Rich in wildlife, Southeast Asia includes at least six of the world’s 25 “biodiversity hotspots” – the areas of the world that contain an exceptional concentration of species, and are exceptionally endangered.
The region contains 20% of the planet’s vertebrate and plant species and the world’s third-largest tropical forest.
Global comparisons are difficult but it seems the Mekong region has a higher rate of species discovery than other parts of the tropics, with hundreds of new species described annually.
Southeast Asia’s biodiversity is under serious threat; some parts of the region are projected to lose up to 98% of their remaining forests in the next nine years. It’s also thought to be the world’s most threatened region for mammals.
Sadly, the region’s fragile biodiversity is frequently forgotten by the global media. It also suffers lower publishing rates than other tropical regions for ecology and biodiversity research.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Southeast Asia has some of the highest rates of deforestation on the planet, having lost 14.5% of forests in the last 15 years.
Some areas, such as Philippines, have lost up to 89% of their original forest cover. This loss is rendered especially stark using recent advances in satellite imagery, such as Google Earth timelapse, which shows that many regions have been transformed from pristine forest to agriculture within the last decade or two.
Forest loss is one of the major drivers of species loss in the region, and pulp-paper, rubber and oil palm production are the main drivers of forest clearance.
Southeast Asia exports 86% of the world’s palm oil and 87% of the world’s natural rubber. The areas where these grow are projected to expand by over 4.3 to 8.5 million hectares to meet demand by 2024.
Most new plantations come directly from rainforest clearance, and companies investing in Southeast Asia are ranked as the least sustainable globally. The recently created Forest & Finance initiative has reported that investment in “high deforestation risk” sectors in Southeast Asia was more than US$38.76 billion between 2010 and 2015.
Avoiding these products is practically impossible. At 61.1 million tonnes, palm oil was the most consumed oil globally in 2015, and this figure is rising. Certification aiming to prevent further deforestation and guarantee the sustainability of certified palm oil has also proven difficult, and failed to halt deforestation.
The two initiatives for certification of sustainable palm-oil production and natural rubber – the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and “green rubber initiatives” – have failed to fulfil their commitments to protect natural habitats.
New plantations have continued to drive destruction of natural rainforests, and the species dependant upon these ecosystems for survival. In some cases, the initiatives have ended up using “perverse incentives” which actually encourage deforestation. These include subsidies that facilitate forest clearance by funding conversion of forest to crops, or free provision of rubber seeds to replace natural forests.
Dams, wetlands and mining
Deforestation is not the only driver of habitat loss in the region; Southeast Asia also has more dams planned than any other part of the planet. Though often looked at as “green power”, dams lead to a loss of biodiversity and undermine rural economies through the loss of livelihoods.
There are currently 78 dams planned for the Mekong Delta. If built, they are projected to reduce the number of migratory fish by 20% to 70% in the Mekong, in addition to flooding essential habitats and causing regional droughts.
The Mekong has the highest freshwater diversity in the world, and the potential extinction of so many species represents a global catastrophe.
Fisheries on the Mekong are also projected to feed more than 65 million people. Declines in fish stocks will have direct implications for incomes and diets across the region.
The drainage of Asia’s wetlands presents a further set of dangers, particularly due to their importance to more than 50 million migratory wading birds that depend on them for migration and breeding.
Around 80% of Southeast Asian wetlands are threatened by conversion to agricultural land or development by drainage. Up to 45% of intertidal wetlands have already been lost. This has so far caused population reductions of up to 79% in some wading species.
Mining is another often overlooked issue that poses a significant threat to biodiversity, especially to karsts (limestone outcrops and caves), which cover around 800,000km² of Southeast Asia. Each of these ecosystems are known to harbour more than ten species not found anywhere else on the planet.
But most of these sites have never been surveyed, and up to 90% of cave species in China are estimated to be scientifically undescribed. Similar rates of unclassification are likely to exist for the rest of the region.
These karst ecosystems are under serious threat. Cement comes directly from karst ecosystems, and between 2011 and 2013 alone, China used more cement (6.6 gigatonnes) than the US has in recorded history. China’s approximate annual usage of 1.5 tonnes per capita amounts to over 60% of the global cement demand annually.
As karsts are under-represented in protected areas – and given the majority of karst-dwelling species are limited to a single site – there is no way of knowing how many species go extinct annually as a consequence.
