Conservation is complex. Many of the world’s most important ecosystems are located in places where conservation is not the only challenge.
Since the February 2021 coup, Myanmar has been in turmoil. When military forces responded to peaceful demonstrations with violence, a National Unity Government—including ethnic leaders and officials elected in 2020—formed in opposition to the junta. Under this leadership, armed forces have attacked military convoys and junta officials in efforts to subvert the regime’s repressive tactics. What started as an organized Civil Disobedience Movement is now a civil war in the second largest country in Southeast Asia.
We talked with Tint Thuang, TNC’s Myanmar Country Director, who had to leave Myanmar, on how this has impacted livelihoods on the ground and what this means for the future of conservation for Myanmar.
TNC: How have you personally experienced the coup?
Tint: Due to high levels of scrutiny, I needed to leave the country and my ailing parents behind. And it was hard to leave our staff. All of them are committed to Myanmar and to TNC’s mission. We have developed very detailed plans to keep them safe. Even a simple thing like going to the bank now needs a safety plan. I wish I was with them. I am not allowed to return yet because of safety reasons, so I’m relocating to be closer to them.
TNC: What are the biggest challenges that the people of Myanmar face?
Tint: There are so many. They include escalating violence and its threat to safety; a lack of public services such as basic healthcare, education, and transportation; skyrocketing prices that have resulted from inflation; a mismanaged economy; and sanctions. But people help each other. People can depend on each other.
TNC: How can TNC, as a conservation organization, help the people of Myanmar?
Tint: Right after the coup, we provided emergency grants to our ecotourism partners—caretakers of timber elephants who switched from logging to sustainable tourism. They used the money to buy food and medicine for the elephants and for their families.
As the conflict continues, people flee their villages and homes to avoid persecution, and many lost their livelihoods and don’t have a source of income. As a result, many people are using our forests, rivers, and shores unsustainably to feed their families. This impacts the long-term health of Myanmar’s resources and our future. TNC is working to develop forest management programs and river restoration programs that will outlast the civil war and provide livelihoods for people protecting our natural resources.
TNC: What is the most important thing to know about Myanmar right now?
Tint: No matter what happens politically, we are still the second largest country in Southeast Asia. Our forests and shoreline are home to globally important ecosystems, and our economic development depends on the careful management of our resources. TNC needs to be ready to restore damaged ecosystems and to help rebuild livelihoods through conservation, innovative funding, and regional and policy solutions.
TNC: Do you have any last thoughts?
Tint: Just because work in Myanmar is challenging, it isn’t hopeless. What matters is people supporting people. Right now, we’re in survival mode, but eventually, if we can maintain the health of our people and nature, we can grow. We can make a better world for the next generation, and TNC can achieve its mission in Myanmar.