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Peter Guest

Journalism & Photography

Bali struggles to ‘normalize’ life under volcano

On the wall of East Bali Bamboo Bikes’ workshop in Desa Ban, a big yellow sign declares: “Safety First.” Just around the corner, a starker warning has been pinned to the roadside: “Volcano Hazard — No Entry.” Now abandoned, the site is just 6km away from the crater of Mount Agung, which has been threatening to erupt since September. Even now, the volcano is still spewing ash into a halo of storm clouds, and the ground still shakes now and again.

Read more in Nikkei Asian Review

Drawing blood from whale sharks

A speckled fin, three feet long, flicked out of the water as Al Dove surfaced in a morass of fish guts and foam. Behind him, a nightmarish cartilage slit of mouth gasped above the waterline, then lowered back into the spray.

As the sun sank over Cenderawasih Bay, the wind sent swells the color of spilled ink surging through a tangle of fishing nets, which Dove was sharing with a whale shark. It was a juvenile male, but still a powerful, seven-meter creature with skin like sandpaper.

Swimming with whale sharks as they circle in open water—bulked-out versions of the familiar, menacing shark silhouette—is a potent experience. Being in the net with them is an order of magnitude more intense. “You do feel a little insignificant,” Dove says. “That’s good. I think we all need to be reminded that we’re insignificant from time to time.”

Read story in the Atlantic

 

Singapore’s farmers raise rare voices

Read more in Nikkei Asian Review

Heading north from Singapore’s high-rise center, the tower blocks give way first to sprawling warehouses, and then to dense tropical greenery, specked with red warning signs that mark the boundaries of the army’s live fire ranges. Even further north, a few kilometers away from the heavily-guarded border with Johor, in neighboring Malaysia, are curving lanes fringed with allotments and humpbacked white greenhouses, a tiny patch of farmland on the fringes of the hyper-modern city.

“Every country needs a countryside, even a city-state. You can’t concretize the entire country”, said Manda Foo, the executive secretary of the Kranji Countryside Association, which represents around 40 farms in the area.

 

Indonesia’s indigenous voices turn on Jokowi

The image of Indonesian President Joko Widodo still gazes out from billboards along the dirt road that leads from the North Sumatran capital of Medan to Tanjung Gusta. On a recent weekend the town — a scrappy suburb to the west of the city — took on the air of an unusual rock festival, with thudding music, craft stalls and food carts, as thousands of representatives gathered for the quinquennial congress of the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago, which is known by its Bahasa Indonesian acronym, Aman.

The president was supposed to be the guest of honor at the gathering, but he cancelled at the last minute, choosing instead to travel to West Kalimantan to open a new border post. He sent his environment minister and chief of staff but his absence was taken as a snub by many delegates, who were mulling over whether to endorse “Jokowi,” as he is known, for a second presidential term.

“If I was a president who had promised so much, and delivered so little, I wouldn’t come,” said Abdon Nababan, who just retired as Aman’s secretary general after leading the organization for 18 years.

Read more in Nikkei Asian Review

Leuser’s Last Stand

Singkil, in South Aceh, is where the swamp meets the sea. The road from Subulussalam snakes through it, following the course of the Alas River to its mouth, then veering left along the coast.

On the southern side, the Indian Ocean breaks against Sumatra’s shore, the spray from the wave tops just visible through the trees; on the other, a dark-red mud track runs into the peatland forest. It is early November, and the near-daily rainstorms have soaked the earth, making it a brutal struggle through the thigh-deep peat to reach solid ground. At the end of the track, a tunnel has been smashed through the trees, leaving broken trunks and turned-over soil.

“That’s just happened today,” says Ahmadi, a chain-smoking, whip-thin activist who seems able to skate over the top of the peat, pausing only to light up. A local informant has tipped off an Acehnese environmental organisation that Ahmadi belongs to, and he has come to investigate. It is barely noon.

Read more in Raconteur

Erik Solheim: China Can Take the Lead on Climate Change

In December 2015, negotiators emerged exhausted but triumphant from all-night negotiations in Paris with an ambitious global climate change treaty. Buoyed by an uncharacteristically sympathetic U.S. administration and a willing Chinese government, traditionally progressive countries got a deal that committed its signatories to reduce carbon emissions to avert catastrophic climate change.

It was a high point after years of stalemate. A year on, the election of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump — who has stated on several occasions that he does not believe in man-made climate change, and will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement — has stunned the international community.

Erik Solheim, a former leader of Norway’s Socialist Left party who took over as head of the United Nations Environment Programme in June, is one of those tasked with rallying climate change campaigners demoralized by America’s dramatic reversal.

Read More in Nikkei Asian Review

Fixing Housing on Cambodia’s Urban Frontiers

The Dangkor dumpsite, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, is ringed by small settlements of stilt houses, covered in salvaged plastic sheeting and squatting above stagnant floodwater. Cardboard has been flattened into sheets to dry along the roadside. The dump has been covered with earth, ready for closure, but scavengers have dug through, exposing veins of trash.

It was from a settlement like this that Ngeal Sophal moved in March 2015. Now she lives with her husband and seven of her eight children in one of 48 colorful Khmer-style houses that make up Smile Village, a social housing project operated by a French nongovernmental organization, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile), in collaboration with a Singaporean partner, Solutions to End Poverty (STEP).

Read More in Nikkei Asian Review

The Philippines Struggles to Kick the Coal Habit

Batangas is a small and scrappy port city on the southern edge of Luzon, around 100 kilometres from the Philippines’ capital, Manila. The narrow coastal road is still strewn with sun-faded election posters, leftover from May’s vote, as it winds its way from the vast mega-mall at the centre of town to the outlying barangays – districts – that are built along the steep cliffs overlooking the Verde Island Passage.

One of those barangays, Simlong, is the unlikely epicentre of a battle for the soul of the Philippines’ economic development. Already in the shadow of the chimneys of two chemical facilities — one making plastic for packaging, the other a naptha cracking plant — the community has watched as a new patch of land is cleared to make way for a coal-fired power station, as national and regional politicians seesaw between the long-term necessity of ‘decarbonising’ the country’s growth, and embracing the short-term allure of cheap and dirty energy.

Read more in Raconteur

Bust, Boom and Bust: Betting on Angola’s Crashing Economy

Georges Choucair steps out onto his 20th floor balcony and flings a half-empty glass of Möet over downtown Luanda. Spread out below is the heartland of Angola’s political and economic class; government buildings, nightclubs and restaurants amongst the concrete trunks of half-finished skyscrapers, the legacy of a property boom that has transformed the capital’s skyline.

“It’s warm,” Choucair says, freshening the glass. “Champagne needs to be cold.”

The wine has been flowing freely in the Frenchman’s apartment as he plays host to a constant carousel of friends, family and colleagues, alongside members of Angola’s small but fantastically wealthy business elite. After more than 20 years in the country — which emerged from a 27-year civil war in 2002 to become Africa’s second-largest oil exporter — Choucair has just announced his biggest venture yet, a $300 million steel mill that he believes will kick-start the country’s industrial revolution.

Read More in Forbes