Formerly called the Rice bowl of Asia, Burma’s economy and environment have deteriorated to
such an extent that over the past 3 ½ decades, Burma has become one of the world’s poorest
countries. One of the main reasons for this is because the military regime, currently calling itself the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), tightly controls the economy and therefore pockets all foreign
investment revenue for itself.
The massive military weapons purchases over the years since 1988 were made possible largely
by foreign investment and trade revenues. In order to acquire the foreign currency needed to
maintain its illegitimate hold on power, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC),
the name of the regime at the time, sold huge logging, fishing and gem concessions to other
countries and multinational corporations. Exploiting Burma’s environment for capital gain has
been just one more element in the junta’s formula for survival.
Farmers are forced to produce twice or three times the amount of crops traditionally grown, for
the military’s profit and at the expense of their own livelihoods. Overuse of the soil leads to
depletion and renders it un-arable. Since the junta opened up Burma’s doors to foreign
investment in 1988, mining and gas joint venture operations (see campaigns) have skyrocketed without any environmental regulation or regard to environmental
impact. Burma’s forests, especially those with valuable teak trees, continue to be methodically
cut down by foreign loggers, again for the junta’s profit. In 1992-93, Burma extracted nearly one
million cubic tons of teak logs with state owned or contracted operations, up from 700,000 in
1983. Also Burma’s abundant fish stocks are continuously looted for the military’s economic
gain, leaving many local people, who’s livelihood was fishing, impoverished.
For more information on the teak connection, please contact the Philadelphia Burma Roundtable
The Salween Dam is just one of the proposed massive hydroelectric projects on Burma’s great
rivers, which would submerge rain forests that have for centuries been home to indigenous
peoples and habitat for numerous endangered plant life. The project would also displace
thousands of villagers and threaten the fisheries, watersheds and ecosystems on which they
The most significant cause of human rights violations and environment destruction in Burma today is the construction of the
Yadana natural gas pipeline to Thailand by a consortium of oil companies including the state oil
company of Burma, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprises, (MOGE) and two transnational oil
companies, Unocal and Total. (see Total Denial)
In Burma the gas pipeline cuts through precious ecosystems including dense tropical forest,
disrupting the habitat of rare animals such as tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. It has destroyed
wetland areas and demolished a wide swath of forest. Logging companies and poachers
(including Burmese soldiers hunting elephants) are now able to enter the militarily secured area.
A wildlife sanctuary established years ago by ethnic Karen rebels is in danger of clear-cutting.
On the Thai side of the border, the pipeline cuts through a rainforest region, defying the protests
of Thai environmentalists who objected to its encroachment on protected forests and its danger to
some of the last herds of wild Asian elephants. Unocal’s unwillingness to rein in its partners is
part of a pattern of irresponsibility, commented Bhinand Jotirosaranee, one of the Thai protest leaders. They are accountable for this environmental destruction, and are showing disrespect to
local people who have cherished elephants for centuries. Litigation is being undertaken in
Thailand regarding the pipeline project’s corruption of Thai environmental protection laws.
See article Update of Unocal Lawsuit