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Unsheltered Heights: Northern Chin State's Environmental Issues

Project Maje
March 2017

 

A starry frost will come
dropping on the pools
and I'll be astray
on unsheltered heights

- Seamus Heaney, "Sweeney Astray"

Contents

Introduction
Mining
Logging
Biodiversity
Forest Products
Agriculture
Ecotourism
Roads
Energy
Water Supplies and Recycling
Watershed
Climate Change
Background reading with links to articles


Note: Kaleymyo is also called Kalaymyo, Kalay or Kale. Tedim is also called Tiddim. Sagaing Division is also called Sagaing Region. Burma is also called Myanmar.
Click on photos to expand and see captions.

 

Introduction

Chin State, in the northwest of Burma (Myanmar) bordering India and Bangladesh, is often described as the country's poorest and least-developed region. It lacks a railway line or a university and has only one airport. However it is rich in the beauty of its mountain landscape and the vibrant cultures of its indigenous people.

Historically, independent clans protected their mountain ridges, raiding and fighting each other and outsiders. The arrival of Christian missionaries in 1899 led to the enthusiastic embrace of many denominations of Christianity although some traditional practices were retained. The people of Chin State speak numerous dialects but have much in common in their cultures and worldview. Some prefer their local ethnic designation to be their primary identification and others prefer a "Chin" or "Chinland" identity inclusive of all the State's indigenous people. Many welcome a wider "Zoram" identity that encompasses ethnicities of Northeast India and elsewhere in the region.

During Burma's decades of military rule Chin State's Christians were persecuted. Tens of thousands of refugees fled the State to India, Malaysia and beyond. For background on this diaspora see these Project Maje reports:

  • The Last Frontier: Burma's Chinland In Transition, 2012
  • We Built This City: Workers from Burma at Risk in Malaysia, 2007
  • Razor's Edge: Survival Crisis for Refugees from Burma in Delhi, India, 2004
  • Ashes and Tears: Interviews with Refugees from Burma on Guam, 2001
  • A Chin Compendium, 1997

The Chin National Front fought a small scale resistance until a ceasefire in 2012. The ceasefire agreement included an emphasis on "participation of Chin peoples in determining development priorities." The activity of Burma's armed forces, the Tatmadaw, in Chin State has decreased markedly since the ceasefire.

Local and national political parties are now active in northern Chin State. In the 2015 national election, Chin State had the highest voter turnout in the country, with the majority of parliamentary seats going to The National League for Democracy. Many people throughout Chin State feel that Burma's central government neglects the State, which had a population of just 478,690 according to the 2014 census. Young people often leave for other parts of the country or overseas due to lack of educational and job opportunities. Churches provide strong community support systems in Chin State but the dominance of religion may lead some young people to seek alternative ways of life elsewhere.

In November/December 2016, Project Maje's director visited northern Chin State including the towns of Tedim and Falam as well as bordering areas of Sagaing Division to gain an overview of environmental issues currently affecting the region. Project Maje's director worked with Chinland Natural Resources Watch Group (CNRWG) during part of this fact finding visit. CNRWG is an organization of young environmental defenders based in western Sagaing Division. CNRWG members provide people in the region with with research and education for empowerment, publicize issues and lobby on behalf of people affected by resource extraction. Project Maje's director also met with other grassroots groups and individuals affected by environmental issues or involved in research.

Project Maje does not intend to draw an artificial distinction between northern Chin State and southern Chin State. The north is the area that could be visited in the limited time available for research. Chin State's central area (including the State Capital, Hakha) and southern area share many of the same environmental concerns, vulnerabilities and potential for improvement with the north. Project Maje looks forward to conducting research in those regions in the future and will continue to monitor news from all regions of Chin State.

It is important that people from all over Chin State, including government officials, should be concerned about each other's environmental issues. Whether in Tonzang or Paletwa, Matupi or Falam, these issues can affect everyone and the more people support each other, the stronger will be their ability to face these challenges.

Networking and communication are rapidly improving in northern Chin State with ubiquitous smartphones and social media apps. Civil society groups have emphasized grassroots training and organizing on environmental issues. Neighboring Sagaing Division serves as an obvious example of the type of development to be avoided, as with the notorious Letpadaung copper mine, a Chinese-operated project. Land-grabbing and pollution at Letpadaung have been protested by local people and demonstrations were violently suppressed.