Hunting and trade
In Southeast Asia, hunting represents the greatest threat to the future survival of many species, with few native mammals of over 2kg surviving outside protected areas. Hunting represents a threat to all species, with high-value species sought and traded by criminal cartels and smaller species traded for medicine, food or sport.
Trade in wildlife in Asia can be grouped into three main types: for medicinal purposes, for status (either in wildlife restaurants or as ornaments) or for the pet, zoo and aquarium trades (principally birds, reptiles and amphibians).
Traditional medicine in Vietnam and China represents a threat to a huge array of species, but most notably the pangolin, which is the most trafficked animal on the planet.
Sadly, the use of endangered species in medicine shows little sign of abating.
Whereas celebrities have campaigned for species that are targeted for status and ornamentation, such as elephant ivory, many other animals and plants have failed to get the attention needed to prevent over-exploitation. And a number are now facing extinction.
The pet and zoo trade in wildlife, especially for reptiles, amphibians and birds, have recently received attention, as many species formerly thought to be captive-bred are now known to be wild-caught. They have suffered serious population declines as a result of exploitation for trade.
The unique biodiversity of Southeast Asia is under threat because of some of the world’s highest rates of habitat loss, as well as direct over-exploitation of species. Even when forests remain intact, they are being steadily emptied of their biodiversity through hunting.
Though dedicated researchers and conservationists are working to prevent these issues, Southeast Asia will see the extinction of many endemic species in the coming decades. The question of how many will remain depends on the success of conservation and sustainability interventions.
COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Outs in ASEAN Live Updates by Country
Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million. Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies
ASEAN coronavirus Covid-19 live updates by country
Brunei has joined the global Covax scheme and is expecting to have the COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 2021, having sourced enough supplies to cover 50% of the population. Discussions are on-going with other suppliers.
- Brunei recorded one new case on May 8, bringing the total to 330 cases amid three deaths.
- Brunei saw one new case on May 7, taking the total to 229 cases amid three deaths.
- Brunei recorded one new case on May 4, taking the total to 228 amid three deaths.
Cambodia is expected to import vaccines from both China and Russia. China’s vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials while Russia has already commenced production. Australia has offered financial support to aid vaccine coverage in several southeast Asia countries including Cambodia.
- Cambodia recorded 538 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 18,717 cases amid 114 deaths.
- Cambodia recorded 558 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 18,179 cases and 114 deaths.
- Cambodia reported 650 new cases and four deaths on May 6, bringing the tallies to 17,621 cases and 114 deaths.
Indonesia has commenced vaccinations with just over nine million doses being given to front line workers from last month. China’s Sinovac is in discussions with Indonesia to provide supplies, however, the Government faces difficulties with a large population of 268 million and price sensitivity at Sinovac’s estimated costs at 200,000 rupiah (US$20) a dose.
Indonesia’s Health Ministry’s Disease Control and Prevention Director-General Achmad Yurianto said that vaccinations would only be provided to citizens aged 18-59. The vaccine has also been required to pass halal certification prior to use and it is uncertain how the country can source enough vaccines to reach a sizeable part of its population. Australia has stated it will also provide financial support to solve these issues.
- Indonesia recorded 6,130 new cases and 179 deaths on May 8, bringing the totals to 1,709,762 cases and 46,842 deaths.
- Indonesia saw 6,327 new cases and 167 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,703,632 cases and 46,663 deaths.
- Indonesia reported 5,647 new cases and 147 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,697,305 cases and 46,496 deaths.
Laos has been trialing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and is also in discussions with China about acquiring supplies.
- Laos recorded 28 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 1,233.
- Laos saw 28 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 1,205.
- Laos saw 105 new cases on May 6, taking the total to 1,177.
Malaysia is to provide vaccines free of charge to its nationals, but foreigners will need to pay for the treatment, according to the Malaysian Minister of Health, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who has signed a deal with Pfizer for 12.8 million doses.
These will be administered in two stages of 6.4 million people each, with the program to commence in Q1 2021. The country aims to inoculate between 80-100% of its citizens.
- Malaysia reported 4,519 new cases and 25 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 436,944 cases and 1,657 deaths.
- Malaysia saw 4,498 new cases and 22 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 432,425 cases and 1,632 deaths.
- Malaysia recorded 3,551 new cases and 19 deaths on May 6, taking the totals to 427,927 cases and 1,610 deaths.
