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Zomi Library

Zomi Library

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Published by Tg. Thangno

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Published by: Tg. Thangno on May 12, 2010
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08/27/2010

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1
Building an Eco-Just Society in Myanmarfrom an Evangelical Baptist Perspective
Zam Khat Kham
Eco-“In”justice in Myanmar
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a resource-rich country with a strongagricultural base. It also has vast timber, natural gas, and fishery reserves and is a leadingsource of gems and jade. The most productive sectors will continue to be in extractiveindustries, especially oil and gas, mining, and timber with the latter especially causingenvironmental degradation. Building eco-justice in Myanmar is an urgent need.Under the British administration and until the early 1960s, Myanmar was thewealthiest country in Southeast Asia. It was once the world's largest exporter of rice.While under the British rule, Myanmar supplied oil to the world through the Burma OilCompany. Myanmar also had a wealth of natural and labor resources. It produced 75% of the world’s teak and had a highly literate population. The country was believed to be onthe fast track to development. But it is now one of the poorest nations in southeasternAsia, suffering from decades of stagnation, mismanagement and isolation.Myanmar is also the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, with a land areaof 
676,578 sq km (261,227 sq mi
), the 40th-largest in the world (Zambia being the 39th). Awide variation in altitude, latitude and climate creates high diversity of habitats andspecies: nine of the WWF Global 200 Eco-regions lie wholly or partly in Myanmar, andthe World Resources Institute (WRI) has described the Indo-Burmese region as one of the eight hottest hotspots of biodiversity in the world.The country is blessed (or some would even say cursed) with a wealth of naturalresources. Its extensive forests, perhaps the largest intact natural forest ecosystem in the
 
2region, contain commercially-valuable and increasingly rare timber such as Burmeseteak (Tectona grandis), Pyinkado or ironwood (Xylia dolabriformis), Padauk orrosewood (Pterocarpus macrocarpus) and Kanyin (Dipterocarpus spp.). Naturalresources are concentrated along the frontiers with Thailand, China, Bangladesh andIndia, regions mainly inhabited by Myanmar’s numerous minority ethnic groups.Unfortunately, these forests are now being methodically and relentlesslydestroyed, while Myanmar's fisheries are being stripped. New agricultural policiesimposed by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (known from 1988-1997 asthe State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC) force farmers to double andtreble crop rice, ignoring the traditional wisdom of crop rotation and opening the way topotentially disastrous soil depletion and pestilence. Mining and oil and gas operations arebeing rapidly expanded with dangerous disregard to environmental impact.This destruction of Myanmar's environment has been documented in severalinternational reports. But Myanmar's peoples today have absolutely no say in how theircountry's resources are developed. The military closely guards all information, allows nopublic discussion or dissent, and punishes anyone who dares question its developmentpriorities or other policies.Broad swaths of rainforest, especially highly-prized teak forests, were opened toThai loggers to earn foreign exchange and quickly denuded. Forests that for centuriesprovided the livelihood and cultural milieu for many ethnic minority peoples are beingdestroyed at an alarming rate exceeding that of Amazonian rainforests. The massivedeforestation is causing new problems of erosion, floods, and landslides. It is alsothreatening some of the last habitats on earth for endangered animals such as the clouded
 
3leopard, gaur, silvered leaf monkey, tapir, tiger, Asian elephant, and Asian rhinoceros,which even vigorous reforestation projects can never re-establish. There is no indicationthat this logging is slowing.Tragically, none of these issues receives any recognition, discussion or publicityin the media, which are totally state-controlled. Equally disturbing, the environmentalconsequences are largely bypassed in intergovernmental, regional and trading debates onMyanmar's precarious economic development. Yet, the country's social and ecologicalcrisis is deepening, evidenced by the growing poverty of the people and the newphenomenon of "environmental refugees" fleeing their homes.Only very recently did Christian leaders and theologians in Myanmar begin toaddress the environmental and ecological issues from a Christian perspective. Dr. SamuelNgun Ling, Director of the Judson Research Center at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, Yangon, voices the feeling of the people when he says: “Indigenous people inAsia, particularly ethnic peoples in Myanmar have experienced bitter suffering in ourland such as Western colonization, slavery and subjugation, social and religiousdiscriminations, internal exploitation of the minority groups by the dominant andmajority Burman society. In fact, in our search for liberation from oppression andsuffering, to protect our land and natural resources is very crucial and central.”
1
 The words of Dr. Ngun Ling echo the view of an indigenous Indian Christiantheologian, K. C. Abraham, who strongly advocates the preservation of mother earth,saying that “our ecological crisis should be seen as a justice issue. Political and social justice is linked to ecological health. We shall not be able to achieve social justice
1
Samuel Ngun Ling, “World Environmental Day Message,”
 Engagement: Judson Research Center  Bulletin
, Vol. 8 (June, 2007), 45.

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