Chin State remains highly vulnerable to exploitation through non-sustainable resource extraction, which may be presented as beneficial to the State although it really is not. Burma's environmental regulatory framework is weak and government officials are perceived as easily corrupted. The people of northern Chin State need:

  • transparency on proposed projects or business ventures
  • determination of environmental impacts
  • clear procedures for informed consent
  • land rights protection

Land rights, including traditional land use should be clarified, strengthened and respected. In September 2016, a settlement of people displaced in the 2015 flood disaster was forcibly removed to make way for a teak plantation near Falam. Vulnerable people without established legal rights to land should be treated humanely.

There is an urgent need for scientific expertise in the State. Research studies and other types of academic involvement should be encouraged. Many people from Chin State who have been living overseas for education or work have excellent ideas for preserving and restoring the State's environment while enhancing local livelihood opportunities. They should be encouraged to use their abilities to initiate, consult on and sponsor projects at local and State-wide levels.

The mountain watershed of northern Chin State has been severely damaged by logging, field-clearing and other erosion. In 2015 deadly floods brought on by heavy monsoon rains and Cyclone Komen displaced over a million people in Burma. Hundreds in Chin State lost their homes to landslides and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation reported that over 190,000 acres were flooded on the plains of neighboring Sagaing Division. With climate change more flood-causing conditions are to be expected, so protecting this vital watershed is now more urgent than ever.

Northern Chin State is at a crossroads where its people may be led down the road to resource extraction leading to terrible "natural" disasters or may instead choose a more cautious and well-informed path leading to sustainability, self-sufficiency and watershed protection. To assist with awareness and action, this Project Maje report contains summaries of environmental issues currently affecting northern Chin State. Links to relevant news articles and reports are included.

 


 

Project Maje is an independent information project on Burma's human rights and environmental issues, founded in 1986.

All photographs and the sketch map are by Edith Mirante.

Project Maje thanks Chinland Natural Resources Watch Group, particularly Sianpu for valuable assistance and wishes CNRWG much success in their environmental groundtruthing and advocacy. Many thanks also to Tedim Youth Fellowship and everyone who provided information and assistance in Tedim, Falam, Kaleymyo, Dimzang, Valvum, Tashon, Webulo and elsewhere in the region. Thanks for informative background discussions: Chin Human Rights Organization, Salai Za Uk Ling, Cheery Zahau, F.L.K., T.T., K.M.Z., Bawi Lian, Victor Biak Lian, Pu Lian Uk, Chin National Front members, Thang Nang Lian Thang. And special thanks to C.L. and S.H. and J.P. As always, very grateful to Bruce for this website.

 


 

Mining

Phar Taung (Frog Mountain) The six mountain ranges of Chin State occurred when the Indian Tectonic Plate merged with the Eurasian mainland between 55 and 25 million years ago, also forming the Himalayas. That major geological event produced one of Burma's array of mineral belts: the Chin Hills Nickel-Chromite Belt. This exposed band of ores has been found to include platinum, gold and copper as well as significant nickel and chromite.

Perhaps due to Chin State's rugged terrain and the troves of more accessible mineral resources elsewhere in Burma, mining has never been developed in northern Chin State. But with Burma's emphasis on extractive foreign investment in the early 21st Century there has been some interest in the Chin Hills Nickel-Chromite Belt. In 2011 Burma's Ministry of Mines began to encourage nickel and chromite exploration in Chin State by foreign investors.

On the border of Sagaing Division northwest of Kaleymyo, Tedim Township's Mwe Taung and Phar Taung (Snake Mountain and Frog Mountain) were found to have significant ferronickel ore, which is obtained by mountaintop removal strip mining. This type of mining would pose a significant danger to the watershed of northern Chin State and western Sagaing Division. A large scale ferronickel mining project with a coal-fired processing plant was planned by China's North Mining Investment Co. Ltd. in 2013. The refined nickel was to be exported to China. This project met strong opposition from local residents. "Our first reason for rejecting it was because we love the land. That project is not beneficial for all of Chin State," Salai Kham Za Vungh, a teacher interviewed by Project Maje recalled, "For the whole Chin State they said, ‘you will get 5% of profit.' So little!" CNRWG submitted a formal complaint about the project to Burma's government and North Mining Investment is believed to have withdrawn from operating in the region.

