Myanmar Govt launches Environmental Information Portal

The Ministry of Environment Conservation and Forests (MOECAF) has launched an environmental information portal. Supported by the ADB and GMS-EOC, the portal aims to provide information on environmental matters.

“The Myanmar Environmental Information Portal (MEIP) is a one stop shop for anything related to environment in Myanmar. It aims to capture the complete picture of environmental state, trend and decision making in Myanmar.

The information is organized in four categories – interactive charts, maps, e-library and news – and can be accessed quickyly through a combination of thematic menu’s, filters and search functions.

The MEIP is managed and maintained by the MOECAF Environmental Conservation Department with contributions from all Myanmar government organizations. The ADB GMS Core Environment Program provides technical and capacity support.”

The Portal can be accessed at http://meip.gms-eoc.org:8080

 

 

Bangkok EIA Workshop Report now available online

The Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) and Asian Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network  (AECEN) in December 2014 gathered EIA practitioners from government and civil society to discuss EIA policy and practice as a tool for advancing sustainable development. Read about highlights and lessons learned in the project report. http://www.aecen.org/events/environmental-impact-assessment-policy-and-practice-mekong-region-safeguarding-sustainable-de

Presentation to Myanmar MOECAF, September 2014

EIA Presentation

Stimson Centre/NREM Conference in Chiang Rai

Stimson Centre/NREM Workshop

The Stimson Centre partnered with Natural Resources and Environmental Management Centre at Mae Fah Leung University to a hold a workshop on Solutions to Equitable Hydropower Development Planning in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Matthew Baird, Environmental Counsel, presented a paper on the Legal Issues Surrounding the Mekong Main Stream Dams. This paper highlighted the increasing legal and financial risk for Mekong River hydro-power, including the Xayaburi Dam, as a consequence of the developments of environmental law in Thailand and also the development of EIA and Transboundary EIA in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and China.

Abstract of paper

The development of large-scale hydro-power faces many challenges. One of the significant legal risks is associated with the failure of the project proponent to undertake adequate assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the hydro-power project. Compliance with domestic Environmental Impact Assessment Regimes is, of course, a fundamental prerequisite for project approval and is also required by IFC in order to secure funding. However the consequences for the failure of a project to fully comply with EIA law is not so clear.

Recent decision in Thailand highlight a growing legal risk associated with the failure to comply with domestic legal obligations. Both the decision on the Stop-Global Warming Association against the 300 THB Billion Flood Mitigation Scheme in 2013 and the recent 2014 decision on the legal challenge to the Xayaburi Power Purchase Agreement has shown that failure to comply with domestic EIA laws can have significant legal and financial repercussions.

An analysis of these decisions leads to the overwhelming conclusion that the legal and financial risk for main-stream dams is increasing. The significance of that risk raises doubt as to the viability of future main-stream dams. One analysis of the current legal environment may also raise the question of lender-liability for environmental and social harm, whereby the banks and other financial institutions will be required to provide compensation for such harm.

In the context of the Mekong River Basin a further legal risk is the development of Transboundary EIA obligations. Under the present arrangements for the Mekong River Commission, there is a need for Prior Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement. The failure of host-countries to following these procedures can also increase the legal risk for proponents, construction companies and financial institutions.

 

 

Presentation on Myanmar EIA Laws and Procedures to PEACE Law Academy

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I had the great pleasure of addressing the Peace Law Academy in Mae Sot, Thailand on 276 June 2014. The 40 students from all across Myanmar, are at the Peace Law Academy for a 12 month training program. This program covers many different aspects of legal training, including constitutional law, criminal law and also environmental law. It was a great honour to be able to spend some time with a great group of future leaders.

Leaders, royals work to stop illegal wildlife trade threatening elephants, rhinos

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
February 11, 2014 — Updated 1913 GMT (0313 HKT)

London (CNN) — The illegal wildlife trade takes the lives of 100 elephants a day, and rhino poaching increased by 5,000% between 2007 and 2012.

The six remaining subspecies of tiger are endangered, two of them critically. Three other tiger subspecies are already extinct.

Statistics like these are the reason it’s time to treat the effort to stop the illegal wildlife trade “like a battle, because it is precisely that,” says Britain’s Prince Charles.

He and his son, Prince William, are among the high-profile global guests due to take part in the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade on Thursday, hosted by the UK government.

