Category Archives: Social Matters

Global warming activists turn up the heat on government

As a water shortage hits several townships in Burma’s commercial capital and farmers nationwide anxiously await the upcoming rainy season, environmentalists are calling for more government support in the flight against climate change in the country of 60 million people.

Photograph: http://www.bbc.co.uk
Photograph: http://www.bbc.co.uk

While Burma’s nominally civilian government has earned international praise for its program of political and economic reforms after decades of military rule, environmentalists say climate change is a pressing issue that has been pushed to the back burner for too long by the nation’s leaders. “The new government is trying to solve poverty and civil war, but unfortunately climate change has never been well acknowledged by our decision makers,” meteorologist Dr. Tun Lwin said on Saturday in Rangoon at roundtable discussion about global warming in Burma, as temperatures in the country’s biggest city soared to 38 degrees Celsius.

Tun Lwin, the founder of Myanmar Climate Change Watch, a private nonprofit that monitors climate change in the country and shares weather information with the public, said global warming had contributed to the water scarcity in Rangoon and droughts farther north.

“If it [climate change] continues, it will continue to have consequences in the coming years,” he said. “That’s why we’re asking for more government support, because we can’t handle this issue alone.”

The country’s monsoon season has also been affected by global warming. Since the late 1970s, Tun Lwin said, Burma has lost about 40 days from the historic average duration of its rainy season, usually about 145 days from May to September.

“The rains come late and leave early,” he said, adding that deforestation and excessive logging had also disrupted monsoon patterns.

Burma was rated the second-worst country, only behind Bangladesh, among seven Asian countries in a “Global Climate Risk Index” by the climate change watchdog Germanwatch. more…

Education in Myanmar

photo: regent-myanmar.com
Photo: regent-myanmar.com

Myanmar has opened itself to the world at seemingly lightning speed. During the past year, rapid changes have resulted in the suspension of economic sanctions and the first visit to Myanmar by a U.S. president. President Thein Sein’s government has released hundreds of political prisoners, eased restrictions on the press and freedom of assembly and brokered cease-fires with many of the nation’s ethnic insurgencies. After years of house arrest, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to the parliament, which is playing an active role in the country’s governance.

Myanmar currently must contend with a dual challenge of excessive centralization and the processes of decentralization that is currently underway – particularly in the education sector. At the present time, 13 different ministries oversee higher education, the Ministry of Education overseeing the majority. The Ministry has 10 different departments for overseeing the country’s education system, but for higher education it has two specific units, one for northern Myanmar – centered in Mandalay and one for southern Myanmar – operating out of Yangon.

While the system may seem highly centralized, it also is quite fragmented as there are 12 other ministries that oversee and operate universities; each of these universities has a dedicated and strictly regulated curriculum that is more focused on a specific functional or technical expertise and less focused on providing a general liberal arts education. Indeed, some disciplines or techniques are completely absent (e.g. political science) or very underdeveloped (e.g. journalism studies, sociology and social science methodologies). The universities in the fields of defence, forestry and agriculture tend to be better staffed, equipped and funded than most other universities. The geographic distribution of these universities reflects considerations of equity and access rather than the availability of infrastructure, faculty, etc. In addition, many

HEI: Higher Education Institues
HEI: Higher Education Institues

universities have been scattered across the country to constrain large scale student mobilization and participation in political demonstrations against the government. Interestingly, each of the major states in Myanmar has at least three universities within its locality.

This leads to further fragmentation as the cost of operating these various units is fairly high and the availability of adequate resources is very limited. As a result, many universities suffer from inadequate budgets as well as a shortage of qualified faculty and administrative personnel. Students, faculty and universities themselves suffer from a lack of autonomy and choice. All decisions regarding a student’s choice of field of study or university are derived from performance on the national achievement test, administered upon completion of secondary school and depending on geographic location. Similarly, access to international fellowships and exchange opportunities have been strictly regulated from the central ministries.

HEI: Higher Education Institues
HEI: Higher Education Institues

It seems that the capacity in the country to absorb training and new approaches to education and research may be limited at this time. This is due in part to the highly centralized, top-down nature of the educational system but also due to a certain amount of “assessment and training fatigue” created by the intense interest in Myanmar from outsiders. There is little coordination among foreign assistance, although there is some effort to become more coherent through various coordinating bodies organizing international donors and NGOs. A law is currently under consideration to allow the establishment of private institutions with degree granting authority. This seems to be intended primarily for foreign entities wishing to establish a base in Myanmar, and will likely include minimal financial investment pre-requisites. Basic infrastructure – from electric power, to internet access, to educational research and learning facilities – is uneven and undependable. We can expect significant improvements in online access within the next 12-24 months through foreign investment, but at this time access to international resources and information is very limited.

