This week, it is with relief that we announce that Burma escaped the very worst of cyclone Mahasen. We delve in the controversy surrounding the restoration of historical monuments, most especially in Bagan, and we discuss new foreign investment in the tourism industry. Plus news on the recent plane crash that fortunately did not involve any casualties.
Cyclone misses Burma
Bangladesh and Burma are back on their feet after cyclone Mahasen, which killed 46 people and damaged thousands of homes along the coast. Despite extensive damage, many are relieved that it was not as destructive as originally feared. Cyclone Mahasen was just one in a series of recent natural disasters that plagued both countries.
The articles goes on to report the reluctance of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State to evacuate areas in danger, manifesting an overall lack of trust in police and the Buddhist majority after deadly communal violence. By Thursday morning however, a UN official has announced that “most Rohingyas had begun evacuating the sites.” Thousands of IDPs (internally-displaced persons) suffered in the course of these events, the lack of food being the biggest obstacle particularly for the most vulnerable: “We have no food here [.]. A group of anxious young Rohingya mothers holding their babies, waited under an awning of the school building. They complained of having no food or shelter for their vulnerable infants.”
Struggle to maintain cultural heritage
The controversy surrounding the restoration of some of the greatest monuments of Bagan continues and is even more pronounced nowadays as the country bids for the ancient city to receive World Heritage status from UNESCO. Bagan is indeed one of the most remarkable religious sites in Asia. However, even as the site continues to hold on to its magic, “hundreds of monuments in the area have been subjected to what conservationists regard as historical treason. [They] were shoddily recast – with materials and designs that differed from the originals – rather than authentically restored; [and therefore] Burmese officials must contend with the work of their country’s former leaders”.
In this regard, some experts consider its potential declaration as a UN World Heritage site a mistake. While others believe that “Bagan is in dire need of the management guideline imposed by UNESCO on the sites it consecrates.” Indeed, the uptake in tourism activities – if not managed well – could further damage the ancient monuments.
New Investments in Tourism and Food Industry
Here is a small selection of articles detailing the recent investments taking place in Burma. The surge in investments has been fueled primarily by the lifting of international sanctions in March 2011 and the adoption in November 2012 of a new law on foreign investment. Not to mention the continuous overall growth being experienced by the tourism industry.
The new investors include the French-based Croisi Europe Company; and the Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotel Group which intends to build at the Railways building in downtown Yangon. Plans are also underway for hotels in Mandalay and Bagan.
While we can continue to taste and enjoy traditional Burmese cuisine, the ‘Westernization’ of Burma is apparent. It looks like the country will be welcoming its first Starbucks in Burma in “couple of years”. The news came with Monday’s announcement by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz where he mentions, “the coffee chain’s first stores in India and Vietnam have been received positively and it might soon be time to give Burma a shot too.”
Burma is also receiving increased attention by fast food companies eager to penetrate the market. Accordingly, “organisers of the MYANFOOD ’13 EXPO, an international food & drinks Show that will be hosted in Yangon this November, identify what they call the fast-food revolution taking place in Myanmar right now.” This event is held in conjunction with MYANHOTEL 2013 – Myanmar’s major F&B and Hospitality Show. These two events are certainly “indicators of the fast changing business scene that is taking shape in the country.”
Two Injured in a Plane Accident
“A passenger plane carrying 55 people overran the end of the runway at an airport in eastern Myanmar due to suspected break failure, injuring two people.” The flight was operated by state-owned Myanmar Airways.
This incident echoes an earlier deadly one that occurred in December, 2012, causing 2 fatalities and 11 injures (within the Air Bagan Airline). Burmese airlines benefit from tourism boom but then, are gradually overwhelmed and suffer from a severe lack of adequate infrastructure and outdated equipment, creating serious security problems.
Have all a good week.Weekly EcoBurma Roundup #39,