The Henry Luce Foundation Initiative for Southeast Asia, has awarded a four-year research grant to a team led by University of Hawai’i and IRD to study transboundary air pollution and the socio-ecological Impact of China’s BeltRoad Initiative in the Mekong Sub-Region. This grant complements the budget already awarded to this team by NSF to work on haze pollution in Northern Thailand.

Image satellite du nuage de pollution "Haze" présent au dessus de la Thaïlande et du Myanmar

© NASA Earth Observatory

Transboundary environmental problems in Southeast Asia represents an increasingly important research agenda in the region.  Since China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI) was unveiled in 2013, its plans to link the Mekong Sub-Region through major infrastructures have already impacted many Southeast Asian countries. Besides the pollution generated by the construction work, new infrastructures often entail transitions toward more intensive agricultural practices and uses of fire to prepare the land and get rid of agricultural waste. What residents describe as the region’s annual “haze crisis” is therefore now exacerbated by economic shifts associated with the region’s agrarian transition.

If the precise combination of causes for this haze remain unclear, most explanatory narratives attribute the blame to smallholder farmers. Thus, this awarded project will employ mixed ethnographic, quantitative, and geospatial methods to address issues associated with China’s BRI and seasonal air pollution in order to better understand social and ecological drivers of anthropogenic environmental change.

With this awarded grant, IRD and University of Hawai'i at Mānoa seek to build research parity for early career scholars and civil society practitioners in SEA within a cluster of research projects that merge social and environmental sciences to address agrarian and urban transitions across the region.

Henry Luce Foundation funding will support a 4-year field-based program that provides training in mixed methods research through two field schools and writing workshops for SEA-based project colleagues taking part in this project.

The grant will also facilitate publication of an edited book (published in English, Thai and Burmese) on mixed methods research design for studying the socio-ecological impacts of China’s BRI on agrarian transitions and its corollary transboundary environmental problems. Finally, it will enable the creation of new, broadly accessible online curricula and digital resources on SEA.


Expected outcomes

  • Developing a cohort of Southeast Asian and U.S. based academics trained in geographic methods (satellite imagery analysis, field-based ethnographic research methods)
  • New collaborations between universities, civil society, and governments in the Mekong Sub-Region. 
  • Collecting and comparing data on BRI’s socio-ecological impact on agrarian transi0ons and air pollu0on from two countries in the Mekong Sub-Region.
  • Publications on transboundary environmental problems to support training and education.


Team members

  • Mary Mostafanezhad, (co-PI), UHM Department of Geography and Environment
  • Olivier Evrard, (co-PI), French Institute for Development
  • Michael Kantar, UHM Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences



The Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University