For decades, Burma’s military elite plundered the country’s natural resources, undermined social and economic resilience, and destroyed the environment. During a decade of quasi-civilian rule and economic liberalization, the NLD government was able to put some safeguards in place and increase accountability. Since the coup, however, these significant—albeit insufficient—gains have been obliterated.
The junta’s escalation of violence targeting civilians including indigenous communities in forested and rural areas, intensifies climate vulnerability. Burma is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, experiencing cyclones, flooding, drought, landslides, and other disasters.
During the first 18 months of the coup (1 Feb 2021 – 31 Jul 2022) there were 14,076 armed clashes and attacks on civilians —more than in Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan for the same period. These include hundreds of airstrikes targeting civilian communities in environmentally-sensitive zones. The attacks continue.
In April 2021 the junta launched multiple airstrikes on the Salween Peace Park, one of the richest forest ecosystems in Southeast Asia, killing and injuring unarmed indigenous people, forcing thousands to flee their traditional lands.
Space for civil society has shrunk: As of 24 October 2022, the junta had arrested 16,000 people. Those who speak out against the junta’s plunder are threatened, arrested, and even killed. Many environmental defenders have been forced to flee, leaving the true extent of the junta’s environmental damage unknown.
The junta has destroyed Burma’s existing environmental regulations, allowing it and others to profiteer at the expense of the population and the environment. Extractive industries, including those for gold, gemstones, rare earths, and logging are controlled by the junta, junta-sponsored militias, or allied armed organizations. The junta uses this revenue to fund its war on civilians opposing the coup.
The cash-strapped junta has been selling Burma’s natural resources for cheap to sustain itself. Since the coup attempt, the junta has hosted 12 timber auctions, raising over USD 5 million. It has held three gem fairs, the first of which raised USD 18 million.
Junta- and Chinese-owned enterprises dominate the rare earth mining industry. Chinese imports of rare earth minerals hit a record USD 200 million for the month of December 2021. As of March 2022, 2,700 rare earth mining pools had been identified at 300 locations in Kachin State. This mining is particularly hazardous: locals reported water so toxic that entering it would cause severe itching, livestock was poisoned by it, and biodiversity dropped to an all-time low.
Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization rooted in civil society, that maintains strong networks and relationships with grassroots organizations and community-based organizations throughout Myanmar. It acts as a bridge to the international community and international policymakers by amplifying voices from the ground, and advocating for a rights-based policy narrative.