Center for Southeast Asia Is Formally Established

The Center for Southeast Asia Environment and Sustainable Development kicks off its formal establishment at Buffalo State College with a book signing today at 12:30 p.m. in the Barnes & Noble at Buffalo State Bookstore.

Water Resources and Development in Southeast Asia, a collection of 12 invited and peer-reviewed papers addressing water and development issues relevant to Southeast Asia, was co-edited by Kim Irvine, professor of geography and planning and director of the new center. Other editors are Stephen Vermette, professor; Vida Vanchan, assistant professor; and Tom Murphy, adjunct faculty member, all of Geography and Planning.

The center, according to Irvine, is a focal point for existing campus efforts to promote sustainable development in Southeast Asia. “The center will make it easier to develop programmatic activities for our students,” he said, “and it will help us compete successfully for funding.” The center has existed under the aegis of the Research Foundation since 2008.

Irvine’s interest in Southeast Asia resulted from a sabbatical project at the National Water Research Institute of Environment Canada, where he met Murphy, an environmental scientist . Murphy’s projects involved technology for treating contaminated sediment. Because Irvine has a long-standing interest in wastewater treatment, the two became collaborators.

In 2003, Irvine and Murphy traveled to Chiang Mai University in Thailand. “We found out that Chiang Mai has a geography and planning department much like ours,” said Irvine, “and we developed a collaborative relationship with them.”

Since then, Irvine and Vermette separately and together have been involved in many projects in Southeast Asia, including several in Cambodia. Irvine coauthored “Integrated Water Resources Management—Opportunities and Challenges for Cambodia” with several scientists from Resource Development International–Cambodia. The work, which is included in Water Resources and Development in Southeast Asia, discusses the integrated water resources management (IWRM) philosophy and principles that have been used in the Great Lakes of North America, with an eye toward their possible application to the Mekong River basin in Cambodia.

Tao Tang, associate professor of geography and planning, along with Irvine and Vermette, has also participated in efforts to assess and improve water quality in Southeast Asia. With funding from the Conservation, Food, & Health Foundation, they assessed drinking-water quality in Cambodia.

Student testing  water qualityIn 2008, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Irvine and Vermette took six undergraduates to Cambodia and Thailand for a six-week research experience. Using kits developed for drawing water samples from Lake Erie, Buffalo State faculty members have developed ways for faculty and students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, non-governmental organizations, and even high schools in Cambodia to establish drinking-water-quality assessment programs. Waterborne illness is a major cause of death in Cambodia.

“We hope that Water Resources and Development in Southeast Asia is a useful text for understanding issues regarding water-resource management,” said Irvine. “The lessons we’ve learned are applicable in many places. With the new center, we look forward to more opportunities for our students and for expanded international collaborations.”