View Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/07/25/science-as-myanmar-environment_8582291.html
BANGKOK — The environment of military-dominated Myanmar, often described as Asia’s last bio-diversity frontier, is being degraded as China and other neighbors rush to use its natural resources with few governmental safeguards, exiled activists said Monday.
Projects to harvest lucrative timber, build hydropower dams and mine precious gems and minerals are also sparking armed conflict in ethnic minority areas, the activists said.
Myanmar’s government did not respond to the allegations, but a senior official said a powerful environmental committee must approve all private enterprise related to natural resources.
The official cited a ban on plastic bags and extensive planting of trees as examples of the government’s commitment to the environment. The official spoke on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The Burma Environmental Working Group, a coalition of 10 organizations in exile, said in its report that large dams were being built in Myanmar with little regard to their environmental or social impacts. Myanmar was also plagued by unregulated mining, rampant deforestation, massive agricultural concessions and illegal wildlife trafficking, the group said.
The group told a news conference that Myanmar’s current civilian government, which replaced decades-long military rule earlier this year, has made no advances to improve the environment.
“Foreign direct investment in Burma’s natural environment is skyrocketing, but there is no corresponding attention to environmental protection, multiethnic participation, and sustainable development,” coalition spokesman Paul Sein Twa said. Myamnar’s former name is Burma.
Foreign investment last year reached a record $20 billion, Myanmar says. China leads the way, while Hong Kong, Thailand and India are other major investors. Almost all of the investment aims to use Myanmar’s natural resources.
For decades, several ethnic groups have waged guerrilla war for greater autonomy, including more control over resources in their regions. Last month, fighting broke out between the 8,000-strong Kachin militia and the government.
The fighting was directly related to large dams and other mega-projects in Kachin State, said Naw La of the Kachin Development Network Group. Most were initiated by China, which has long developed the area’s once-rich forests and jade deposits.
“Control over natural resources is a major cause of conflict in Burma’s ethnic areas, where the majority of the country’s economically viable resources are located,” Paul Sein Twa said.
He said that two months before the recent fighting erupted, the Kachin Independence Organization issued a strong protest about the Myitsone dam, located in the Kachin cultural heartland and set to flood an area the size of Singapore. The $3.6 billion dam is being built by China.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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