Following historic elections, many foreign powers have relaxed or lifted sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma. But the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) warns that the end of sanctions presents Myanmar and the world with a choice: further plundering of the country’s forests for outside markets or large-scale forestry reform.
“After half a century of corruption and rule by the military and their business associates, Burma simply has no credible infrastructure through which we can verify the legality and sustainability of its timber exports,” explains EIA Head of Forests Faith Doherty in a press release. “What this historic moment does represent, however, is a unique opportunity to establish a role for civil society in Burma. It must be part of any reform that creates the very infrastructure needed to ensure the invaluable resources of the country’s forests are not squandered for the financial gain of a few.”
Logging, often illegal, has already plundered much of Myanmar’s forests. Between 1990 and 2005 the country lost 18 percent of its total forests to logging, agriculture, and fuel wood collection, giving it one of the world’s highest deforestation records. Currently, less than one percent of Myanmar is under protection.
Raw logs from Myanmar are usually exported to China. The raw wood is then crafted into finished products, which are finally traded to Europe and the U.S. for cheap consumption. According to another NGO, Global Witness, up to half of the wood imported into China is illegal.
“Illegal logging and destructive forest conversion are hand-in-hand with corruption, crime, cronyism and a multitude of other societal ills suffered by the people of Burma for so long,” says Doherty. Logging has also raised conflict between local ethnic groups and the Myanmar government, an issue that the EIA says could lead to government instability at this crucial time.
“There are no safeguards at all in place in Burma. Its forests are in crisis, as are the people who rely on them for their livelihoods and as a life-sustaining resource,” says Doherty. “Burma needs help, and addressing the timber trade without acknowledging the serious governance challenges that come with it would be a massive opportunity lost.”
According to the World Bank, a football field-sized forest is lost every two seconds to illegal logging.
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