The Burma Environment Working Group made a press conference on Burma’s serious environmental issues at Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok on Monday. The group released a press statement about Burmese regime’s negligence of environmental protection in the country.
Burma has extensive biodiversity and abundant natural resources, which have in recent years been threatened by militarization, large-scale resource extraction and infrastructure development, the group said. According to group’ 100-page report – Burma’s Environment: People, Problems, Policies – the regime does not allow its citizens to take part in decision-making on development sector that always neglects the livelihoods of the respective populace in the project areas.
While foreign direct investment for last year reached up to $ 20 billion, for example through large dams financed by neighbouring China, India and Thailand, there are no respectable frameworks to protect Burma’s environment and communities, the group said.
“Foreign Direct Investment in Burma’s natural environment is skyrocketing, but there is no corresponding attention to environmental protection, multi-ethnic participation and sustainable development,” said Sein Twa of the Burma Environment Working Group.
“Control over natural resources is a major cause of conflict in ethnic areas, where the majority of Burma’s resources remain,” the report said.
Heavy fighting between the rebel ethnic Kachin and government armed forces took place last month in the far north of the country around a dam financed by China, with authorities saying they acted to defend the plant from attacks.
“The renewed war in Kachin state is an example of what Burma can continue to expect as foreign direct investment increases,” said Paul Sein Twa, referring to the conflict that resumed on 9 June between Kachin Independence Army and the Burma Army around Chinese-led hydropower dams in Kachin State.
“Without genuine multi-ethnic participation and sound regulatory framework, Burma’s environment will continue to be a source of conflict,” he said.
Burma does not have domestic laws and policies to protect people and environment, the report says. The report also points out that Burma is currently facing many threats to 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 group’s report said an estimated 48 hydropower projects were currently being planned, constructed or already existed on country’s rivers.
More than 90 percent of the hydropower they produce is bound for China and neighbouring countries, instead of providing domicile populations who face serious ongoing energy shortages.
The new government under President Thein Sein “is failing to make progress on that front,” said Paul Sein Twa during the press conference at FCCT.
Burma is a state party to several international treaties relating to the environment, but it is unclear whether the contents of those treaties have been ratified in practice and incorporated into domestic law, according to the BEWG’s report.
The environment activists called for new and existing investors to stop immediately all project-related works – especially in responsive states all over Burma – until satisfactory safeguards are in place to ensure investment does not lead to unnecessary destruction of the natural environment and local livelihoods. The new measures are brought in to ensure sustainable development and multi-ethnic participation, the activists of the group say publicly.