Importance of Leadership and Entrepreneurship

Despite the challenges of centralization and bureaucratic rigidity noted above, Myanmar’s civil society and educational sectors also highlight the importance of individual leadership, personality and entrepreneurship. Ministries and universities exhibit considerable variation in the degree of openness to change and internationalization. In part this appears to be determined by the relative willingness and ability of the senior ministry leadership to lead and implement reforms.

In general, there is an interest in reform and greater international connections, driven in part by a desire to reclaim the historical high standing of Myanmar’s educational system in the region. A hunger for external information and technical support is evident everywhere and at all levels of institutional and civil society hierarchies.

Today, however, modernizing the higher education system in Myanmar will require more than just upgrading buildings, classrooms, and related physical infrastructure. The more pressing need is to re-establish across the spectrum of higher education organizations a new type of totally integrated living-learning academic experience that generates fertile discourse and critical academic engagement outside as well as inside the typical academic classroom.

This is a critical juncture for engaging with Myanmar. Higher education organizations can be a catalyst in bringing funders together with educators and government entities to make sure that investment is made where it can do the most good in preparing the future workforce and supporting economic development. There is no doubt that the awakening that has taken place in Myanmar is a welcome sight for those who have watched from afar while Myanmar’s universities deteriorated due to explicit neglect and political heavy-handedness. Nonetheless, while it remains quite clear that Myanmar’s universities are embarking on a path that eventually will prove rewarding and yield promising results, they too must remain focused on bringing about high priority, critically needed incremental changes and proceed ahead at a moderate versus an accelerated pace to ensure continued political support for the current reforms taking place. It is incumbent on the international education community to respect the need for such a deliberate choice and to proceed ahead accordingly.

Japan and India are among the countries at the forefront of this effort. “We are ready to help,” said Hiroto Arakawa, Vice-President the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), at the WorldEconomic Forum on East Asia in Myanmar.

JICA is signing an agreement with Myanmar to extend US$ 500 million in aid for ‘quick-fix type power projects’ in the Yangon area and education and other development programmes among the country’s ethnic groups. Japan will also provide loans to build infrastructure in a new special economic zone in Myanmar and open a vocational training centre in August.

For its part, India is helping set up the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology in Mandalay, patterned after the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology system, which has produced some of the world’s top engineers and scientists. “The first batch of students will be admitted in September this year,” said Subramanian Ramadorai, Vice-Chairman, Tata Consultancy Services, India. The school will train thousands of IT specialists in four or five years.

Since mid-2012, Australia has helped to deliver textbooks to 700,000 school children and improved access to early childhood development for 140,000 boys and girls. This has helped lift the standards of education by training 32,000 teachers and 7,400 school administrators.

HEI: Higher Education Institues
HEI: Higher Education Institues

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala II, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ayala Corporation, Philippines, noted that his country is in a similar situation as Myanmar in terms of its young population. The youth must be equipped with thinking and creative skills and expertise, not rote learning, he said. Giving the example of the US$ 15 billion business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines, he urged harnessing the private sector to help develop new sectors and create jobs. “Business can help create new models with academia,” he said.

In the case of the BPO sector, the private sector formed an industry association and leveraged the combined influence of its members to persuade schools to equip students with computer skills and fluency in English, which are essential for BPO work. Today, nearly 800,000 jobs have been created in the new industry, staffed mostly by young people.

As Myanmar embarks on socio-economic transformations, education must play a critical role in promoting inclusive growth and poverty reduction. This will help Myanmar meet rapidly evolving labor market needs, rebalance and equip the economy to modernize and move into higher value-added sectors, and successfully enter regional and global markets.

The Burmese language (myanma bhasa) is the official language of Myanmar. Burmese is the native language of the Bamar and related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar, as well as that of some ethnic minorities in Burma like the Mon. Burmese is spoken by 32 million as a first language and as a second language by 10 million, particularly ethnic minorities in Myanmar and those in neighboring countries. (Although the constitution officially recognizes the English name of the language as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese.)

