By Anthony Kubursy, MIPP Student
Thursday, September 13th
It’s been about a week and a half now since I arrived in Phnom Penh. Yesterday, I settled into my new place, about a 12-minute walk from the UNDP office, and stopped by the local market down the road to fill up my fridge with some fresh produce. Although the food has been fantastic with so many trendy restaurants in this area, I am so excited to have a kitchen again to make some of my own food at home.
In my life, I have never felt such an appreciation for stop signs, street lights, and sidewalks, which are all far too scarce around the city. I was overwhelmed this first week observing how 4-way traffic without any rules, well, somehow works because everyone tends to be more cautious when they drive. With public transportation almost non-existent, the roads are flooded with motorbikes. I have quickly become accustomed to the flow of traffic and realize that the best approach is not to make sudden movements as I walk, instead to maintain confidence in a predictable direction and speed.
Considering how close I am to the office, with such a large variety of restaurants, coffee shops, local markets, and a brand new ‘mega-mall’ just down the street from me, getting around on foot is easy once you learn to navigate through 4-way traffic. However, for those times where I’m in a rush or carrying too many things, or trying to avoid the heat, there are these little wagon-like cars, known as a ‘tuk-tuk’ that will take you virtually anywhere around the city. It costs around $0.75 USD to get from the office to my apartment, and the language barrier of trying to explain where I want to go, or negotiating prices, has now been overcome for me by an Uber-like app they use here called Grab.
There is a coconut vendor I’ve befriended who shows up outside the UNDP office just around the time I arrive at work in the morning. The smaller the coconut, the sweeter it tends to be, while the larger ones are quite bitter. I usually opt for the medium-sized ones as they strike the right balance for me in the morning and are a refreshing treat after walking to the office in the humidity of the wet season.
Friday, September 21st
I am on the policy team here at the UNDP office and tasked with working with many different colleagues on various projects in the pipeline for the next few months. One of the most notable is the UNDP’s flagship Human Development Report (HDR), which we are now working closely with the communications team to include new types of multimedia, such as videos and real on-the-ground human stories. To do this, I had the pleasure of joining my first UN-field mission last week.
One of our case studies in the HDR is the Kulen Mountain National Park, located in the northwestern region of Cambodia and close to the border with Thailand. With its ecosystem under threat from rampant deforestation, we arrived to interview some villagers that have felt their livelihoods are now jeopardized by these challenges. We stayed for two nights with a family in the village, located in a jungle on the mountain. Their hospitality was much appreciated as they cooked three meals for us each day and provided mosquito nets for us to sleep inside.
One of our main interviews was with the director of the Archaeology and Development Foundation, an organization which has been closely monitoring and advocating for the ecological sustainability of the Kulen mountain range for the past decade. After the interview, we took a ride through the jungle on motorbikes to reach some remote ancient temples, crucial to the cultural heritage of the region, that were under threat from the deterioration of the surrounding forest (one of them pictured above). Along with successfully gathering our interviews and footage for the HDR, this field mission was an opportunity for the policy team to gain on-the-ground insights for strengthening our case-study analysis on this very complex issue.
Wednesday, September 26th
I have just arrived back at the UNDP office after a morning meeting with the Asia director of Energy Lab Asia, one of our private sector partners that advocates and raises awareness for the benefits of adopting clean energy. We were planning a workshop for clean energy week in November, which I may have the opportunity to present some of the research I have been doing for UNDP on our Solar project.
During my time last year enrolled in the MIPP program at the BSIA, many of my courses focused on the intersection of trade and the environment, which led me to develop strong research interests in cleantech and energy policy. Along with the flexibility of my professors that allowed me to write many of my policy briefs on renewable energy, my BSIA-GAC fellowship project explored how to strengthen Canada’s role in achieving universal energy access, and renewables, solar in particular, had a significant role to play in our recommendations.
After presenting our findings in June, I now find myself a few months later working on a Solar project for the UNDP in Cambodia, striving to improve energy access for rural and remote populations! So far, this has been such an incredible opportunity for me to transition from heavily researching a topic of my choosing in academia, to being on the ground implementing projects led by the United Nations.