Myanmar is seeking assistance from the Gavi and Covax programs to acquire vaccines, while Australia is also providing financial relief. At present, the Government aims to treat 20 percent of the ‘most at risk’ in the country with vaccines. The Government is struggling with finances and logistics and is also under US sanctions, while cases are surging. The Government has banned the celebration of Christmas and other seasonal celebrations.
- Myanmar recorded 31 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 142,934 amid 3,210 deaths.
- Myanmar saw 29 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 142,903 amid 3,210 deaths.
- Myanmar recorded 16 new cases and one death on May 5, bringing the total to 142,874 amid 3,210 deaths.
The Philippines aims to commence vaccinations from June 2021 and expects to inoculate about 25 million people (about 25 percent of its population) over the course of the year. The country has been badly affected by the virus and has the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia.
The business community has reacted, more than 30 local companies signed an agreement to purchase at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the country’s first such deal to secure coronavirus vaccines, ten days ago. They plan to donate a large part of the doses to the government for its planned vaccination program and use the rest to inoculate their employees.
- The country saw 6,979 new cases and 170 deaths on May 8, taking the totals to 1,094,849 cases and 18,269 deaths.
- The Philippines reported 7,733 new cases and 108 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,087,885 cases and 18,099 deaths.
- The Philippines saw 6,637 new cases and 191 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,080,172 cases and 17,991 deaths.
Singapore has been working on producing its own ‘Lunar’ vaccine, in a joint venture between the US company Arcturus together with the Duke-NUS medical school. It is a single dose, mRNA shot, developed from genetically engineering COVID-19 genes into an otherwise harmless virus. This technique is marginally safer than other vaccines which rely on dead Covid-19 material to provoke an immune response. The vaccine is expected to be available from Q1 2021. High-risk personnel will receive the vaccine first in a process to be determined by the government.
- Singapore recorded 20 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 61,331 cases amid 31 deaths.
- Singapore saw 25 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 61,311 cases amid 31 deaths.
- Singapore saw 18 new cases on May 6, bringing the total to 61,286 cases amid 31 deaths.
Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.
Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies. Discussions are also on-going with Oxford University in the UK to secure a vaccine that could be available in Q1 if trials are completed in time.
- Thailand reported 2,419 new cases and 19 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 81,274 cases and 382 deaths.
- Thailand recorded 2,044 new cases and 27 deaths on May 7, taking the totals to 78,855 cases and 363 deaths.
- Thailand reported 1,911 new cases and 18 deaths on May 6, taking the tallies to 76,811 cases and 336 deaths.
Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), a division of Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, has signed an agreement with Medigen Vaccine, a Taipei, Taiwan-based vaccine company to secure the supply of 3 million to 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. Medigen is currently conducting Phase II studies of the vaccine, co-developed with the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Taiwan and Vietnam with a view to a Q1 2021 rollout.
Vietnam is also working on producing its own vaccine, with the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) in Nha Trang City, partnering with New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine and the global health non-profit organization PATH. Phase 1 trials are already underway in Vietnam, while Phases 2 & 3 will be conducted at the beginning of 2021. The institute plans to submit documents for approval to the health ministry as early as April next year and claims to be capable of producing 30 million doses a year, expecting that a national vaccine could be distributed to the general population in October 2021.
- Vietnam saw 15 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 3,152 cases amid 35 deaths.
- As of May 7, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,091 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Thai Binh, Bac Ninh, and Da Nang among others. 16 local cases are linked to the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi’s Dong Anh district.
- As of May 6, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,030 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi’s outskirts district of Dong Anh.
Subscribe via Email
Vaccine shortage could derail Thailand’s economic recovery
As much of the Asia-Pacific region is gearing up for a 2022 reopening and recovery, Thailand is now lagging behind...
Thailand’s Consumer Confidence Hits new Record Low in May
The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) has reported that Thailand's Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) for May fell...
The future of rail travel in Thailand
Hua Lamphong is, for many people, a beloved representation of rail travel in Thailand. However, there is a significant upgrade...
Thailand Calls for Lifting of Intellectual Property Protection on COVID-19 Vaccines
Thailand will push for COVID-19 vaccines to be removed from intellectual property protection lists, as per the Trade-Related Aspects of...
China’s new three-child policy highlights risks of aging across emerging Asia
Thailand's (Baa1 stable) total dependency ratio is set to jump nine percentage points to 51% by 2030 – a faster...