The several decades of Burma’s isolation served in some ways to protect the biodiversity within the country and to maintain habitats such as mangroves and lowland tropical forest that were largely destroyed in neighboring countries.
As Burma opens up, there are tremendous opportunities for biodiversity protection but also high risks that unique habitats will be sacrificed to mineral extraction, power generation or tourism development.
Already, Burma suffers from one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, with 18% of all forest area lost to logging (much of it illegal) from 1990–2005. This article goes on to say that “scientists highlight weak environmental safeguards and low investment in conservation as two of the key factors that could make Myanmar especially susceptible to the effects of rapid economic development and climate change.” We encourage you to read the full report for a comprehensive picture of the situation in Burma.
More background on biodiversity conservation can be gleaned from this article that covers a recent ASEAN environmental conference in the Philippines. A representative from Burma used this occasion to list challenges to environmental protection in the country “including slash and burn farming, hunting of protected wildlife, illegal logging, little funding for conservation efforts, under resourced staff, as well as weaknesses in the constitution that allow for environmental exploitation.” The ASEAN conference reportedly helped to identify biodiversity targets and find opportunities for international cooperation.
The threat of elephant poaching in the Pegu division of Burma is a concrete illustration of the current problems. A local activists estimates that 20 elephants out of the total population of 150 elephants in the Pegu mountain range were killed in 2013 alone. The hunting is illegal but profit on the black market can be up to 10 million Kyat (10,000 US dollars) for one animal. So far, very little has been done by local police or other actors to prevent the killings of wild elephants.
Local people notice an alarming speed of biodiversity degradation also around the Inle lake where “once-green mountains had been laid bare, the once-dense forest cut and carted away for firewood.” Aside from logging, the lake ecosystem also suffers from extensive use of pesticides in the so-called “floating gardens”, from chemical dyes used in the textile industry washing up in the water and from tons of garbage generated without proper waste management available.
A host of projects were initiated to help preserve the lake and assist the local inhabitants. “Some NGOs have made good efforts for us, but some have not. Some NGOs don’t understand the Intha’s needs, livelihoods and difficulties,” states a local resident, adding that some projects were left unfinished or have unintended negative consequences.
While mass tourism development adds to the burdens experienced around Inle lake, responsible approaches to tourism and inclusion of local residents into planning and implementation of sustainable initiatives could serve to reverse the harmful trend.
Is it safe to fly in Myanmar?
A recent plane crash in Laos turned the spotlight on aviation safety also in Burma. Since no public records of aviation safety exist, it is difficult to get an accurate information about the situation in the country. However, rapid increase in demand for internal flights connected to the tourism boom in the country threatens to overwhelm existing infrastructure. According to aviation analyst Shukor Yusof “it’s really up to the operators to keep abreast with different maintenance and training requirements” as official policy is outdated. This article brings additional background information on the situation, as well as a somewhat terrifying account of a survivor of a plane crash near the town of Heho.
Land grabbing in Mon state
Setse beach and other sea-side areas of Mon state are slated for development of new tourist resorts. The process is, however, tainted by disputes between local population and the government over land ownership. The article details the process of developing new hotel sites and notes the worries of locals that community gardens “will be incorrectly designated as “vacant” or “moor” areas by the local government in order to sell them to companies without having to initiate legal procedures concerning land titles.” Mon state has a variety of sights attractive to foreign tourists including the Golden Rock Pagoda, Setse beach or the town of Mawlamyine. It is crucial that the rights of local residents are not violated in order to develop these areas.
15 craziest hotels around the world
Here is some inspiration for an overnight stay out of the ordinary. We cannot guarantee that all of these options are totally responsible but they sure are crazy.
Have a great week!