Learning games to save Chindwin’s biodiversity

At last month’s Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy held in Yangon, SEI Asia showcased a series of games as learning tools to raise awareness about the critical environmental issues in the Chindwin River Basin in Myanmar.

By Miaojie Sun

As Myanmar embarks on economic development, it is extracting and using its natural resources at high speed. The environmental consequences of this development are showing in changes in land and river morphology, impacts on water quality, and degradation of forests and biodiversity.

SEI Asia is working on biodiversity conservation in the Chindwin River Basin. The basin contains 38 “Globally Threatened Species” in 14 key biodiversity areas (KBAs) or hot spots. These biodiversity areas facing a number of threats including deforestation from commercial logging and declining freshwater quality from mining of gold, copper and jade.

SEI Asia has designed a series of games as an engaging and innovative way to help increase public awareness about the rich biodiversity of the Chindwin Basin and to take measures for ecological conservation. SEI showcased these games at the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in Yangon during 25-27 November 2017.

In the first game, participants were asked to construct two sets of jigsaws of the land use of the Chindwin Basin and the river morphology maps based on two time periods: land use map of 2000 and the river morphology map of 1990-1994. Following this exercise, the participants were required to group a range of sources of river pollution along with their associated impacts, and asked to identify approaches to monitor these changes. For example, the run-off of fertilizers used in farming results in eutrophication of the river that has a knock-on impact on fisheries and aquatic biodiversity. Another game on biodiversity asked the participants to select photos of animals and birds and place them in what they considered their habitats. This game helps participants to get to know the various species habitats, main threats and the key endangered species in the basin.

Dr. Nora Van Cauwenbergh from IHE Delft found the games very useful in awareness raising: “The biodiversity game really highlighted how little is known and by looking at all those endangered species, it triggers participants to put conservation issues more on their working agenda. The water quality game nicely illustrates which issues are critical and how many low cost techniques exist to monitor the various river pollutants.”

A major positive attribute is that these games are easy to learn and play. “These games were not too difficult to play in the allotted time along with the clear instructions,” said by Dr David J.H. Blake, a visiting lecturer at Kien Giang University, in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. “One challenge was the lack of biodiversity experts in our team,” said Dr. Van Cauwenbergh.

Games as learning tools for increasing awareness about biodiversity conservation in the Chindwin Basin

The essential part of these games is that the team then reflects on the key messages. Dr. Thanapon Piman, SEI Asia researcher and organiser of the games session, said: “Participants learned the key messages quickly from the games. This helped speed up their learning about the key environmental issues compared to the more traditional process of presenting powerpoints.” However, he also emphasised the importance of having good facilitators to help participants to better understand the stories, the key messages, and the links between the games.

Sharing knowledge about the Chindwin Basin is crucial to its conservation. “Knowledge sharing and better understanding also helps change people’s perspective and belief in valuing water, such as its biodiversity and ecosystems,” said Dr. Trung, Chief Resilience Officer of Can Tho City.

Some participants also wanted to replicate these games in their own contexts. For instance, representatives from the East China Normal University and Chulalongkorn University expressed interest. Chulalongkorn University also requested SEI Asia’s Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, SUMERNET programme manager, to use these games during her lectures in the Master's Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS) in the university.

Dr. Piman plans to apply these games in SEI’s project “Empowering Civil Society and Governmental Agencies to Mainstream Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Values into Development Plans for the Chindwin River Basin, Myanmar” (CBES project). "Not only will these games help raise awareness on biodiversity but the teamwork involved in playing these games will also help capacity building for valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as developing conservation measures in the basin," he said.

More information on the CBES project can be found here.