Update to Burma's Environment: People, Problems, Policies Print E-mail
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Burma has extensive biodiversity and abundant natural resources, which have in recentyears been threatened by militarization, large-scale resource extraction, and infrastructure development. Burma has some laws and policies related to protecting people and the environment, but the country lacks the necessary administrative and legal structures, standards, safeguards and political will to enforce such provisions. The country is also a party to several international treaties relating to the environment, including those on protection of biodiversity and indigenous peoples, wildlife, and countering climate change. It is unclear, however, how the contents of those treaties that have been ratified have been incorporated into domestic law.
Many organizations are active in Burma on projects and programs related to environmental protection and sustainable development. This includes a broad range of community-based organizations, grassroots organizations, national and international NGOs, UN agencies, and church groups both based in government-controlled areas of Burma (‘inside’) and those based in the Thai and Chinese border regions (‘border groups’). Many organizations take the ‘traditional’ conservation approach or the rights-based approach or both. Organizations that are using a rights-based approach work from a perspective of sustainable development and livelihoods and subsequently focus on issues such as food security, land tenure and rights, and community development and organizing. Conservation organizations tend to focus specifically on environmental protection, although with varying strategies to achieve their common goal. Organizations working on environmental issues also focus on environmental awareness,education and training, policy development, advocacy and networking.

Communities continue to be excluded from protected forest areas, threatening their forestbased livelihoods. The 1990s and 2000s witnessed severe logging, first along the Thai-Burma border and then along the China border in northern Burma. Although the logging rush has somewhat subsided along these borders, the government and military continue to allocatelogging concessions to Chinese and Burmese business people, irrespective of national andlocal laws regulating sustainable forestry practices. Timber, however, contributes much less to GDP as other resource sectors boom. Community forestry is positioned to challenge the manner in which timber resources are managed, providing some promising devolution ii trends.
Land tenure remains very weak in Burma. The state owns all the land and resources in Burma, with most villagers having no formal land title for their customary agricultural land. New policies have been put in place allocating land concessions to private entities which do not respect customary land rights or informal land holdings. There are no safeguards to protect farmers from the onslaught of capitalism or mechanisms to help them benefit.

Control over natural resources is a major cause of conflict in ethnic areas, where the majority of Burma’s natural resources remain. Foreign direct investment in Burma is concentrated in energy and extractive sectors and often results in militarization and displacement. Recently there has been heightened interest from countries in the region for more investment opportunities. Given the lack of sound economic policy and unwillingness of the state to reconcile with ethnic armed groups, an increase in foreign investment could have a major impact on the environment and communities living in these areas.
While they do not provide loans, international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund remain engaged in Burma. The Asian Development Bank in particular provides assistance through various channels and facilitates private investment. 

Burma is currently facing many threats to the natural environment and sustainable livelihoods, such as construction of large dams, oil and gas extraction, mining, deforestation, large-scale agricultural concessions, illegal wildlife trade and climate change.The majority of Burma’s income comes from selling off natural resources, including billions of dollars from gas and hydropower development. Investment comes from countries within the region– most significantly China, India and Thailand. Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam and Korea are also key investors looking to increase investments after the elections. These resource extractive investments damage the environment and threaten local resource-based livelihoods, particularly in ethnic areas.

In order to take steps towards ecologically and socially responsible development in Burma, Burma must have a sound policy framework for environmental protection and sustainable development that enables citizens to take part in decision making about their own development, and ensures responsible private sector investment. Until then, new foreign investors investing in energy, extractive and plantation sectors should refrain from investing. Existing investors should immediately cease all project-related work - particularly in sensitive areas throughout Burma - until adequate safeguards are in place to ensure investment does not lead to unnecessary destruction of the natural environment and local livelihoods. At the same time, International NGOs and UN agencies should ensure people are recognized as key actors in their own development, rather than passive recipients of commodities and services; and civil society organizations should empower communities throughout Burma
to understand their rights.

You can download the update here (120k).

The full report, Burma's Environment:  People, Problems, Policies, is available in English and Burmese here.