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/11/world/europe/uk-illegal-wildlife-summit/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

 

edition.cnn.com/2014/02/11/world/europe/uk-illegal-wildlife-summit/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

A three-storey limitation on new buildings meant to preserve a view of Shwedagon pagoda will block several high-rise projects along the river

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Tuesday, 11 February 2014              Copyright © 2014 The Myanmar Times. All rights reserved.

A BAN on high-rise buildings that block the view of Yangon’s iconic Shwedagon pagoda has forced Myanmar Port Authority (MPA) to abandon parts of its waterfront development plan, government officials said.

The plan, drawn up in 2012, envisaged upgrading port facilities as well as the construction of a shopping mall, including a number of 10- and 12-storey buildings, for which some tenders have already been invited.

However in the last week of January YCDC submitted the draft Yangon Land Use and Buildings Height Zoning Plans to parliament for approval. The plan would limit building heights along the waterfront to three storeys.

“According to YCDC, no buildings higher than three storeys can be built on the waterfront, especially in Botahtaung, Pansodan port and the Nan Thi Dar jetty area because tall buildings block the views of the city’s sights. So we have to stop some projects,” U Htein Lin, a spokesperson for Myanmar Port Authority, told The Myanmar Times.

Ministry of Construction planner Daw Hlaing Maw Oo said that YCDC imposed the three-storey limit in some waterfront areas to ensure that visitors entering the city along the Yangon River could see Shwedagon pagoda.

“Shwedagon is the main image of Yangon. It should be visible from Botahtaung and Pansodan Port, and high-rise buildings would block the view,” she said.

The YCDC already has in place construction height limits in various parts of the city to protect views of the iconic pagoda. New buildings in Dagon township in particular are generally capped at six storeys to protect the prime views.

Currently, building heights from Sule Pagoda to the Botahtaung waterfront area are capped at three stories. The city stretch includes the Water Front Special Development Zone, Urban Heritage Conservation Are and the so-called “green” and “blue” zones in Botahtung and Kyauktada townships.

“We will not allow high buildings of government projects or other private construction if they are contained in these three zones,” U Nay Win, deputy director of the building department of YCDC, said. “If [construction is] not in these three zones or even the two townships, they can build high-rises.”

The original port authority plan covered parts of the downtown Botahtaung, Pansodan, Latha, Lanmadaw and Ahlone townships, said U Nay Win.

“We limited building height in order to preserve urban resources and to retain the city’s image. There is a place elsewhere for high-rise buildings,” he said.

But the ban will hamper the development of the port area, said MPA engineer U Mya Than.

“We want to develop the port area to international standards to maximise revenues. If we can’t carry out the development plan, it could cost us profit,” he said, adding that the port authority had to explain the reasons for the ban to companies who had received

tenders.

MPA has not yet started any construction in this area for high -rise buildings as the tender and selection process for development companies is still under way. MPA sources said that while plans for high rise construction had already been drawn up, planning would be paused while the new building heights passed through parliament.

MPA sources said the drastically reduced building height would cause the authority to go back to the drawing board with its budget for the ambitious waterfront development.

Planned construction in the area included an extended river bank in Botahtaung area to create about 100 feet (30 metres) of additional land into the Yangon River to build a resort and public park. The Sule Port was scheduled for an international-standard upgrade to allow bigger container ships to dock and nearby the Nan Thi Dar jetty was in line for a high-class makeover to house modern residential and commercial spaces.

 

Copyright © 2014 The Myanmar Times. All rights reserved.

View of the Bagan Plains.

View of Bagan, Myanmar

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Yangon’s heritage The way the old capital crumbles: The Economist

The Economist

 

IN THE unlit streets of Yangon the old buildings loom like phantoms from another time and place. On their crumbling facades grime, mildew and the seedlings of various trees and ferns jostle for space. Despite it all, they are standing, as they have been for more than a century, like defiant, alien giants, unable or unwilling to shift.

This was perhaps the intention of the British builders who put these grand old offices in this tropical setting. The buildings became a mark of their wealth and power, and of the ambition to build an empire on which the sun would never set. On more recent mornings however, as the city outside stirs to life, the sound of sledge hammers is never far off.

