that could help address regional sustainability. The extant APAST, which plans for the 2007-2011 timeframe (and was later extended to 2015), identifies several avenues of S&T cooperation that address issues such as climate change, renewable energies, transboundary marine pollution, and environmentally-friendly materials development. APAST’s planned successor, which is set to cover the 2016-2020 timeframe, will likely be organised around the eight thematic tracks identified at the 2010 Krabi Initiative. These tracks include green technologies, food security, water management, and biodiversity for health and wealth. In addition, COST coordinates several S&T flagship programs with aims in building an early warning system for disaster risk reduction, building climate change resilience in ASEAN, and reducing the incidence of infectious diseases in Southeast Asia. The challenge for ASEAN may well lie in implementation as it’s not always clear how such initiatives have progressed in practice. Yet ASEAN certainly has communicated a desire to support members in “moving up the technology ladder” and move away from economic growth that is founded on exploiting natural resources. At the eighth IAMMST in 2014, ministers agreed to a new vision that seeks to build “a Science, Technology and Innovation-enabled ASEAN which is innovative, competitive, vibrant, sustainable and economically integrated”. It is perhaps too early to tell how this will advance past a policy statement, but continued US technical assistance would definitely help this occur. S&T collaboration can facilitate a sustainable future for the region, though the best solution will be one that is entrenched within existing ASEAN mechanisms. This way, like Cardin and Pongsiri argue, we can see ASEAN building informed ASEAN solutions. ---------------------------- Dr Allison Sonneveld is a Research Officer for the Australian Army. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.
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