An investor from India's Mizoram State, 3S Company reportedly tried to establish a ferronickel mining project at Mwe Taung and Phar Taung in 2015. Reports that 3S Company may be trying to have the two mountains redesignated as belonging to Sagaing Division (the government of which is more open to mining projects than Chin State's government) are being investigated by CNRWG.

Also close to the Sagaing border (southwest of Kaleymyo) the mountains around the village of Webulo had been explored for mining potential in past decades. Villagers told Project Maje and CNRWG that Japanese mining engineers visited Webulo in late 2016 in search of "nickel, platinum, copper and gold."

In 2014 an Indian company, Karam Chang Thapar reportedly sought partners for exploration for chromite, gold, nickel and limestone in Falam and Tonzang Townships. A March 2015 Myanmar Times article reported that another Indian company, Balasore Alloys applied to explore for chromite in Tonzang Township of northern Chin State.

With threats posted by mining to northern Chin State's mountain environment including land grabbing, deforestation, pollution, erosion and watershed damage, communities must be on the alert for mining project announcements or any signs of mining exploration. As seen in other regions of Burma, particularly neighboring Sagaing Division, the risks of extractive mining for export far outweigh any benefits in jobs or small percentages of shared profit. Networks for reporting on mining projects should be established and political leadership should be encouraged to protect northern Chin State from mining companies.

 

 

Logging

From a distance the mountains of northern Chin State appear to be a densely forested sea of blue-green but on closer examination they are sparsely covered by second or third growth shrubbery and young trees. Less than 30% of Chin State is actually considered forested, with 16% designated Reserved Forest where permission for resource extraction is supposed to be obtained from the government. Officially protected forests in northern Chin State include Natmyaung Reserved Forest, Segyigyaung Reserved Forest and Siyin Reserved Forest.

Deforestation was apparent in northern Chin State as far back as the British Colonial period before World War II. Causes included forest burning for agriculture, hunting and roof thatch production as well as logging for house building (with the Falam area lacking the timber bamboo used elsewhere in Burma.) Writing about the Falam area in the 1930s, H.N.C. Stevenson observed: "The giant trees of the once virgin jungle on the hillsides are nowhere to be found, though in some villages… one can see immense planks measuring over a yard in width and dozens of feet in length, mute reminders of the old days before annexation made destruction of even the most distant forests safe and easy." Burning forests for farms and logging for construction continued in northern Chin State after Burma's Independence and during the country's decades of military rule.

Despite a paucity of roads, timber from northern Chin State's subtropical moist broadleaf forests, including teak, pinkado, padauk and "hill teak" known as "hual" is still cut and transported to Sagaing Division and neighboring India's Manipur State. This timber trade continues in violation of national and statewide regulations. In June 2016 U Ohn Win, Union Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation announced that logging would be banned in Chin State for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Some observers believe corruption allows the timber trade to continue through "secret agreements" with government officials.

The most important local use of wood in northern Chin State is fuel for cooking and heating (Chin State is cold for much of the year.) In 2013 Radio Free Asia quoted Moses Thla Cung of the UN Development Program (UNDP): "An average family cuts 1.5 tons of wood a year. Now people are going farther and farther from home to cut trees that are smaller and smaller." These needs may decrease with increasing use of alternative energy and access to national grid electricity.

The towns of Tedim and Falam and many smaller villages are at high elevations where Khasi pine (Pinus kesiya) grows. There, pine trees are often logged for construction materials. Pine is used for fuel only if no other choice is available. While pine can be an efficiently renewable resource, it needs to be properly managed to avoid erosion, habitat reduction and overcutting. Replanting with non-native pine species should be avoided.

Some non-wood building materials are now being used in northern Chin State, including concrete and recycled metal shipping containers, but these options are expensive due to high transportation costs. The price of such materials may drop when improvements to the road system from Kaleymyo in Sagaing Division to Tedim and Falam are completed.

 

 

Biodiversity

Northern Chin State is part of a Global Ecoregion called the Naga-Manipuri-Chin Hills Moist Forests. Southern Chin State's protected Nat Ma Taung (Mt. Victoria) National Park, the only National Park in the State, is a well-known wildlife habitat with over 200 bird species attracting birdwatchers from around the world. According to local sources, northern Chin State is very unlikely to have a similar level of biodiversity.

