Across Asia and Africa, countries are dealing with massive sand mining that destroys fishing grounds, farmlands, and homes.
Beting Aceh, an island in Riau Province, Indonesia, has been Eryanto’s home for 40 years. The island is known for its white sandy beaches and clean ocean water; more than half its residents are fishers.
But the island has drastically changed over the past two years. The ocean water is getting murky, the beach is shrinking, and it has suffered from massive erosion, indicated by the uprooted trees strewn along the coast. Many villagers say the damage is linked to a sand mining operation happening between Beting Aceh and the neighboring Babi Island…
China has been rapidly piling sand onto reefs in the South China Sea, creating seven new islets in the region. It is straining geopolitical tensions that were already taut.
China’s activity in the Spratlys (Islands) is a major point of contention between China and the United States and was a primary topic of discussion between President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China during the Chinese president’s visit to the White House in September. On Monday, the United States sent a Navy destroyer near the islands, entering the disputed waters…
From February to April each year, Kam Thon spends most of her days knee-deep in the waters of the Mekong River by her village in northern Thailand, gathering river weed to sell and cook at home.
Kam Thon and other women who live by the Mekong have been collecting river weed, or khai, for decades, but their harvest has fallen since China built nearly a dozen dams upstream.
The dams have altered the flow of water and block much of the sediment that is vital for khai and rice cultivation, researchers say.
“Generally, the water is clear and the level is lower in the dry season, and we can easily wade in and harvest khai. But now, the water level is higher during dry season, which makes it more difficult,” said Kam Thon, who sells khai at the local market.
“We need to spend more time collecting khai, and there is also less khai, which has affected our income,” the 48-year-old said, as she rolled handfuls of the stringy green weed into balls and placed them in a nylon bag slung on her shoulder.
Kam Thon, who lives in Chiang Khong by the Thai-Laos border, said she only makes only about a third of what she used to earn when the Mekong’s waters ran low in the dry season and the khai was plentiful.
Her husband’s fish catch has also fallen, she said.
Stretching from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea for about 4,350 km (2,700 miles), the Mekong is a farming and fishing lifeline for tens of millions of people across China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
But with China building more dams to generate hydropower, fears are growing over the unseasonal flooding and droughts they cause – and for the future of Southeast Asia’s longest river, which is now being shaped by powerful state-backed corporations.
Local communities and campaigners say their concerns and complaints are being ignored in the push for clean energy.
“The upstream dams are affecting fish catch, rice cultivation and river weed, a major source of income for women and the elderly,” said Pianporn Deetes, campaign director for Thailand and Myanmar at Rivers International, an advocacy group.
“When the river is turned into just being a source of hydropower, it affects the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. It’s about their food, their tradition and custom, their way of life,” she said in an interview…