Development and Destruction

Amongst Burma’s myriad of issues, it’s environmental crisis cannot be ignored. Burma’s rich wealth of natural resources is also closely linked with conflict, human rights abuses, displacement, and increasing poverty.

Burma’s environmental movement is very strong, and Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG), a collection of ethnic environmental and social groups, released a new report: Burma’s Environment: People, Problems, Policies. It’s the first ever report to look at Burma’s environmental situation as a whole, and the laws and policies regarding the environment. The report also examines the threats to Burma’s environment, and what continued investment and development could mean:

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…These resource extractive investments damage the environment and threaten local resource-based livelihoods, particularly ethnic areas. 

Environmental issues in Burma aren’t just a side thought. It’s wrapped up so fervently in the lives of people. Most of my Burmese friends (especially those in ethnic areas) have had their lives impacted by either a pipeline, dam, mine, deforestation, or other projects of the regime and foreign corporations to extract Burma’s resources. I have had friends who have been forced to work on an oil pipeline at an early age, and more who have had to leave their village because of a pipeline project. I have a friend who was put in prison for gathering petition signatures against the building of a dam. You can click here to watch a video of a friend of mine talking about how deforestation has affected her family in Karen state. People depend on the forest and rivers for their livelihoods and foods. And even more, the environment is tightly woven in with religion, mythology, and memory.

The military regime continues to push these massive development projects that will secure them billions in new revenue. Even if this means forcibly displacing large populations, it doesn’t matter to them. A major reason the military regime is pushing the new conflicts against ethnic groups is because they want to eradicate any opposition that would get in the way of these projects.

Again from the BEWG report: 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.

This isn’t a new or Burma exclusive sort of story. Today the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on the rights of indigenous people in Asia. Jen Quigley, USCB’s Advocacy Director testified along with other experts. The myriad of stories, from Camodia, India, Pakistan, etc were all similar – indigenous communities have been displaced and have faced serious damages because of large development projects taking over their lands.

I will be posting more on this blog about Burma’s environmental issues.

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