There are no functioning Wildlife Sanctuaries in northern Chin State, although an area around Sein Mu Mountain near Laiva Dam was supposed to be designated in 2012. If establishing protected areas, close consultation with local people and inclusion of their stewardship should be mandatory.

Surveys and academic studies on the zoology (including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians) and botany (trees, orchids, rhododendrons, etc.) of northern Chin State are urgently needed, as is expert advice on how rare, threatened or endangered species can be protected.

Habitat loss due to logging and agricultural clearing appears to have severely diminished the wildlife biodiversity of northern Chin State. Large wild mammals such as gaur, elephant, tiger and rhinoceros were described as "extinct" in northern Chin State by a local expert. According to local hunters and other experts remaining wild mammals include monkeys, deer (barking deer and sambar), wild boar, porcupines and jungle cats. Gibbons, serow (wild goat) or goral (wild goat) and possibly bears may also be found in the northern part of the State. A villager mentioned the presence of jungle fowl. Songbirds and a raptor described as an eagle were observed. Informants believed that hornbills, a Chin national symbol, are no longer found in the northern part of Chin State.

Hunting provides subsistence food and is an intrinsic feature of indigenous culture in northern Chin State. Monuments featuring depictions of animals killed and displays of animal skulls are important connections to traditional belief systems. Conservation restrictions on hunting would be more appropriate than complete bans. These regulations should include education and enforcement regarding hunting seasons and particular species to be avoided.

Orchids have reportedly been decimated, with entire trees cut down to obtain orchids for trade. Efforts should be made to record and protect medicinal plants and protect indigenous people's rights regarding their knowledge of them. In the future, northern Chin State must avoid monoculture and replanting with non-native species of trees, especially oil palm plantations which cause irreparable ruin to entire ecosystems.

Valvum, a mountain village near Tedim was reported in Chinland Guardian (July 13, 2016) to be the site of "ongoing coal mining work managed by a Japanese company." When Project Maje and CNRWG investigated this actually turned out to be a charcoal making project. (The words for coal and charcoal are very similar in Burmese, as in English.) Special, high quality charcoal was being produced, apparently for export to Japan, where such charcoal is often used as an air freshener.

While obviously preferable to coal mining in environmental impact, this charcoal operation was depleting the area around Valvum of four types of trees, described in the local language as thal sing, lim sing, nai sing and se sing. An alternative would be to use bamboo to make export quality charcoal. Bamboo is a thoroughly renewable resource and bamboo charcoal is prized and costly in Japan. Charcoal made from bamboo and biomass waste material could be a stopgap alternative to the wood and wood charcoal used for cooking and heating, until cleaner energy sources become more widespread in northern Chin State. The manufacture and use of energy efficient cooking stoves should be promoted.

Northern Chin State's developing economy should place an emphasis on community based forestry featuring sustainable forest products, which may include bamboo, medicinal herbs, fungi and roots. Wild elephant foot yam (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius) is currently gathered in Chin State forests for trade to China and Japan. Well managed fast growing Kalsi pine forests can produce resin and pitch (used for varnish, turpentine, rosin, medicine, scent, tar soap, sealant and flavoring) as well as value added wood products.

 

 

Agriculture

Most people in Chin State make their living from agriculture although the terrain and soil does not produce high crop yields. Rice imports, including rice donated by aid agencies, provide 30% of food needs in Chin State. Grain crops include locally grown rice, corn and millet. Traditional swidden agriculture, a rotating seasonal cycle of clearing land for planting by cutting and burning existing vegetation is practiced by most farmers in northern Chin State.

Swidden agriculture does not always cause great harm, but if large tracts of land are not available it can lead to erosion, soil depletion and habitat loss. According to the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development report "Support to Chin State's Comprehensive 5-year Development Plan and Annual Planning 2016-2021 With Local Social Plan" the farming population has been settling closer to schools, churches and other services, which has meant less land is being more intensively cultivated, with soil nutrients depleted and yields decreased.

Some experts believe that promotion of terracing, intercropping and irrigation, a system of "Sloping Agricultural Land Technology" (SALT) can increase productivity and mitigate environmental damage. A model farm outside of Falam serves as an example of terracing and irrigation. However in its report the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development suggests that SALT will not be able to increase yields enough to feed the Chin State population and instead proposes "more cost effective and economically viable alternatives to shifting cultivation — these are likely to involve permanent horticulture [such as fruit trees], ruminant livestock production and smallholder/community based commercial forestry."

