Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Environmental Conservation Problems and Possible Solutions in Myanmar

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Environmental Conservation Problems and Possible Solutions in Myanmar

Article excerpt

Myanmar, notwithstanding an incredibly rich cache of biodiversity, is the least developed country in Southeast Asia and also the "worst performer" in most indicators of economic and social progress. (1) In 2010, per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was about US$700, compared to $815 in Cambodia, almost $1,000 in Laos, $2,600 in Timor-Leste, and more than $4,900 in Thailand. (2) Myanmar also faces a unique and daunting set of biodiversity conservation challenges. Habitats and wildlife face the growing threat of destruction and extinction, with thirty-four rare species within the country now endangered and growing amounts of air and water pollution jeopardizing national parks and old-growth rainforests. (3) One assessment analysed the status of twenty of Myanmar's Protected Areas and, disturbingly, concluded that illegal activity such as logging, grazing, fuel-wood extraction and hunting occurred in 85 per cent of them and that 40 per cent had "significant gaps in infrastructure for management" and "insufficient on-site staff". (4) A separate investigation of Myanmar's forest protection programmes found that they were "faltering" in the face of population growth, agricultural expansion, industrialization, and rising levels of poverty, which collectively created pressure to unsustainably harvest forest products. (5) Another assessment concurred, and stated that:

   Current government budget allocations for protected areas may be
   less than that recommended for effective management. Legislation to
   protect both wildlife and their habitats is weak and difficult to
   enforce, in part because of low staffing and training deficiencies,
   so that only one-third of protected areas are effectively managed.
   Land use planning and economic ventures often have consequences in
   human communities that conflict with the goals of protected areas.

A host of other studies have noted a "significant" decline in wildlife populations and loss of natural habitats. (7)

This article analyses how policy-makers within the country and throughout the region can best confront environmental degradation in Myanmar. Based on an extensive review of the academic literature published mostly in the past ten years, it addresses two questions: first, what are Myanmar's most pressing environmental conservation concerns?; and second, what can domestic and regional policy-makers do to rapidly address and overcome these concerns?

Country Background

Myanmar is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. It is home to roughly 60 million people spread cross seven divisions and seven states, with the ruling elite of Burman ethnicity with seven other major ethnic nationalities: Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mort and Shan. (8) In indicators as diverse as life expectancy and infant mortality to the number of paved roads and power plants per capita, it ranks behind every other country in Asia. In the last count in the early 2000s, it had only 0.34 telephones per 100 inhabitants. (9) It is primarily an agrarian and rural country, with the agricultural sector employing 64 per cent of the labour force and responsible for 48 per cent of GDP; the industrial sector accounts for only 10 per cent of labour and 17 per cent of GDP. (10)

Although recent events such the introduction of political and economic reforms, the destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and the crackdown on "Saffron" protesters in 2007 have tended to dominate media coverage and academic discussions of Myanmar, (11) its natural resources and network of protected areas are a central component of its agrarian economy and, as such, need to be understood prior to any assessment of challenges and solutions. As the pages to come show, their forests and conservation areas sit front and centre in national campaigns to alleviate rural poverty. Moreover, Myanmar is a biodiversity hotspot and has some of the rarest and most interesting flora and fauna found within all of Asia. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.