Myanmar Preserving Endangered Seaweed Species from Korea

Myanmar is planning to preserve endangered seaweed species in Myanmar’s Myeik Archipelago,importing some species from the Republic of Korea, according to local authorities.

Seaweed cultivation in Myeik Archipelago is seeing a drop in production because of an unknown disease. Many seaweed growers are being forced to abandon the cultivation of the once lucrative Eucheuma or “Cottonii” seaweed and turning to other sources of income.

“We have imported seaweed from Korea and are growing them to conserve in rainy season. We have nurtured about 400 seaweed plants and will distribute these saplings to other growers at the end of rainy season,” said Thein Naing, an officer from the Fishery Department.

The seaweed is not native to Myanmar and Japanese experts have tested it for possible commercial cultivation purpose. Commercial seaweed farming near the pristine islands that make up the Myeik or Mergui Archipelago in southern Myanmar began six years ago. A Korea-based MSC Company invested millions of dollars in this project by providing technical know-how and agricultural equipment to growers. The endangered green specie of seaweed was widely cultivated in Myeik Archipelago during previous years but currently only brown species are cultivated.

Myanmar to use New Hydrocarbon Production for Domestic Needs

photo: livemint.com
Photo: livemint.com

Nay Pyi Taw: In what may affect the energy security plans pursued by India and China in Myanmar, the resource-rich nation has made a precondition of its domestic demand being met before any exports are allowed. This will be incorporated in all future productionsharing contracts Myanmar plans to sign.

“Earlier natural gas was sold to the neighbouring countries as there was no significant domestic demand.Our new policy is that natural resources will be reserved for domestic demand. If there is a surplus, then we will value add and export. The idea is to meet domestic demand first,” U. Htin Aung, Myanmar’s deputy energy minister, said at a press conference on Thursday.

This comes in the backdrop of the Myanmar government receiving 75 expressions of interest for its bids called for 18 onshore blocks for exploration.

Of these it has shortlisted 59 companies for the submission of final bids. Also, the government plans to award another 30 off shore blocks. The country holds 7.8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas. Contracts already signed will not be affected.

“The new rounds that we are offering has a provision that states that production is meant for first meeting the domestic demand. It is part of the agreement. The ones which we have already signed, for them we have to meet our commitments for our reputation,” Htin Aung said. Some of the Indian companies interested in these blocks are state owned ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), Oil India Ltd and private firms such as Jubilant Energy NV and Cairn India Ltd. more…

Inle Lake to Enlist as Biosphere Reserve

Surveys had been undertaken by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regarding the enlistment of the Inle Lake as a sustainable development and biosphere reserve for conservation, Eleven Media news reported. According to Sein Tun, administrator of Inle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary the nature of biosphere reserve is to cooperate in solving livelihood issues of the locals while making conservation works. Businessmen, volunteers and local residents are needed to cooperate and support in conserving the Inle Lake.

The Inle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1985. It is known as Myanmar’s major tourist spots and considered as one of ASEAN heritages. Situated between Pinlaung and Pehkon Townships of Southern Shan State, Inle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary is also one of the biggest wetland in Southeast Asia with an area of 247.435 square miles. Official statistics show that the sanctuary has 59 species of fishes, 3 species of turtles, 94 species of butterflies, 12 species of mammals, 25species of amphibians and 287 species of birds. Some of the contributory factors why in recent years the Inle Lake has gradually deteriorated is because of the over usage of insecticides and chemical fertilisers, the impact of climate change, the surface area of the lake on dry season and deforestation, the report said. more…

Myanmar Rises to the Challenge of Environmental Conservation

Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River, January 2013. | photo: flickr/francisco anzola
Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River, January 2013. | Photo: flickr/Francisco Anzola

President Thein Sein’s decision in September 2011 to suspend construction on the Myitsone Dam at the headwaters of the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State signaled the rise of a significant environmental movement in the country. Indeed, President Sein cited public opinion as a main factor in his decision. Over the past year, environmental groups have challenged a number of other development projects, including the Dawei Special Economic Zone and the Letpadaung copper mine near Monywa. Protection of the country’s rich biodiversity and relatively clean environment has rapidly emerged as a key national interest in the face of a potential surge in economic investment and development following recent economic and political reforms.

With the gradual development of a free press and expanded access to information, the country’s population has become increasingly aware of its unique biodiversity and valuable natural resources. The desire to protect these assets has become a sentiment dear to virtually all sectors of the population and is reflected in the policies and laws being considered by both the executive and legislative branches of the government. The new foreign investment law, for example, requires environmental impact assessments for all major development projects. Further, the parliament recently proposed the establishment of an Ayeyarwady River Commission to ensure the conservation of the country’s main water artery, whose sub-basins house a large percentage of the country’s biodiversity “hot spots.”

