Myanmar, as a developing country needs to prioritize and increase its emphasize on the country’s environmental challenges to stimulate growth and overall progress. Myanmar is rich in offshore oil and gas reserves and it is estimated that it could be holding nearly 300 bcm of gas. A number of energy companies from China, France, India and South Korea are actively engaged in exploration activities. These mega offshore energy projects also need to be viewed from the environmental security matrix. These emerge in the form of pollution by the enhanced shipping traffic and the chances of accidents resulting in oil spills, which can potentially impact on the fragile ecosystem in the Bay of Bengal.
As Myanmar emerged from years of political and economic isolation to current trajectories of economic interests in the country, urgent conversation priorities include the need to expand and strengthen the existing protected area system, strengthening the legal and policy framework related to biodiversity and protected areas including the development of effective environmental safeguards and bolstering institutions responsible for protected area management. Myanmar forms part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, and some of the largest tracts of intact habitat in the hotspot can be found here.
For many years, Myanmar’s isolation has served to protect the biodiversity which has disappeared from many other regions in Southeast Asia but things are now changing as Myanmar got opened to the outside world and various activities have brought myriad tumbling effects of climate change on its forests and the coastlines. Myanmar has extremely high biodiversity and a wealth of natural resources. The country’s large extent of intact habitat is relative to extreme habitat loss seen in neighboring countries. However, Myanmar has not escaped habitat destruction, and in fact has suffered some of the highest rates of destruction in the world. The forest are most likely to suffer further future losses, as pressure on natural resources increases; commercial logging, agricultural expansion and conversion to rubber and oil palm plantations are some of the main threats identified today. Weak environmental safeguards and low investment in conservation are two key factors that could make Myanmar especially susceptible to the effects of rapid economic development and climate change.
Limited resources, both technical and financial are to be blamed for the declining biodiversity in Myanmar. Wetland ecosystem, an important habitat for both wildlife and local communities have already been degraded due to mining and hydroelectric development. Today overexploitation of both plants animals for subsistence and trade, along with habitat degradation and loss are considered as the primary threats to biodiversity in Myanmar. It is true, that to stimulate the current growth, the country requires significant investment to build internal and regional connectivity, develop infrastructure such as transport and energy, reach the potential of productive sectors such as agro-food sector, and also build institutional and human capacity.
Ultimately, Myanmar’s economic expansion will depend on the utilizing the country’s rich natural resources and human capital. It is the people; land, minerals, energy, forest and water resources that will fuel this growth. But at the same time it is important to note the future and present environmental issues that are followed by the developmental activities such as construction of dams and deforestation and therefore to take every step sensitively.
Land degradation, particularly in upland areas and in dry zones of Myanmar is a major issue, resulting from population pressures combine with inappropriate land use and cropping patterns. Previously known as the “last frontier of biodiversity of Asia”, Myanmar’s biodiversity is presently under increasing pressure and threat. The country needs smart plans, policies and institutions to judiciously cope with the rapid economic development. In this context, the government of Myanmar has taken significant steps in improving its environmental management capacity.
Hence, to catch up with the environmental challenges, we need to get in touch with these immediate concerns like improving technical standards and capacity in implementing environment protection control which is urgently needed in applying, monitoring and evaluating the applicability of standards both for the regulator and for the regulated community across all sectors at the national and sub-nationals levels. Today, as Myanmar is climbing the development ladder it is important that both the government and the general public have a common perspective of the current environmental situation, recognizing the need for legislative, regulatory and institutional framework for environmental safeguards.