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Loss and Damage - Adverse Impact of Climate Change

A Happy New Year from Monthly Asian Focus! For the start of the New Year 2012, we hear the story of U Tin Than and his challenge with conservation work in the swell of political transformation in Myanmar. U Tin Than, a field biologist with WWF Thailand, has devoted the last 14 years to the survey of wildlife and the wildlife trade in Burma/Myanmar in order to understand the needs of conservation activities to help protect the precious habitats and wildlife in this country. U Tin's challenges have increased along with drastic changes to the political map of his country, Myanmar.
U Tin Than
Myanmar Program Coordinator / Myanmar Conservation Liaison Regional / Sub-regional Conservation Unit WWF-Thailand, WWF International Greater Mekong Program

U Tin Than was born in 1948 on the island of Ramree, off the coast of Arakan State, in western Burma/Myanmar. He studied for two masters degrees in Zoology, Neuro-anatomy at Rangoon University and the Institute of Medicine II in Myanmar, and interdisciplinary natural resources management and planning at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand. Currently, he is working for the WWF International Greater Mekong Program as Myanmar Conservation Liaison with WWF-Thailand. In this role, he takes on several tasks including monitoring conservation status and assessing conservation potential of Myanmar, such as the conservation of critically endangered animals.

Related Link:
WWF Thailand

January 2012

“Can Myanmar Biodiversity Survive the Swell of Political Transformation?”

U Tin Than
Myanmar Program Coordinator / Myanmar Conservation Liaison Regional / Sub-regional Conservation Unit WWF-Thailand, WWF International Greater Mekong Program

Political Transition in Myanmar

---These days, we are getting various news reports on the political transition in Myanmar. It sounds like many business sectors are rushing to Myanmar for your rich natural resources. What is the effect on biodiversity and natural resources?

Than:
It is a fortunate event in the history of Myanmar, as this moment proves the existence of a slight improvement in the politics due to the wisdom and courage of leadership in the current government and in the opposition led by democracy icon, Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

President Thein Sein met Aung San Suu Kyi in August 2011. He himself shows that his government is reforming and marching towards a stable democracy. There has also been the recent visit of Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, and a surprise declaration of willingness to help the current government’s reform agenda and its improvement with her press briefing in Naypyidaw on 1 December 2011. This alerted the world to the speed of the change in the political landscape in Myanmar.

This political development definitely attracts foreign investment to do business in Myanmar and there has been a constant influx of representatives’ visits and meetings between ministers of Myanmar government and foreign business missions recently (Table 1).

Country Investment
(USD million)
China
8,269
Hong Kong
5,798
Thailand
2,948
The Republic of Korea
2,675
Singapore
226
Malaysia
77
Japan
7
Table1 Recent investment which came a little earlier
than this political change, mostly involving oil and gas,
power generation, and mining between 2010 and 2011.

With these investments, key projects were implemented such as hydropower dams upstream of Irrawaddy River and Myanmar portion of Salween River, Oil and Gas Pipelines (Shwe and Zawtika), Kyaukphyu Development Zone, Dawei Special Development Zone, Kaladan Multimodal Corridor and roads and rail networks linking to these projects as well as a cross-border regional strategic road network for regional economic development to be undertaken. More recently India and Malaysia have increased their investment in Myanmar.

I personally got a chance to observe work currently being undertaken on the Rakhine (Arakan) Mountain Range part of the route of the 2,800 km-long China’s trans-Myanmar oil and gas dual pipelines running across the heartland of Myanmar and western part of Yunnan Province, China (Figure 1). The Arakan mountain range is rich with biodiversity and various types of forests which are home for numerous vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species and plant communities. The area has traditionally been the habitat of elephants, white-handed gibbons and hoolock gibbons, Malayan sun bears and Asiatic black bears, banteng, gaur, serow, gorals, tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, Asian Golden cats, great hornbills, great pea foul, Arakan Forest turtles, and many other endangered species of wildlife.


Figure1 China's trans-Myanmar Oil and Gas Pipelines.
© Wong Aung, Shwe Gas Movement

Superficially, the route follows the old road across the mountain and it seems to be that not so much of the original forest has been destroyed in the construction of these pipelines. In fact, the threats to the existence of the natural ecosystems of the tropical rainforest and valuable deciduous and mix-deciduous forests that cover the mountain range for the last two decades are logging, wildlife trade, and land transformation to agriculture. This pipeline route provides access for poachers, forest intruders and illegal loggers. As long as efficient protected area establishment and management is lacking, Myanmar and the world may lose a biodiversity rich landscape due to the effects of the construction and existence of this oil and gas pipeline. Actually, this pipeline runs from offshore of the western coast of Myanmar underwater in the Bay of Bengal, meaning that natural coral reef and rocks on the floor of the ocean near the coast may be destroyed.


Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)

Than:
In the international arena, EIAs have been described as a “fundamental principle of international law” or a “customary principle” especially important in mainstreaming environmental and social issues into infrastructure development. National environmental regulation of both Myanmar and China have references to environmental impact assessments, but implementation usually could not meet the standard practice.

There has never been any word about the participation of local people in the EIA process of this project. Actually, all the activities have been undertaken in a somewhat secret way, while at the Madae Island Deep Sea port, for example, construction activities are tightly controlled and isolated. Unknown people are not allowed to approach the island where local residents have been given compensation money for their agricultural land in amounts more than ten times current price and then told to move away to take on different types of living from their original livelihood of paddy and fruits growing.

This is the result of failure to include a social impact assessment (SIA) or human rights impact assessment (HRIA) as part of or in tandem with the EIA. While the use of an HRIA is still a developing norm, the SIA is widely accepted as an international best practice. Local residents have been violently opposing the influx of Chinese and Indian technicians and labour forces in their cultural environment. Land confiscation was another issue and the new government is drafting an environmental law. It is only with appropriate laws that people and nature can suffer less.


Cross Border Environmental Influence

---Myanmar is located next to China, India and Thailand (as well as other countries). What kind of influence or impact is there for any cross border environmental issues with those emerging countries?

Than:
Myanmar had been under authoritarian rule with socialism-oriented centralised power politics and military dictatorship since March 1962. Therefore, before the recent dawn of freedom and democracy, the majority of people were in the dark and unaware about the impact of our large, neighbouring economies.

About 70% of the population is still living in rural areas with an agrarian economy. The people of Myanmar are usually considered poor, because subsistence living is still dominant in rural environments. However Myanmar is seen as rich in natural resources. Myanmar itself is a diverse country with more than 300 mammal species, over 1,000 different resident and migrating bird species, 360 reptile species, more than 1,200 butterflies, and more than 7,000 plant species. With an overall land area of 680,000 km², the country still has large tracts of relatively intact habitat. It includes three of the most pristine large rivers in Asia; some of the largest remaining tracts of intact forest in mainland Southeast Asia; over 40% of all the priority tiger conservation units in Southeast Asia, and more wild elephants than any other Southeast Asian country. Its 2,300 km-long coastline and thousand of islands still abound with marine fauna such as several species of marine turtle and other endangered marine species. Oil, gas, jade, and other minerals are attractive to many investors.

In the last twenty years, Myanmar exported much of its resources (especially fishery products, timber, jade and wildlife) through Musae-Ruili border pass to China which constantly demands more resources for its burgeoning population and fast-growing economy. About 70% of exports goes through this border trade route. Timber extraction and illegal wildlife trade have been serious cross-border environmental issues. Tigers are almost extinct in Myanmar due to the sale of their skins and bones at border towns on the Myanmar-China border and Myanmar-Thailand border.

One of the most visible cross-border environmental issues is the currently undertaking of Dawei Deep-sea Port and Industrial Estate Development Project which includes an access road comprising a 160 km-long 4-lane to 8-lane toll highway across the biodiversity-rich Tenasserim Mountain Range. The corridor from the coast of Myanmar to the border town of Thailand is made up of roads, railways, transmission lines, and oil and gas pipelines on 200 meter-wide path.


Figure2 Reference for the picture
ITD (Italian-Thai Development  PCL) Dawei Final
May 2011 ROADSHOW FINAL_WEBSITE
The Tenasserim range is a cross border landscape which is the habitat of the second largest wild tiger population in the world on the Thailand-Myanmar border with dry-deciduous, mix-deciduous, and rain forest cover, rich in high biodiversity. Logging, wildlife trade, expansion of oil palm and rubber plantations are real threats currently in Tenanthary Division of Myanmar. Mining may become a significant threat in the near future, since Chinese companies are starting to engage to get more contracts for mining in the Tenasserim range area.

Wildlife trade activities at the market of Sing Korn border pass includes selling of live animals of various species of mammals and birds species and orchids. There is also a tiger trade there.

The Dawna Tenasserim Landscape holds the largest population of wild tigers in the Greater Mekong region perhaps as many as 200 tigers.

Dawei Deep Sea Port and Industrial Estate will cover an area of 250 km². and includes a steel mill, petrochemical complex, coal-fired power plant, fertiliser plant, refinery and gas complex, pulp and paper and many other industries (Figure 2). All these will have serious negative impacts on health and environment due to hazardous wastes, while road links will fragment the habitats for wildlife and degrade the forest.

Yet, this project could be worth USD 58 billion or more. The road link to Thailand will connect the GMS(Greater Mekong Sub-Region) Southern Corridor. Two government and ITD (Italian-Thai Development  PCL) companies have signed for first-phase contract for the 10-year project which is worth an estimated USD 8 billion.

Final comments

Let me end by saying that mitigation measures should be taken immediately. A smart green infrastructure approach should be applied after a quality EIA has been carried out. Cross-border conservation should also be initiated.


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About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES released “Top News on the Environment in Asia” on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, “Top News” collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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