10 Asian Environmentalists to Watch

Jul 15, 2011
*Special to asia!
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With our physical environment increasingly threatened, it has become essential to recognise that even a single person is capable of making a big difference.

A region of immense growth and unparalleled biodiversity, Asia is also beleaguered by the very assets that make it such a rich natural economy. After decades of exploitation in the name of development, the continent is now witnessing the rise of a unique collective of environmental advocates. Some of them have chosen to speak on behalf of voiceless rivers and forests; others are amplifying the voices of suppressed communities that will fall alongside the development of natural areas. Whatever their chosen direction, each individual or team is a facet upon the same gem, a player on the same team, all striving to make the world a better place for us to live in.



Jafar Shah




Jafar Shah is creating a model for partnerships between local communities, local governments and a provincial government in Pakistan to help conserve community forests and natural resources. Following a successful partnership in Swat, Jafar is spreading his idea by training community leaders and local government officials from other parts of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.  

Jafar’s organisation, Caravan, mobilises local people and caters to their needs through self-help and donor-sponsored projects. This approach gives the communities that depend on the forests a critical role in forest conservation. Caravan focuses on helping people manage their forest and water resources by assisting them in finding alternatives to timber for heating and cooking. Caravan also responds to the health, education and livelihood needs of the local populations.

Jafar has mobilised and organised the tribal people of the mountainous region in the North West Frontier Province to create a hierarchy of organisations from the village level to an apex forum with representatives of the villages in four valleys. He has also developed a promotional campaign to influence the policies of the Pakistan government and international donors.




Megh Ale


Nepal River Conservation Trust


Nepal is renowned for its mountains, but what of its rivers? Fifteen years ago, Megh Ale, a rafting enthusiast and the most established rafter in Nepal to date, realised he need to change the way river communities, politics and Nepalese society perceived the country’s awe-inspiring river heritage. Together with a team of volunteers, Megh is taking a multi-pronged approach to educate and empower river communities, instilling in locals the knowledge and passion for river conservation.

The Nepal River Conservation Trust has partnered rural and needy schools in Nepal, guided by the vision of “Sustainable Education for Better Living”. Megh hopes this partnership mission will help many river community schools to better understand river conservation and save the pristine Himalayan Rivers.

“Building a new nation will require foresight and emphasis on sustainable development, and so does river management. Just as the mountain, the river deserves protection and honour.”



Nalinika Obeyesekere

Sri Lanka

PetVet Clinic


The city of Colombo alone has an estimated 20,000 stray dogs and a similar number of cats, which are hosts for many public health and sanitation problems. The problems are exacerbated by the public’s lack of compassion for animals.

Nalinika broke new ground by introducing a new model of veterinary care in Sri Lanka. As a first step toward improving the quality of care, Nalinika established Sri Lanka’s first professional body of veterinary practitioners to promote ongoing professional development. She is also pioneering new fields and commercial opportunities for animal care. The sum effect has already become apparent: an emerging ethic of compassion in a country brutalised by decades of war.



November Tan


The Leafmonkey Workshop


November is a nature lover, blogger, writer, environmental management researcher, volunteer and practitioner who organises capacity building and community engagement workshops for like-minded individuals. The Leafmonkey Workshop began as a study group within the Naked Hermit Crabs, which was founded by a group of volunteer shore guides in 2007.

Within a year, the Leafmonkey Workshop became larger than itself, evolving to become an independent entity that attracts students and professionals across all sectors. Workshops for existing or aspiring nature guides are conducted by academic experts or experienced naturalists. They are a platform for networking, learning and sharing for nature groups, nature volunteers and nature lovers, with much emphasis placed on methods, content and techniques in engaging the public.



Pianporn Deetes


Social Environmental Justice Campaigner


Summer breaks can make for life-changing experiences. Painporn began her career in social environmental justice as an intern at the Hill Area Development Foundation in Thailand. As an intern, she was engaged in the promotion of rights, protection and sustainability of hill tribes. She then stoked her then newly formed passion by joining protests against the construction of the Thai-Burmese pipeline, and working for an international organisation focused on labour rights.

Now a pioneer in her work with Thai and Burmese ethnic grassroots organisations, Pianporn is a spokeswoman for the Salween Watch Coalition. She has worked on trans-boundary environmental issues in Mainland Southeast Asia for over seven years, and is also the coordinator of the Living River Siam.

As the demand for energy and fresh water grows in the region, Pianporn’s work is essential in ensuring the sustainability of water systems and the communities that they support, and to mitigate the environmental impact of dams and hydroelectric projects where its development is unavoidable.



Rajendra Suwal


Lumbini Crane Conservation Center


debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

Contact Debby