On this World Environment Day, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) stands in solidarity with the countless many in Burma/Myanmar and beyond whose lives have been disrupted by the consequences of environmental degradation. A healthy environment is one that provides for health and well-being, but when the air, land, and sea fall into disrepair, it is those most intimately connected to the natural environment that suffer most.
In Mon State and other areas of southeastern Burma/Myanmar, local populations are dependent upon the natural environment to earn their livelihoods and meet their daily needs. From farming, and fishing to collecting natural construction materials and traditional medicines, it is the rivers and forests of this region that sustain life. In recent years, HURFOM has documented how a number of large-scale development projects have contributed to environmental degradation in the region, so to better understand what is being done to combat these harms, HURFOM spoke with three individuals who have chosen to devote their time and energy to environmental protection.
For U Soe Tun, one method of protecting the environment involves teaching youth about the rich diversity of plant and animal life found in the forest, and how to be environmentally responsible.
U Soe Tun – Conservation Ranger, Thayarmon Community Forest
“As a Conservation Ranger, my work involves tree planting, protecting the forest that we have now, and wildlife protection. I also spend my time raising awareness about conservation with youth, educating them about the forest, such as the different types of trees, plants, and animals that can be found here, or even how to dispose of garbage properly. I use different methods to do this, like writing songs about the forest, or organizing cycling events.
Here we have a lot of valuable trees like ironwood and timbre, and many valuable plants as well. Through our efforts, we also make sure that the wildlife here aren’t forced to leave because of deforestation. Conservation also means that our water is protected.”
U Myo Min also believes that young people play a central role in environmental protection, and that adults must engage young people in environmental protection directly for them to truly understand what could be lost if action is not taken.
U Myo Min – Dawei Mountain Rescue Team (DMRT)
“I hope everyone is aware of the many critical environmental issues we face around the world today. In my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that these challenges are getting worse day-by-day. Here in Dawei, the environmental impacts we see are directly connected to people’s behavior. Some people know what they should be doing to protect the environment, and they don’t do it, but for others there is still some lack of awareness. This is why the DMRT focuses on awareness raising, so that we can preserve and recover as much of the natural environment as we can.
A lot of our advocacy is targeted at young people, and we also work to organize young people to become involved in conservation and protection activities. We plan study trips and bring groups of youth to mountain and forest areas so they can see the natural environment with their own eyes, but we also point out what has already been lost. Our goal is to help young people realize how important the natural environment is to all of us, how everyone here relies on the forests, and to think about what could happen if the forests continue to disappear.
I hope that young people will continue to become more involved in environmental issues and identify what they can do personally to support the conservation and protection of our environment. This is practical awareness raising. We are sharing the spirit of protection with them.”
For activist Nai Choon, environmental protection is about departing with fossil fuel technologies and extractive industries, and upholding the rule of law.
Nai Choon – Activist, Mawlamyine
“When we see the impacts on the environment, there is no doubt that humans have caused this. We have water, we have air, and we have solar energy, and all of these can be very useful. These are renewable resources. In my opinion, we need to invest and start creating technology to use these types of energy to end the negative impacts we’re having on our environment. We should start with small-scale solutions. If we do this, we can grow and develop without harming the environment.
I totally oppose all mining projects that damage our water resources, our forests, our ecosystems. These activities should be outlawed. There is a law, but it’s not enforced [1992 Forest Law]. I think if one tree is cut down, another two trees should be planted. With ideas like these, we can maintain our forests and protect them from disappearing.”
Taking our cue from U Myo Min, on this World Environment Day HURFOM wishes to invite all of Burma/Myanmar’s peoples to share in the spirit of protection. A healthy environment is what sustains life and affords all of us the opportunity to pursue social, spiritual, and intellectual growth. Whether it is holding corporations to account for their destructive environmental practices, teaching children about our connection to the natural environment, or making a personal commitment to lead a more sustainable life, no effort is too small when environmental protection is our goal. We believe World Environment Day is a day of the people and for the people, and HURFOM commends the courageous efforts of everyone who fights tirelessly to secure our common future.
Original statement here.