Today we face extraordinary challenges – natural disasters, extreme weather events, long term shifts in climate, political change, growing resource scarcity and demographic movements. These compel us to re-think about how government, private sectors, businesses and we as individuals manage our environment and resources.

State of Land and Water Use Change in Asia Pacific

Asia-Pacific, representing 60% of the world’s population1, has the lowest per capita availability of freshwater2. Agriculture in Asia accounts for 79% of annual average water withdrawals3, and demand for food and animal feed crops is predicted to grow by 70% to 100% over the next 50 years. Enhancing yield is estimated to meet 70% of food needs, but this could hasten water depletion and downstream impacts. The fastest increase in water demand now comes from industry and cities.

Asia is home to more than half of the world’s slum population4. Globally, informal settlements are growing at a much faster pace than cities themselves. Wastewater is often released untreated or partially treated into rivers, lakes and groundwater. Eighty per cent of Asia’s rivers are in poor health, jeopardizing economies and the quality of life5. Ecosystem services, valued at $1.75 trillion per year, are threatened.

State of Disaster Risks in Asia Pacific

Floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges and landslides represent 90% of the world’s disasters, and 90% of the people affected by these water-related disasters live in Asia6. Asia is home to 75% of vulnerable urban populations in coastal zones7. While improved forecasting has reduced the number of deaths from water-related disasters, the costs of flood disasters have increased over time, with damages estimated to be over $61 billion in 20118.

Countries are recognizing the need to find the interface between disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and migration policies and programs. Several estimates have been made about the impacts of climate change on migration, varying between 50 million and 1 billion. An individual’s decision to move always has a number of causes including economic, political and social factors, and the impacts of climate change could be an additional factor among these. Climate change may also play a role in changing some of these other influences, as seen in the dynamic playing out in the Philippines wherein efforts to move people out of critical waterways is underway as government’s strategy for adapting to the increasing frequency of extreme weather events.

State of Governance

Fragmentation in leadership, cultural identity, and socio-economic priorities has fragmented land use. In upland Mindanao, for example, land use change is driven by the history of commercial logging, the disregard for indigenous communities, the lack of tenure for migrants, and the limited development of sustainable resource management strategies. The area’s climate, forest hydrology, and nutrient balances are a source of sustainability, yet with land use change, the erosion and loss of the limited nutrient base, broader environmental degradation is rapidly growing without greater accountability and better options. To provide the basis for moving from compartmentalized and piecemeal planning options to integrated holistic planning, a sound biophysical understanding of land and water resources and their interaction with cultures, societies and economies is necessary.


The Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) is the lead organizer for the fourth and final annual conference of the Belgian Commission Universitaire pour le Devéloppement (CUD)-funded project, Towards greater human security in Mindanao by Establishing strategic research Partnerships to strengthen local governance in land and water Management (EPaM). This event builds on previous conferences co-organized with Ateneo de Davao University, Ateneo de Cagayan-Xavier University, University of Namur, Gembloux Agro Bio Tech and Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC):

  • May 2011: conference on celebrating human capability, from vulnerability to resilience (Koronadal City)
  • May 2012: conference on understanding the factors affecting the movement of people, internal migration and displacement (Davao City)
  • May 2013: conference on development of a generic protocol for establishing regional land information system and soil fertility assessment, disseminating information on the methodology used and results of the soil research component of the project (Cagayan de Oro City)

The Conference is held with the support of the CUD, Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN) and the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) ecology group. GIAN and JCAP ecology group see the opportunity and value to engage Jesuits and the people working with Jesuits in ecology in this conference, to create a dynamic engagement and response to the environment, research and governance concerns in the region. Hopefully, this further builds the ongoing work of ESSC in strategic research partnerships with universities in Belgium as well as with the Jesuit universities in Mindanao towards strengthening local government responses and management of their land and water resources in the island.

Conference Objectives and Results

Primarily, this year’s conference seeks to encourage exchange of knowledge and experience among participants on how they are learning, creating and accompanying different stakeholders to transform land and water governance. Knowledge from across the natural and social sciences is needed to develop a thorough understanding of our ecological challenges.

These challenges include:

  • Learning how to develop a comprehensive and integrated point of view, through linking academic disciplines, that enables us to transform our governance of land and water resources;
  • Creating capacities that enable us to build safe and secure societies that are resilient to disaster risks
  • Accompanying the youth as they prepare to inherit the responsibility of building a sustainable future for our community and society.

Specifically, the conference aims to explore land and water governance concerns in the context of the following themes:

The effort is to broaden initiatives on the ground and to open discussion on transformative research and education, including Ignatian perspective and values formation for development. We hope that this conference sparks collaborative engagements for further action and follow-up exchanges among participants on topics that promote science and ecology, disaster risk reduction and youth formation.


1 UN ESCAP. 2012. Data Explorer – Annual Data. http://www.unescap.org/stat/data/statdb/dataExplorer.aspx; Asia-Pacific covers: Southeast Asia; East and North-East Asia; Pacific; South and Southwest Asia; North & Central Asia.
2 WWF. 2012. Ecological Footprint and Investment in Natural Capital in Asia and the Pacific. UK: ADB & WWF.
3 UN ESCAP. 2008. Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok.
4 UN Habitat. 2006. Slum Trends in Asia.http://www.unhabitat.org/documents/media_centre/APMC/Slum%20trends%20in%20Asia.pdf
5 ADB. 2013. Asian Water Development Outlook. Manila. http://www.adb.org/publications/asian-water-development-outlook-2013
6 Y. Adikari and J. Yoshitani. 2009. Global Trends in Water-Related Disasters: An Insight for Policymakers. http://www.unwater.org/downloads/181793E.pdf accessed 20 Sep 2013; Figure does not include countries in the Pacific/Oceania.
7 ADB. 2013. Asian Water Development Outlook. Manila. http://www.adb.org/publications/asian-water-development-outlook-2013
8 Swiss Re. 2012. Natural Catastrophes and Man-Made Disasters in 2011: Historic Losses Surface from Record Earthquakes and Floods. Sigma 2/2012. http://media.swissre.com/documents/sigma2_2012_en.pdf

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