Current farming practices are organic. This should be preserved and enhanced. There is a danger that chemical fertilizers with severe risks to farmers and consumers will be promoted in Chin State as a shortcut to agricultural productivity.

Northern Chin State farmers would likely benefit from a greater variety of vegetable crops and upland-appropriate grains. Potatoes and other root vegetables may be viable lower-impact crops. Some northern Chin State farm products are currently sold in India or Sagaing Divisions. An increase in cash crops might help make up for the lack of self-sufficiency in grain production. Cash crops should be diverse to protect against market fluctuations and may include shade-grown coffee (some is currently produced), elephant foot yam (exported to China and Japan), cardamom, turmeric and orchard fruits ( with value-added dried fruit.)

The Mautam is a 48 year regional cycle of bamboo flowering which causes a population explosion of rats devouring rice stocks. It last occurred in 2006-2008 causing severe food insecurity in Chin State. In 2008 Project Maje reported on this phenomenon in "Rats and Kyats: Bamboo Flowering Causes a Hunger Belt in Chin State." While the next Mautam is 37 years away, risk factors that are characteristic of the ecosystem and terrain should be given serious consideration when setting agricultural improvement goals for northern Chin State.

The traditional bovine livestock in the region is the mithun, a domesticated forest ox. Mithuns eat leaves in scrubland or secondary forest, rather than needing grain fodder or pasture land like cattle and other domestic animals. In recent years mithuns have gone from being kept only for sacrifice on special occasions with the meat being shared to becoming commodity livestock to be sold for economic necessity or profit. Expert studies on mithun keeping and veterinary support would be beneficial for northern Chin State in order to ensure that this rarest of all the large animals domesticated by humans can continue to thrive in its native habitat and provide what the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development called an economic "safety net." Background about mithuns is available in a 2004 Project Maje report: "Mithuns Sacrificed To Greed: The Forest Ox of Burma's Chins."

 

 

Ecotourism

Northern Chin State has enormous potential for ecotourism and related adventure tourism. The landscape is breathtaking and many visitors would be happy to hike, trek between villages and otherwise enjoy the cool weather. Currently very few tourists visit the north of the State. Transportation is limited and time-consuming and there are only basic guesthouses. If comfortable inns with local decor and food (rather than generic hotels) at various price ranges are established, if homestays are permitted and if expert local nature guide services including birdwatching become available, northern Chin State could quickly become a popular destination.

Fair trade craft and sustainable forest product businesses, educational interpretive centers or museums and music performance venues such as coffeeshops would enhance the area's appeal to visitors. To be avoided is exploitive "tribal tourism" as has occurred with villages in southern Chin State where tourists gawk at women with traditional facial tattoos. Tashon village near Falam is planning an ecotourism enterprise to showcase its scenic mountain setting, history and culture. If done carefully, this may inspire appropriate ecotourism efforts elsewhere in northern Chin State.

Heart-shaped Rih Lake attracts tourists from across the nearby India border. The forest around the lake is at risk from construction and logging. A local environmental activist, Ko Dawla, described alarming changes in the lake: "The water level and the lake's surface area are reducing year by year. ... Since the changing of the ecosystem itself affects the region, we don't want the nature to be spoiled by human errors." [The Irrawaddy, January 28, 2014.]

 

 

Roads

Along with smartphones' transformation of communications, transportation is undergoing enormous changes in northern Chin State. The 125cc motorbike has become ubiquitous and the road system that connects Tedim and Falam to Kaleymyo and each other is being widened to a two-lane highway that will be paved for use throughout the year. Previously road travel was nearly impossible during the height of the rainy season.

Unfortunately the two-lane highway construction has caused large scale erosion. This will have to be mitigated by replanting (bioengineering, including bamboo) on dirt slopes and stabilization of rock slopes. That should be a high priority, or else the highway and adjacent villages may be destroyed in landslides. Pages 52-60 of "Support to Chin State's Comprehensive 5-year Development Plan and Annual Planning 2016-2021 With Local Social Plan" by the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development contain excellent suggestions for cost-effective ways to ensure that roads in Chin State are built to last with mitigation of erosion.