Since Myanmar’s new government has embraced political and economic reform—and most Western countries lifted sanctions—its commercial centre has become a hot destination for international investors. The acute need for office space, luxury apartments and hotels has inflated property prices and led to a building boom.

Every time I visit Yangon more buildings have disappeared, sometimes even entire streets. And as the cityscape changes, it is hard not to feel nostalgic.

In a region that has lost much of its architectural heritage Yangon is the last city to have its colonial core intact. This is not the result of any deliberate policy; simply many years of stagnancy and neglect. The situation became more dramatic after 2005, when the military junta then ruling the country moved the capital to Naypyidaw, some 320km (200 miles) north of Yangon. The abandoned colonial-era administrative buildings became even more dilapidated.

But even today, walking through the streets of Yangon’s business district, it is not too hard to imagine the cosmopolitan atmosphere the whole city once exuded. Even before 1852 when the British incorporated Rangoon, as they called the town, into the Raj, it had been a regional pilgrimage centre. Its main draw then was the golden Shwedagon pagoda, which still dominates the city’s skyline.

After the British plundered the Shwedagon, which they occupied as a military base, they rebuilt the lower section of the town on a geometrical grid. In the following years Yangon became a nexus of trade and one of the busiest ports in the British empire.

The British Raj frowned upon mixing up styles within a single city’s architecture. They told their consulting architect James Ransome “not to put up any Mongrel buildings” and instructed him to style “Calcutta Classic, Bombay Gothic, Madras Saracenic, Rangoon Renaissance”. Though some of these styles were themselves hybrid, famous British architects took pains to design buildings for Yangon that would not stand out of place in central London or Liverpool.

The busy port attracted people from around the world. At the beginning of the 20th century there were more immigrants than local people living in Yangon’s business district. They brought with them their own customs and religions. Their mosques, churches and even a synagogue stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras, together outnumbering the Buddhist pagodas.

The most prestigious business address was Lower Pansodan street (then called Phayre street). Big banks, offices and department stores occupied imposing buildings. One of the most famous was named for the Sofaer family, the Jewish traders from Baghdad who built it. In its heyday the Sofaer building housed shops that sold imported luxuries like liqueurs and cigarettes; a Viennese coffee shop; a Japanese hospital; and the Reuters news agency.

The building is, like many others, currently in a desperate state of disrepair. Squatters live in the lift shaft, a teashop owner runs his café in one of the corridors and on the top floor families crowd squalid rooms.

Another reminder of the British Raj is the Pegu Club. Its teak halls were once a favourite hangout for British officers, the kind of “whites only” places George Orwell describes in “Burmese Days”. It was at the Pegu Club that Rudyard Kipling lunched and listened to soldiers who told him the stories that later would inspire his famous “Road to Mandalay” poem. Now the fans hang silent in the dining rooms and the leaks from the roof have rotted the parquet floors.

The Pegu Club, the Sofaer and another 187 buildings, including the historically important Secretariat, are officially listed for conservation. Some have already been leased to developers who plan to turn them into posh hotels and modern offices. But for the Yangon Heritage Trust, which has been advocating a comprehensive zoning plan, saving a few iconic buildings is not enough. Their vision is to modernise the town while preserving its character. This means, says Thant Myint-U, the Trust’s founder and chairman, that not only the architecture but also the social fabric of the town should be taken into account in any future plans.

In the race against time to safeguard Yangon’s heritage the next few years will be critical. If a balanced development plan, backed by zoning and conservation laws, is put in place and implemented, Yangon could become a great tourist destination. But if developers are given free play, and ruthless modernisation mirrors the rest of the region, Yangon could start to look like any other big city in South-East Asia.

Visit to Yangon Heritage Trust Offices

Merchant Street in Rangoon is seen in this 19th century photograph, now on display at the Yangon Heritage Trust on Pansodan Street . (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

On Monday 27 January 2014, I visited the offices of the Yangon Heritage Trust.  As a long-time member of the National Trust (NSW) and a Life-member of the Hunters Hill Trust, I am completely supportive of the attempts by the YHT to protect and preserve the heritage values of Yangon.

An exhibition of historic photos is on display at the Offices of the YHT, 22-24 Pansodan Street, Yangon until February 28th.

Merchant Street in Rangoon is seen in this 19th century photograph, now on display at the Yangon Heritage Trust on Pansodan Street . (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

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