Will Liberalization of Myanmar Bring Ruin to Its Vast Forests?
For years, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under the control of a strong military regime. The restriction on freedom and human rights abuses they imposed made the nation an international pariah, and trade sanctions were established by all major world economies. Now, Myanmar is undergoing a stunning democratic transformation, its citizens are granted more freedoms, and the world is opening up to them. With this opening up comes a relaxing of trade restrictions, which may unfortunately bring disaster to Myanmar's native forests. It was over this long period of strong military control and lack of foreign investment which allowed the wild forests to be protected. Now that things are changing, the nation may not be able to control the economic forces from within and without, vying to exploit its natural resources.
Myanmar is a tropical country, home to dense jungles and abundant wildlife. Its largest piece of wilderness is the Northern Forest Complex, 12,000 square miles sandwiched between India and China that is home to the largest tiger preserves in the world.
The upcoming historic trip of President Obama to Myanmar will likely bring about an influx of foreign interests to the newly democratic, liberalized nation. This may lead to rapid development of the northern jungles, causing significant environmental harm.
Charles Schmidt, writer for host of publications covering the internal developments of Myanmar, explains some of the current plans underway. Both governments from China and Japan, the largest economies in Asia, are making plans to build transportation corridors through Myanmar's wild jungles, paving the way for future resource exploitation. The threat of resource-hungry China is always present at the border, as is their appetite for illegal wildlife trade.
The good news is that the new democratic government seems to be taking environmental conservation seriously. "They seem to be taking a much more measured approach to environmental planning, even without international pressure, and that's to be applauded," says Joe Walston, executive director of the Asia program of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The opening up to the world also means opening up to conservationists and NGOs looking to protect the jungles. It will have to work hard as timber companies look to obtain rights for logging. The economic value of Myanmar's vast resources is enormous, particularly its massive stock of golden teak, an extremely valuable and beautiful hardwood used for making furniture.
Caution must be exercised by the new Myanmar government. Public demand from its impoverished citizens may be for exploiting the resources and obtaining more revenue. A scramble for resources must not be allowed to ensue during this transition period. NGOs and the international community will have to play a significant role in helping to implement an appropriate strategy for sustainable resource management, before it is too late.
Link to Charles Schmidt report
Myanmar image via Shutterstock