YANGON — U Ohn, a devoted environmentalist, died on Wednesday of natural causes at the age of 91 at his residence in Yangon’s Mayangone Township, according to his family members.
“He was doing well on Tuesday night but didn’t wake up the next morning. I am proud of him as a distinguished environmentalist. We’ve lost a scholar,” Ma Khin Thuzar Tint, granddaughter of U Ohn, told The Irrawaddy.
U Ohn was born in 1927 in a rural village in Sagaing Region. He studied forestry from 1952 to 1956 at Wales University in England.
He served as a director in the Forestry Department from 1957 to 1988, and also worked as a forester in a greening project at Mt. Popa in Mandalay Region.
“He designed plans for the long-term conservation of Mt. Popa starting in 1980. He educated the locals about the importance of forests,” said U Aung Hein, acting secretary of the Mt. Popa-Lovers’ Group, a local non-profit organization engaged in the conservation of the mountain.
“He appointed hunters and those who earn their livelihoods by selling firewood to the forestry department to take care of Mt. Popa. He urged locals to grow perennial trees.”
“And now we’re enjoying the benefits. Otherwise, the forests would be gone because of the expansion of farmland and residential areas. As Popa has forests, it receives higher rainfall than other areas even though it is located in the arid zone in central Myanmar,” he added.
He served as a forestry adviser from 1988 to 1993 and studied forest research, environmental conservation, and national park governance in the United States, Europe, India, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore.
He took the lead role in the establishment of Popa, Alaungdaw Kathapa, Chatthin, and Hlawga national parks and wildlife sanctuaries under the National Park and Nature Conservation program of the United Nations Development Program.
He retired from the Forest Resource Environmental Development Association (FREDA) in 2015 because of his health, but he remained an honorary patron, according to officials of the association.
Founded in 1996, FREDA is a non-profit and non-governmental organization in the forestry sector of Myanmar. It comprises more than 400 members including foresters, botanists, agronomists, zoologists, veterinary scientists, hydro-geologists, engineers, timber businessmen, journalists, artists and more.
U Ohn won the Minamata award presented by Japan in 2005 due to his afforestation efforts at Mt. Popa from 1982 to 1986 and restoration of 2,500 acres of mangrove forests in the Irrawaddy Delta between 1997 and 2007.
He is the first person to win an environmental award in Myanmar. His funeral will be held on Friday at Yayway Cemetery.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.