 

 

Energy

Northern Chin State has been off the national power grid until very recently. In late 2016 the town of Falam, which had received sporadic electrical power from a 600kw dam on the Laiva River, was connected to the national grid. As of November/December 2016 Tedim town was divided in quadrants for electricity delivery with the residents alternating 48 hour time slots with and without power.

For a long time electricity in northern Chin State meant the use of expensive, noisy individual petrol-fueled generators. These are gradually being replaced with solar panel battery units. Solar panel energy has been well-received, but there are complaints about the solar units breaking down. They are described as being cheap imports from China or India. There are complaints that although the solar panels provide power for lights, they do not have enough output for cooking, heat, tools, appliances, farm equipment and irrigation pumps or potentially for electric motorbike charging. With better quality control, solar units might remain a primary power source in more remote locations that are hard to connect to the national grid. They also promote self-reliance and may potentially be less expensive than paying a utility provider for electricity.

Some locations (Webulo is an example) are using run of the stream micro-hydro or mini-hydro for electricity generation. This has very good potential for northern Chin State villages which often have mountain streams near by. Some micro-hydro users have complaints about the reliability of Burma-manufactured turbines and streams can lose generating capability in the dry season.

Wind power generation is perhaps northern Chin State's largest-scale energy potential. When the highway is completely paved and two-lane, it may be possible to bring small and even large wind turbines up to mountain ridges. Large wind turbines could conceivably provide electricity to the entire State population with a surplus to export to lowland Burma.

 

 

Water Supplies and Recycling

Northern Chin State has excellent sources of pure spring water. It is ironic that bottled water in environmentally harmful plastic bottles is imported to Falam and Tedim from other parts of Burma at great expense. Ideally, clean tap water for drinking and other needs should be supplied to town residents and spring water access with clean pipes and collection sites should be maintained for villagers. Tashon near Falam is a beautiful, historically significant village supplied by traditional bamboo spring water pipes. This type of water system should not be viewed as "backward" (in Taison it coexists with grid electricity) but as an asset. Rainwater collection containers may also be very useful for home vegetable plots, bathing and other uses.

Road workers had broken a spring water pipe supplying Falam at the time of Project Maje's visit to the town. More care needs to be taken to protect water conduits during construction projects.

In Tedim and Falam as well as in the mountain villages, trash disposal and recycling needs improvement. Garbage is often simply thrown down a hillside, which is especially problematic as plastic bags and bottles have replaced biodegradable materials. Options for recycling are limited due to the cost of transporting discarded items to Sagaing Division. One example of reuse of goods by consumers in northern Chin State is the popularity of used clothing, including imported warm clothing.

 

 

Watershed

Neatly laid out sites where villagers who lost their homes in the July-August 2015 floods have been resettled can be seen in northern Chin State and neighboring Sagaing Division. But these new settlements and the rest of the region are not at all safe from a repeat, perhaps even worse, of that disaster. Erosion and compromised vegetation scar the mountains, which are losing their capacity for absorbing rainwater.

The Manipura (Manipur, Meitei Gun) River enters Burma from India's Manipur state, runs south through Chin State, then in Sagaing Division joins the Myittha River, a Chindwin River tributary. A multi-purpose dam project initiated in 2004 on the Chin State border with Sagaing Division was criticized for land grabbing (some of the only productive rice growing terrain in the area would be inundated), logging of teak trees, flood risks and corruption. In 2011 the government announced that the dam project was on hold for financial reasons.

In early 2016 concerns were voiced about a 16 acre (6.4-hectare) "natural reservoir" that was formed by a landslide in the mountains of Tongzang Township. It threatened to break and flood communities below it, including Kaleymyo. Civil society groups called for the water to be drained off.

The Yazagyo dam in Sagaing Division north of Kaleymyo collects water from the Neyinzaya (Nayrisara) River flowing down from headwaters in Chin State's Tongzang Township mountains into the Myittha River basin. The dam was built over the years 2003 to 2016 to provide irrigation and provide electricity. As of December 2017 it had not yet fulfilled those functions.

Yazagyo dam may prove to be more of a flood risk than a flood deterrent. In July 2016 three smaller dams that were under construction to control siltation at the Yazagyo dam were destroyed by a flood. Residents of Kaleymyo and the surrounding areas feared that a dam holding back Myayephyo Lake in Tonzang Township could collapse, causing a massive cascade of floodwaters down into Sagaing Division. Mountain watershed protection and honest evaluations of dam safety are needed to ensure that new flood relocation settlements and other communities near the Yazagyo dam are not inundated and that the city of Kaleymyo with its population of over 400,000 does not become a disaster zone during a future rain/cyclone season.

