Ministry to Launch Environment Protection System Next Month

By Tin Htet Paing 19 February 2015

RANGOON — After years of delay, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry expects to approve a set of environmental quality guidelines by the end of March, officials said on Wednesday.

The guidelines will cover the forestry, oil and gas, chemical production, agriculture, mining, energy, infrastructure and food processing sectors, officially establishing a comprehensive set of environmental guidelines for Burma’s largest industries.

The ministry will seek input from environment experts, NGOs and other government ministries before the draft guidelines are publicly released.

“We started drafting the guidelines last February with the assistance of the Environmental Operations Center of the Asian Development Bank,” said Deputy Director-General Hla Maung Thein, of the ministry’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Burma’s parliament passed an Environmental Conservation Law in April 2012 giving the ministry wide-ranging authority monitor pollution, devise environmental education programs and assess the environmental impact of development projects. The law gives the ministry power over many project approvals—although some rejections will need approval from Naypyidaw—and oversight of punitive actions against firms that fall short of environmental standards.

Environmentalists have said that the law, amended with subsequent bylaws last year, is too weak, and have called for the ministry to enforce strict regulations on industry activity, noting that Burma is the only country in the region with no comprehensive plans for environmental conservation.

U Ohn, chairman of the Forest Resources Environment Development and Conservation Association, told The Irrawaddy he saw room for improvement in the ministry’s draft framework.

“There are many guidelines. Some are good and some need to be improved,” he said. “But, half a loaf is better than no bread. If [Burma] missed this chance, the country would face real trouble in the next 50 to 100 years. We are at a critical point. We have to realize this now, otherwise it will be too late.”

After the guidelines are approved, the ministry expects to begin enforcement of quality standards by 2017.