Published On: Mon, Dec 24th, 2012

Environmentalists call for reducing exploitation of natural resources

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Environmentalists in Myanmar are calling for prevention against excessive exploitation of the country’s natural resources.

They highlighted that 54 percent of the total land is abundant with natural resources and excessive exploitation may lead to the degradation of the whole environmental system, no matter it is either for national development or other purposes.

“Fifty-four percent of our land area is rich in valuable natural resources such as gems, rubies and oil and gas. Just showing the reason for national development, one should not accept the projects without environmental and social impact assessments. If one does so, the country will be doomed with holes in every land,” an environmentalist said on condition of anonymity.

Vice President Sai Mouk Kham is also of the opinion that in current conditions, one should not seek future national development through excessive exploitation of natural resources.

According to Nay Win Tun, chairperson of Natural Resources Committee under Parliament, there is a market internationally for Myanmar’s natural resources such as gems, metals, oil and gas. Metal ores and metals are found in 176 towns out of the total 325 towns of Myanmar. Besides, 20 out of 40 kinds of metals can penetrate into global markets.

Encountered challenges and way forward

Observing analysts said that while exploiting the natural resources, Myanmar lacked transparency, harmed the lives of inhabitants and damaged the natural environment. Also in the case of Chinese hydropower dam project in Kachin State, Northern Myanmar, it posed serious threats to the environmental and social lives of local people. Consequently, the people throughout the country went on strike against the project in September 2011, and President Thein Sein suspended the project during his tenure. The people are still calling for the complete halt of the project, analysts added.

The similar case happened in November to the China-backed Latpadaungtaung copper mine project in Sagaing, Central Myanmar. Since the project damaged the livelihoods of local people and the environment, people staged protests against it. On that occasion, the government cracked down the sit-in protestors at the project area, using the so-called smoke bombs, which people claimed chemical weapons. Now the Probe Commission, led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has been assigned by the President to assess if the project should continue or not.

“There is still weak transparency in some of state run projects, and people don’t accept them. In such circumstances, the authorities should postpone those projects and continue them only if they can practice transparency anyway,” said a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council.

Government’s Actions

On December 15, President Thein Sein formed a leading authority for Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), appointing President Office Minister Soe Thein as the chairperson and three other ministers as members. It was declared to enhance industry’s management in line with country’s policy, create better environment for investment opportunities, establish open and transparent communications between private and public sectors, and to inform the public coordinating with both private and public-based associations.

The authority will endeavor to establish a working committee by December 31, which will perform EITI tasks for the whole industry, coordinating with the government.

It is also assigned to work on preparing a draft of tasks for EITI, applying ‘Candidate Member’ for international EITI, coordinating between Myanmar Development Resource Institute and Centre for Economic and Social Development, and sustainable developments for the future.

Meanwhile, The Centre for Economic and Social Development and international EITI will check whether the income from petrol and natural gas are appropriately used for the infrastructure of the nation or not, Dr Myint, chief economic adviser to the president, said on November 16.

EMG

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