Withering forest areas

A million acres of forest have been wiped out to make way for the construction of 300 dams in Myanmar, according to Tin Aye, a retired director of the Forest Department in the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

He also noted that over 18 million acres of catchment area near the dams need to be preserved.

Catchment areas or drainage basins are important for the dams to operate properly, he said, adding that efforts to preserve catchment areas are still in their initial stages.

At a seminar to launch his research titled “What are the Major Causes of Deforestation in Myanmar?”, Tin Aye said that 90 per cent of illegal logs smuggled through China come from Myanmar. China is the top illegal timber smuggling country in the world, with about Ks 7 billion worth of timber being smuggled annually.

“Myanmar’s timber has been illegally exported not only to China but also other neighbouring countries. Routes used for smuggling should be cut,” said Tin Aye.

“When the government tries to crack down on smuggling, it can only in areas it controls, but not in the border areas because they are controlled by armed groups. Only a few smuggling cases in the border areas have been dealt with by the government. According to a report by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, more than $5.7 billion worth of timber has been smuggled over the last decade. This amount could cover all of Myanmar’s debt,” Tin Aye said.

Within the four fiscal years from 2011-12 to 2014-15 under the new civilian government, a total of 140,000 of metric tonnes of illegal teak and hardwood were seized. In connection with illegal trafficking, at least 250 foreigners and 22,600 Myanmar citizens were arrested. Of 250 arrested foreigners, more than 200 were Chinese citizens.

Most illegal timber in Myanmar’s is exported to China, and most smuggling routes lead to China. Meanwhile Chinese citizens enter Myanmar for illegal logging and resource extraction. In 2013, about 100 Chinese nationals were arrested, but they faced no serious consequences. Therefore, last fiscal year, Chinese citizens continued to enter Myanmar for illegal logging operations. From January 2-4 of this year, more than 100 Chinese nationals were arrested again in connection with smuggling.

The deforestation primarily occurred in central Myanmar, in the Bago Range and in the Shan Hills. Logging in Myanmar exploded under the former junta, as the generals tossed aside sustainable forestry practices in their thirst to cash in on vast natural resources. Experts say an insatiable world appetite for precious hardwoods is threatening rare species and helping to drive deforestation in one of the last major areas of tropical forest in Asia.

The forested area of Myanmar decreased from 70 per cent in 1856 to 52.7 per cent in 1975. The country lost almost 20 per cent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. An update is expected in a report due to be published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2015.

A report by AFP said widespread degradation of the most densely wooded areas means that socalled “closed forest” more than halved in size, from 30.9 million to 13.4 million hectares.

Myanmar is listed among the countries experiencing the most rapid deforestation due to the rise in the illegal trade of forest products, according to the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute.

According to Global Witness’s estimations, the amount of smuggled woods from Myanmar to Yunnan Province in China was about one million tonnes per year before 2006.

Seizures of border contraband seemed to fall after a bilateral agreement against illicit trade was reached. But the Yangon Port continued to serve as an alternative hub for wood smuggling.

Illegal wood trading rose again after 2011. The ruling government permitted exports of about 5.7 million tonnes of teak and hardwood in four years, according to the Myanmar Timber Enterprise.

China recorded importing 10 million cubic metres of round logs from its impoverished neighbour between 2000 and 2013 almost twice Myanmar’s officially registered global export trade of 6.4 million cubic metres for the period, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) campaign group.

Some 84 per cent of logs imported into China went by land, despite longstanding rules barring exports from any other route than through Myanmar’s Yangon and Dawei ports, making them “legally questionable at best and downright illegal at worst,” the EIA said.

Source: The Nation

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