Foreign investment projects batter Myanmar’s environment

Updated On: Jul 27, 2011

Environmental groups have called for an end to foreign investment in projects that they say exploit Myanmar's natural resources and spark conflict among ethnic minorities.

Foreign direct investment in Myanmar has skyrocketed, in large part due to dams financed by China, India and Thailand. But environmental activists say there are no decent frameworks to protect Myanmar's environment and communities, and have called for such investment to cease until new measures are implemented to ensure sustainable development and multi-ethnic participation.

Report & Analysis: Activists warn against foreign investors in Myanmar [AFP, 26 Jul 2011]

According to a report by the Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG), a coalition of 10 environmental organisations, Myanmar's extensive biodiversity and natural resources are being battered by foreign investment projects. Myanmar's ecosystems are threatened by the irresponsible construction of large dams, oil and gas extraction, unregulated mining, rampant deforestation, massive agricultural concessions and the destructive illegal wildlife trade.

Last March, China invested US$8.2 billion in hydropower, oil, gas and mining projects in Myanmar. But the country is losing an estimated 800,000 to 1 million hectares of forest per year as swathes are cut down for plantations or mining projects.

Similarly, up to 90 percent of the energy generated by the 48 hydropower projects at various stages of construction in Myanmar is destined for other countries, despite ongoing shortages in local communities.

There is little transparency and public consultation in the decision-making processes of these large-scale infrastructure projects, some of which have displaced ethnic groups. There are no laws that require environmental impact assessments, regulate pollution, protect biodiversity, develop resettlement plans or provide compensation.

Report & Analysis: Activists slam Myanmar’s environmental practices [DPA, 25 Jul 2011]

According to the groups, these industrial projects are also fueling armed conflict between the government and ethnic militias.

"Control over natural resources is a major cause of conflict in ethnic areas, where the majority of Burma's resources remain," said the report.

The army has been clamping down on opposition from the ethnic Kachin people, who are resisting the building of the Myitsone dam. The army has already displaced 15,000 people from the cultural heartland of the Kachin. Electricity from the dam project is to be sold exclusively to China.

In June, clashes between Kachin rebels and Myanmar troops sent thousands of Kachin people fleeing into makeshift camps. Paul Sein Twa, convenor of the BEWG, says such conflict can be expected to continue if the current trend in foreign investment continues.

Sein Twa said the current civilian government, which replaced decades-long military rule, "is failing to make progress" in protecting Myanmar's environment.

Report & Analysis: Myanmar's abuse of environment destroys livelihoods, fuels conflict - report [AlertNet, 26 Jul 2011]

Full Report: Burma's Environment: People, Problems, Policies [BEWG, 25 Jul 2011]

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