According to WWF, Myanmar has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. In the publication by Hla Hla Win on Environmental Awareness and Environmental Education in Myanmar, 3,459,475 acres of forests has been already lost because people depend on excessive farming and ploughing. Wood fuel extraction is the biggest single demand on forest biomass, significantly greater than timber. Fuelwood is the primary fuel for as much as 95% of rural domestic energy needs, and estimations range between 60 to 80 percent of total energy consumption. There has been an increase in demand in the market for fuel timber and non-wood forest products such as orchids, bat guano, and cane. Thus, it leads to a dwindling biodiversity in tidal forests, and the most striking case is mining and illegal poaching of wild animals, especially elephants for their tusks and deer.
Waste dumping from industries without any compaction, air, river and sea water contamination, methane production, release of greenhouse gas and potential landfill fires are another key environmental pollution in Myanmar. Pollutants in air and water put the lives of children aged from 5 to 14 years old at risk due to malnutrition, lung and cardiovascular disease, and other behavioral risks. In 2017, air pollution has attributed to more than 45,000 deaths in Myanmar. Air pollution is higher than other countries in the Asian region and is almost twice the average of Southeast Asia (World Bank).
According to the ASEAN Post, under Su Kyi’s administration, in 2019, the government introduced two new policies which are to raise awareness of extreme weather and other climate change events that could threaten the country’s economic and social development. The Myanmar Climate Change Strategy 2018-2030 was drafted by the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) with support and assistance from other organizations. The long term goal is to achieve climate-resilience and a low-carbon growth pathway to support inclusive and sustainable development by 2030. Having said that, reports state that Myanmar government is struggling with a sustainable development plan and need resources and effective rules and regulations. Thus, I doubt the efficiency of the government’s efforts on climate change issue which needs concrete plans and effective implementation. Under the given political and economic hardship in Myanmar under the military coup for four months, I perceive it will be more challenging for Climate Change development which includes an increase in corruption for illegal ploughing, excessive farming resulting deforestation, potentially resulting more of the damage and depletion of natural resources in the future. However, if there is likely that the democracy wins over the military authoritarian regime sooner, it is evident that positive effects will outweigh the negative consequences in 2050 because only the democracy can bring benefits to Myanmar in every aspect, while the military will be looking for its own profits like before.
Since Nargis Cyclone, a large number of INGOs and NGOs started to establish in Myanmar for humanitarian projects specially to aid cyclone refugees. There have been a greater number of NGOs and CSOs after 2015 general election and are given more autonomy and freedom. In almost every sector, especially in social, education, health and climate change, the role of CSOs play a large role, even reaching rural and remote areas. Among them, Conyet Create and Spectrum organizations are university-focused climate change and environmental programs. For sustainability programs and environmental protection in private sectors, FMI also provides opportunities for new roles and activities in local companies. At the same time, the role of youth is also given a more important role under NLD’s administration that they come to participate in leading sectors, and in self- and social development activities. Youth programs, most popularly, ’Green City’ and ‘YSEALI Seeds for the Future’ empower the youth in response to climate change issues by providing grants and capacity-buildings. There are climate change talk shows, tree planting activities, recycling projects, and other types of climate campaigns in different places both online and in-person.
Youth of Myanmar are already prone to experiencing poor environmental negative effects, such as global warming, air and water pollution, scarcity of water sources, sea level rising, and mass migration to urban areas. Potential threats that the youth and CSOs will be dealing with would be the increasing industries and private companies that expand their industries in the place of forests, and over harvesting of farmers. Thus, the role of government is also important to implement effective laws, rules and regulations which are to protect the mother nature, but also empower the role of youth and CSO in taking actions and responsibilities for climate change initiatives. In terms of opportunities, by providing information, training, technology, science or law, youth, individually or collaboratively with the NGOs, will be able to call on their government to take actions, and in the future, emerging climate change leaders and environmental activists will have a larger impact from solutions to climate change problems.
photo by The Myanmar Times