Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kachin state, waiting for an ecological disaster

By Shyamal Sarkar

Kachin State in northern Burma is sitting on a powder keg of an ecological disaster. From impending dam related devastation to the rape of the environment in terms of incalculable damage to the flora and fauna has rendered the state extremely vulnerable. Rampant felling of trees and the wanton killing of myriad wildlife for filthy lucre for export to China has led to a serious situation which is far from being addressed.

Anti-Myitsone, Irrawaddy River dam poster was pasted in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state in northern Burma in November, 2007.

For instance a series of earth quakes in China's southwest Yunnan province, bordering Burma has thrown up the spectre of future Chinese-made dam disasters in northern Burma. There was an earthquake of 4.9 magnitude on the Richter scale in Ruili (Shweli) on the China-Burma border last week. China's Yunnan province and Kachin state in northern Burma sit on the same earth quake fault line.

China and Burma are into construction of three dams for hydropower projects in Taping River (also called Dapain River in China) in Kachin state. The Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) based on the Sino-Burma border nurses fears that if the three dams on Taping River should burst due to earth quakes originating from Yunnan province, the floods will threaten the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in Myothit, Momauk (N'Mawk) and Bhamo (Manmaw).

The Burma-Asia World Company and China's China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) are jointly gearing up to construct dams in Myitsone, the Mali-N'Mai River confluence, 10 miles north of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state and Chibwe in N'Mai River. There will be a total of seven dam projects in Mali and N'Mai Rivers in Kachin state leading to not only displacement of people but raising the chances of disasters and severe damage to the environment.

Natural disasters man made or otherwise apart, the ecology of Kachin state is being systematically destroyed due to rampant logging where trees by the thousands are being felled.

Rampant logging is one of biggest enemies of Kachin state and big money comes into play in the timber business which is denuding the forest cover of the state and ruining the ecology. In order to allow felling of trees bribes are paid on a monthly basis. Everyone from the Burmese Army to the police and government officials have their palms greased by Chinese timber businessmen in Kachin state.

Body parts of different wild animals in Kachin state are mainly sold in the markets on China-Burma border.

Chinese loggers and log trucks in hordes from China's northwest Yunnan province arrived in the forests in Bhamo District in Kachin state in early November. At the last count there were 300 Chinese trucks and about 1,000 Chinese loggers. Hardwood and softwood is being felled non-stop and transported to the Sino-Burma border day and night. The lucrative trade that the Chinese are into is spelling the death knell of Kachin state's forest cover.

The heavy logging underway is a direct fall out of a deal struck between the Northern Command commander Maj-Gen Soe Win and local Chinese-Burmese timber businessman Lee Maw Yung. Bhamo District Military Strategic Command commander Lt-Col. Khin Maung Maung and Northern Command commander Maj-Gen Soe Win are said to receive the largest slice of bribes from Chinese timber businessmen. Even loss of life means nothing when it comes to timber trade for on December 15, a villager of Kone Ting in Mansi Township also called Manje in Kachin was shot dead in a dispute over logging between the Kone Ting villagers and timber-logger-thieves close to Chinese loggers.

Commander Maj-Gen Soe Win granted permission to export timber to China through the border checkpoints controlled by the two Kachin ceasefire groups--- Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and Lasang Awng Wa Ceasefire Group (LAWCG) in September after he was appointed as the new commander of Northern Command in June.

While China officially stopped importing timber from northern Burma in late 2005 Chinese timber businessmen had never really stopped timber felling. Now China has resumed importing timber from Kachin state as of early December 2008.

As if denudation of forest cover was not enough, in northern Burma there is a raging trade in elephant body parts. The pachyderms are being killed for its ivory and skin for over a decade by local people. The shocking trade continues unhindered with prices in Kachin state for a set of tusks weighing between one to two Viss at 500,000 Kyat (US $ 397) to 600,000 Kyat (US $ 476). It is over 1.5 million Kyat for a set of tusks weighing over 10 Viss (1Viss = 1.6 Kilograms in Burmese measurement in terms of weight). Again one Viss of dry elephant skin is valued at over 40,000 Kyat (US $32). An elephant has at least over 100 Viss of skin so hunters earn over 4 million Kyat just from the skin. Ivory is mainly exported to Thailand and some to China but elephant skin mainly goes to China for traditional treatment. Here again bribes are offered in abundance to regime functionaries. There are only about 1,000 wild elephants where as the figure in 1994 was over 3,000 in Kachin state.

Chinese log trucks on the China-Burma border in northern Burma.

It would seem that conservation of wild life is an alien concept in Burma. Less than a month ago 2,000 snakes being transported in a truck were seized by special branch policemen in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state.

The reptiles were being exported to China where demand for all varieties of wild animals as food items is high. The snakes were in hundreds of wooden boxes. While some of the reptiles had died the rest were killed by the police and fire brigade personnel. They beat and set the reptiles, which included vipers, cobras and Boa Constrictors on fire without batting an eyelid.

China imports all kinds of wild animals from Kachin state. Leopards and tigers face the danger of extinction. The Chinese import the animals for its flesh, skin, horns, bones and other body parts.

The damage caused to the ecology and the environment is also immense because of rampant trapping and export of wild animals to China for food. Environmentalists are concerned. But the military junta pays no heed to such wanton destruction for money is to be made from all this.

The one thing that the Burmese generals do not do, is think of future generations, even their own, in terms of environment and ecology.

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