Resource Federalism: Roadmap for Decentralised Governance of Burma’s Natural Heritage

While Burma’s ethnic states are blessed with a wealth of natural resources and biodiversity, they have been cursed by the unsustainable extraction and sale of those resources, which has fuelled armed conflict. Instituting a system of devolved federal management of natural resources can play a key role in resolving conflict and building a lasting peace in Burma.

Despite some ceasefires on paper, Burma remains in a state of conflict. Ongoing offensives in Kachin and Shan states alone have left hundreds of thousands homeless. Fundamental calls for self-determination have gone unheeded in a lack of political dialogue to end decades of fighting.

Military offensives into resource-rich ethnic areas have expanded Burma Army presence in places previously controlled by de-facto ethnic governments. This has facilitated the rapid increase in the extraction and sale of natural resources in recent years. Resource projects have collected huge revenues for the army and the central government, but have not benefited local populations.

Constitutional powers place natural resource ownership, control, and management fully in the hands of the central government. This report analyzes six key natural resources: forests, land, water, minerals, gems, and oil and gas. In each sector, a series of laws and practices prevent affected peoples from having a say in their own development: they cannot assess, provide input into, or censure the management of their natural resources. Ethnic women, particularly in rural areas, are doubly marginalized from natural resource governance.

Centralised resource control is fanning the flames of discontent and anger. Resource projects are causing environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and loss of livelihoods, with unique impacts on women. Extracting and exporting raw, often non-renewable, resources is further inflicting an incalculable liability on future generations. Resources used to produce energy are consistently prioritised for export, contributing to the development of neighboring countries while resource-rich areas remain in the dark.

People from across the country have staged protests and demonstrations, calling for an end to destructive resource exploitation and for constitutional rights to own, control, and manage their own resources. Ethnic political parties and armed groups are standing with the people in these demands. Devolved decision-making offers stronger accountability and representation at all levels of government, an opportunity for local input and control, benefits to local populations, and environmental sustainability.

Burma does not need to start from zero in developing devolved governance structures. Local communities have managed lands, water, and forests with sustainable customary practices for generations, and de-facto governments have supported such practices with formal structures and laws.

Based on decades of grassroots work by members of the Burma Environmental Working Group, the report presents a way out of conflict and toward a more sustainable management of natural resources under a federal system of governance. The proposed roadmap seeks to safeguard rights and tenure, safeguard against environmental destruction, and prevent the escalation of conflict. Steps are intended to build the capacity of local, representative governments to establish and implement development priorities appropriate for their respective populations. It is hoped that this will not only strengthen opportunities for lasting peace but may also pave the way for sustainable economic development.

Download full report in English HERE.

အစီရင္ခံစာ ျမန္မာဘာသာကုိ ဤေနရာတြင္ ရယူႏုိင္သည္။

Download the report briefer HERE.

အစီရင္ခံစာ အႏွစ္ခ်ဳပ္ ျမန္မာဘာသာကုိ ဤေနရာတြင္ ရယူႏုိင္သည္။

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