The First Step of a Thousand Miles towards Environmental Governance

by Lwin Maung Maung Swe, Myanmar, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.

Image iconlwin-1-300x190_2.pngIn Myanmar, natural resources are degrading at a record pace as a result of extractive industries, which have been increasingly occurring in the country since the democratic transition in 2010. Even though much has been highlighted about socially responsible business for all investments, these business interests and government priorities in economic development have imposed threats to environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the existing regulatory framework and capacity are too weak to monitor and regulate all of these interests and developments. Therefore, to have a valid and realistic regulatory framework of environmental and social impact assessment has become “A Must” to steer civil society-led environmental monitoring for the environmental sustainability in Myanmar. Moreover, there is not a proper and adequate inventory of its environmental situation to this date in Myanmar. Therefore, EcoDev, a leading environmental organization, has introduced the Environmental Report Card System (ERC), to make a regular environmental assessment by empowering the citizens and enhancing the public participation at all levels of the civil society-led environmental monitoring.

Environmental Report Card
Image iconlwin-2-300x256_2.pngERC is a tool which is designed to determine and outlook the state of the country's natural resources (Forest, Biodiversity, Land, Water, Air) based on people's perceptions, and also to evaluate the performance of local authorities and government departments on how seriously they are undertaking the improvement of the State of Environment (SOE) in given jurisdictional areas. The idea of ERC is based on Environmental Performance Assessment Tools like DPSIR Framework (Driver, Pressure, State, Impact and Response), but by adapting it to the different localities of Myanmar (hereby adding a pillar like Public Participation) to conduct environmental monitoring across the country. Every single pillar is reinforced by the indicators, which were developed in a participatory manner in order to collect the perception index of the people on environmental status in their surroundings.

Where we are
To date, EcoDev can facilitate to have the environmental statuses assessed using the ERC in 60 out of 330 townships in Myanmar. By doing so, community-led environmental monitoring systems could be initiated in those townships. Accordingly, the ERC, the platform for any citizens to explore their experiences and to claim their rights, has given a chance to all citizens to exercise democratic practices by participating in the group discussion.

As a very first year of the ERC implementation, there have been many weaknesses. Some of the major challenges are:

  1. Methodological weakness - The ERC relies particularly on the Complex Procedures (Group Discussion, Participatory Scoring, Calculating the Average Scores and Providing the Anecdotal Explanation).
  2. Comprehensiveness vs. reliability -There are 6 pillars altogether, which are in turn comprised of different indicators. To have a proper balance between the comprehensiveness and the reliability is a challenge.
  3. Too much dependency on peoples' perception - Currently, the ERC has a serious weakness in scientific validity. On the other hand, ERC relies too much on the perceptions of the people in the survey areas.

The Way forward
Image iconlwin-3-294x300_2.pngThe First Myanmar's Environmental Outlook for 2012-2013 could be published based on the data resulted from the assessment; all the more so because there were many weaknesses in the ERC implementation. This Environmental Outlook will be updated every year by highlighting the major environmental problems and threats in the report, while the ERC is being gradually rolled out over the country to promote the democratic practices in the ground by giving all citizens a chance to participate and explore their opinions at all levels of ERC implementation. This is the first step of a thousand miles. However, we do believe that keeping on moving with the current momentum will help us achieve not only the objectives of the ERC but also ensure the resource rights of the peoples for the sustainable development of Myanmar by giving them a playing field for democratic practices.
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