But this is only a start — recent measures being taken by the government to protect the environment are baby steps. more…

Paying Heed to Health

Myanmar Health Care System has been evolving with the changing political and administrative systems. The relative roles played by the key providers, both public and private, are also changing although the Ministry of Health remains the major provider of comprehensive health care. It has a pluralistic mix of public and private system, both in the financing and provision sectors. The rising need of health care policies, on the Government priority list, is opening up new opportunities for foreign engagement. Foreign companies will only be allowed to invest in private hospitals and clinics on a 70:30 ratio with local partners, according to the Deputy Health Minister, Dr Thein Thein Htay. The presence of foreign businesses will allow better job opportunities for doctors, nurses, and skilled workers.

In implementing the objective of uplifting the health status of the entire nation, the Ministry of Health is taking the responsibility of providing comprehensive health care services covering activities for promoting health, preventing diseases, providing effective treatment and rehabilitation to raise the health status of the population. The Department of Health one of seven departments under the Ministry of Health plays a major role in providing comprehensive health care throughout the country including remote and hard to reach border areas.

Recently, The Ministry of Health invested 73.26 billion Kyat received as reserve budget to buy medicine and equipment, so as to provide free healthcare to emergency patients, pregnant women and children under the age of five in public hospitals. The private sector is mainly providing ambulatory care in Myanmar. However, there are some private institutions whose focus is on providing institutional care in Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Mandalay and other large cities.

The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon at night photo: voyagestoantiquity.com
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon at night photo: voyagestoantiquity.com

General Practitioners’ Section of the Myanmar Medical Association with its branches in townships, provide these practitioners the opportunities to update and exchange their knowledge and experiences, by holding seminars, talks and symposia on currently emerging issues and updated diagnostic and therapeutic measures. The Medical Association and its branches also provide a link between them and their counterparts in public sector so that private practitioners can also participate in public health care activities. One unique and important feature of Myanmar health system is the existence of traditional medicine along with allopathic medicine. There are a total of fourteen traditional hospitals run by the State in the country. Traditional medical practitioners are being trained at the Institute of Traditional Medicine. A new University of Traditional Medicine has been established in Mandalay, for competent practitioners to avail a bachelor’s degree, allowing for better training and placements.

Myanmar Red Cross Society is also taking some share of service provision and their roles are also becoming important as the needs for collaboration in health become more prominent.

TRANSITION PHASE

The Government has embarked on a far reaching reform programme to transform the country into a modern, developed and democratic nation that improves the livelihood of its people. The Government has aspired for people-centred development while staying focused on achievable results. It shall start modestly, but move decisively with international assistance to enlarge capacity and skill development to reduce incidence of poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Health sector change in transitional economies is a hybrid of two issues that are normally separate but that coalesce in these cases. The first issue is that of reform in the health sector in general. The precise agenda for reform is defined by reviewing how well existing policies, institutions, structures, and systems deal with issues of efficiency and equity. The second issue underlying health sector change in transitional economies is more macroeconomic in nature and much less voluntary.

HEALTH FINANCING IN MYANMAR

Promoting and protecting health is essential to human welfare and sustained economic and social development. Education, housing, food and employment all impact on health. Redressing inequalities in these will reduce inequalities in health. It determines whether people can afford to use health services when they need them. Health financing is an important part of broader efforts to ensure social protection in health. Recognizing this, Myanmar seems committed to strengthen the health financing systems so that all people have access to services and do not suffer financial hardship paying for them The major sources of finance for health care services are the government, private households, social security system, community contributions and external aid. Government has increased health spending on both current and capital yearly. Total government health expenditure increased from kyat 464.1million in 1988-89 to kyat 86547 million in 2010-2011.

