Myanmar has long been a stronghold of bio-diversity in Asia. The rainforests of Myanmar are amongst the most impressive in the world, matched only by the Congo, India and Brazil. Bordered by the Malay Peninsula, the subcontinent of India and the Southeast Asian mainland, it’s little wonder that Myanmar is now considered an iconic location for environmentalists.
Coral reefs, pristine rivers and home to nearly 90% of the region’s bird species have given Myanmar a rich and diversified environment. Environmentalists look at the nearly 40,000 Gurney’s Pitta thriving in Myanmar and compare the situation to Thailand – across the border – where numbers of this magnificent bird have become marginal.
Although Myanmar’s militarist regime has been heavily criticised, it has brought some unintended protection to its environment. Without the extreme development experienced by some of its neighbours, Myanmar has been spared some of the environmental damage brought about by rapid change.
Now with a more open political environment, investors are eager to take advantage of numerous natural attractions and resources. Critics worry that Myanmar’s weak conservation laws and the need for overseas investment will leave it open to environmental damage beyond its ability to cope.
Years of military rule have left Myamar isolated in the international community but the military’s grip is lessening, and reforms instituted by Thien Sien – Myanmar’s president – offer some hope for the future. Pro-democratic candidates have been allowed to stand for parliament and overseas companies are beginning to consider Myanmar as an investment option.
Already investors are looking at opportunities in Myanmar including tourism, property and rubber plantations. Neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have been quick to take advantage but European and U.S. investors are prevented from establishing businesses in Myanmar because of an existing embargo, but this may be reviewed in the future.
As Myanmar becomes a more open society rapid expansion will significantly add to the potential for environmental damage. The view of the International Rivers Network, a US based think tank is that industry will move at a rate that is unsustainable for the environment; its spokesperson Pianporn Deetes maintains that environmental protections are not keeping up with development.
The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society says that Myanmar’s abundant resources could quickly become a problem as the country develops and makes progress. Its spokesman Robert J Tizard claims the natural resources in Myanmar are huge compared to surrounding countries.