After decades of seclusion, Myanmar (previously known as Burma) is experiencing a dramatic shift from military rule to democracy, from a centrally-controlled economy to a market-oriented economy and from decades of conflict to peace in its border areas. As a result of its long period of isolation, Myanmar is relatively undeveloped compared to its neighbors and has conserved many of its natural resources.
There is much at stake. With some of the most extensive forests and three economically, ecologically and culturally important rivers (Irrawaddy, Mekong and Myintnge), Myanmar is one of the most biologically diverse countries in Southeast Asia. Its richly varied terrain ranges from high mountain peaks to golden teak forests to coral reefs and mangroves. Myanmar is home to rare and endangered animals including Asian elephants, tigers, red pandas and Irrawaddy River dolphins. Seventy percent of Myanmar’s citizens are dependent on its forests for their livelihoods, and river fish are the primary source of protein for people in Myanmar, which ranks fourth in the world in terms of freshwater fish harvest. The country is also ranked as the second most vulnerable country to climate change in the world.
As Myanmar opens up politically and economically, its natural environment and its wildlife are threatened by logging, mining, overfishing and unplanned infrastructure development. Hydropower dams are threatening the river fish in Myanmar, many of which are long-distance migrants that depend on free-flowing rivers. Deforestation, driven by both legal and illegal logging, is having severe impact on communities in Myanmar, particularly those that depend on forests for their livelihoods and household needs for food, building materials and medicines.
Through our leadership of the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) Program, The Nature Conservancy has been working to reduce tropical deforestation and forest degradation in Myanmar and the Asia Pacific region. Building on this foundation, we will expand our work in Myanmar to focus on
- strengthening the management of forests to conserve the country’s rich biological and cultural assets while ensuring that the forests continue to make a valuable contribution to the country’s economic development,
- restoring degraded lands so they can once again play their important role in meeting present and future needs
- protecting free-flowing rivers to maximize benefits for communities and nature
Change is happening at a rapid pace throughout Myanmar, and the next five years are of critical importance. Decisions made during this period of political and economic transformation will determine the country’s development path over the next 50 years.
We believe that with rapid growth comes opportunity: to build a more sustainable future where nature and people flourish together.
Read a Q&A with Michael Looker, New Zealand Country Director about the Sub-Antarctic Island of New Zealand