Health Expenditures by Providers (2006-07 to 2009-10)

PROVIDERS 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010
Hospitals 69.59 70.55 70.33 67.89
Ambulatory Health Care 17.23 17.3 17.54 17.01
Retail sale and medical goods 3.85 3.87 3.84 3.79
Provision and Administration of Public Health Programs 2.06 2.00 2.00 2.51
General Health Administration 0.69 0.53 0.51 0.50
Health Related Services 2.59 1.85 1.98 1.82
Rest of the world 3.99 3.90 3.80 6.48

Sea Games End

photo: sports.tempo.com
photo: sports.tempo.com

NAYPYITAW – The Myanmar SEA Games themed “Green, Clean and Friendly” came to colourful close at Wunna Theikdi Main Stadium here tonight, Bernama reported. The arrival of Myanmar President, U Thein Sein, wife Daw Khin Khin Win and guets at the stadium were met with a fireworks display. A large group of children who formed the 27th SEA Games logo got the closing ceremony underway.

The audience were entertained with cultural performances such as the elephant dance and the Myanmar traditional sport ‘Chinlone.’

The ceremony continued with the procession of athletes representing the 33 sports contested at the games held over 19 days.

The 33 sports are athletics, archery, badminton, basketball, billiards, bodybuilding, boxing, canoeing, chess, chinlone, equestrian, football, futsal, golf, hockey, judo, karate, kempo, muay thai, petanque, ping pong, rowing, snooker, swimming, sepak takraw, sailing, shooting, silat, taekwondo, volleyball, vovinam, weightlifting, wrestling and traditional boat racing.

The ceremony proceeded with lowering of the flag of the SEA Games Federation (SGF) and the flag of Myanmar as the host country.

The closing of the biennial games was officiated by Myanmar Vice President, U Nyan Tun.

The 11 participating countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam and Myanmar.

This is the third time Myanmar hosted the biggest sporting event in South East Asia after 1961 and 1969.

Thailand were top with 107 gold, 94 silver and 81 bronze while hosts Myanmar were second place with 85 gold, 62 silver and 85 bronze.

Vietnam were third with 73 gold, 86 silver and 86 bronze while Indonesia were fourth with 65 gold, 84 silver and 110 bronze.

Singapore will host the 28th SEA Games in 2015 while Malaysia will host the 29th SEA Games in 2017.

Myanmar drew a close to three weeks of sporting celebration with a lavish closing ceremony. more…

A Chance for Green Growth in Myanmar

Photo: Alliance/ Arco Imagesgmbh
Photo: Alliance / Arco Imagesgmbh

When it comes to the environment, Myanmar has the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes, environmental experts said during the last week of November at the Green Growth and Green Economic Forum in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon.

“Myanmar has the chance to do things differently,” said the World Wildlife Fund’s Greater Mekong representative Stuart Chapman. “The government is thinking of different ways towards green growth.” Dismissing rapid development as “a short-term game”, Mr Chapman said, “Green growth means being careful about … minimising impact on natural capital. The more conservative approach, being careful about building infrastructure, gives longterm opportunities and benefits.”

He said climate change, which is already affecting Southeast Asia, is another factor that could affect natural capital.

“Parts of Southeast Asia will get hotter and wetter. It will be more subject to large-scale climatic variation. The approach to energy, security and food security will be hugely different,” he said.

Daw Lat Lat Aye, UNDP team leader for disaster risk reduction and the environment, said achieving sustainable development depended on the balance between economic, environmental and social systems. The impact of Cyclone Nargis, which left a swathe of death and destruction in 2008, was exacerbated by the loss of natural forest cover and coastal vegetation due to the conversion of the land for paddy cultivation and the over-exploitation of fisheries, she said. more…

Myanmar Losing Forests at Fast Pace, say Reports

Myanmar is facing galloping deforestation, losing forests to oil palm and rubber plantations, while the mangroves of its Irrawaddy Delta have shrunk in area by a whopping 64.2 per cent in 33 years, two new reports have shown.

Deforestation In The Ayeyarwady Delta And The Conservation Implications Of An Internationally Engaged Myanmar – a study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) – said an average of 51 sq km of mangroves a year were lost from 1978 to 2011. Thus, the Irrawaddy Delta’s mangroves shrank from 2,623 sq km to 938 sq km in that period.

The study, published on November 21 in the online journal Global Environmental Change, used cutting-edge technology to map the depleting mangroves.

It noted that unlike in the Mekong Delta where mangroves have been destroyed by aquaculture, in the Irrawaddy Delta, they were lost to harvesting for fuel wood and conversion into paddy fields. Aquaculture is still almost non-existent in the area.

The delta has a population of close to eight million. But it is also an area of high biodiversity, with more than 30 endangered species, the report said.

The mangroves also act as a buffer against sea-level rise and the kind of storm surge during Cyclone Nargis in 2008 that killed 130,000 people in the region. more…