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…