 

 

Climate Change

Having up to now been spared the downsides of development, northern Chin State contributes little to human-caused climate change. Use of petrol for transportation has increased with more motorbikes and mini-buses, but petrol consumption for power generating is decreasing with solar battery units and connection to the national grid.

Maintaining forests is important as a "carbon sink" as well as for watershed protection. The current level of swidden agricultural burning in northern Chin State can be reduced and large-scale burning for plantations must absolutely be avoided. Indigenous people are important forest protectors and the people of northern Chin State should be kept informed and empowered as forest stewards.

Elders in northern Chin State have observed that the weather has changed in recent years, becoming hotter in the March-May dry/hot season: "It never felt this warm in the past." They described heavier rains with longer rainy seasons and shorter cold seasons. They also have observed unusual droughts and rainfall that was "not regular anymore." With climate change there is increased danger of severe forest fires in the pine and subtropical moist broadleaf forests of northern Chin State during longer and hotter dry/hot seasons.

According to the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development, "Discharge from natural springs and streams are decreasing and local experts consider this is due to degradation of forests and the effects of global warming. As a result, mini-hydro plants, irrigation schemes and domestic water supplies do experience shortages during the dry season."

GermanWatch ranked Burma second most affected in its 2017 Global Climate Risk Index of countries affected by climate change between the years 1996 and 2015. The think tank's Global Climate Risk Index ranked Burma the 6th worst affected during the year 2015, mainly due to the effects of Cyclone Komen. The 2015 cyclone-related landslides and flooding disaster raised awareness in Chin State that rising ocean temperatures in the Bay of Bengal increase the incidence and impact of cyclonic storms and that climate change will affect monsoon rains. As remote as northern Chin State may seem, these climate change effects are not a faraway concern.

Civil society groups and influential church leaders are speaking out about climate change and the urgent need to protect the environment of northern Chin State. A Pastor in Falam described this growing sense of environmental engagement: "We are responsible for sustaining the land. We believe in creation and redemption, life after death. Keeping the earth green is part of our Christian faith."

There is enormous potential for the people of northern Chin State to work
together for self-sufficiency and sustainability. Forests can thrive again and orchards can help feed future generations. Soil and water can be protected.

The mountains above the mist can become known not for their poverty but for their Green Towns and eco-villages.

 

Rhododendron
Is a nice flower
Evergreen,
It lasts forever

- Roxy Music, "The Strand"

 

 


 

Background Reading:

Articles and Reports (by date)

"Nickel and Dimed on Frog Mountain" Edith Mirante, The Irrawaddy, January 20, 2017 http://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/guest-column/nickel-and-dimed-on-frog-mountain.html
Nickel and Dimed on Frog Mountain - www.irrawaddy.com
Our motorbikes crossed flimsy bamboo bridges in western Sagaing Division, a landscape still showing the devastation of 2015's floods. Shifting gears up a twisting ...

"Can Agriculture, Small Loans Lead Chin State to a Fertile Future?" Libby Hogan, Democratic Voice of Burma, December 21, 2016
http://www.dvb.no/feature/can-agriculture-small-loans-lead-chin-state-fertile-future/73194

"A Bright Vision: Recommendations for Chin State's Chief Minister Featured" Van Bawi Lian, Chinland Guardian, November 8, 2016
http://chinlandguardian.com/index.php/commentary-opinion/item/2540-a-bright-vision-recommendations-for-chin-state-s-chief-minister

"Understanding Contemporary Chin State: Reflections from a Human Rights Trainer" Salai Mang Hre Lian, Chinland Guardian, October 17, 2016
http://chinlandguardian.com/index.php/articles/item/2537-understanding-contemporary-chin-state-reflections-from-a-human-rights-trainer

"Chin Govt Fights Landslides by Planting Grass" Nyan Lynn Aung, Myanmar Times, September 30, 2016
http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/22832-chin-govt-fights-landslides-by-planting-grass.html

"Western Burma Chin Report: Village Bulldozed By Burma Government" Free Burma Rangers, September 13, 2016
http://www.freeburmarangers.org/2016/09/13/western-burma-chin-report-village-bulldozed-by-burma-government-authorities-in-chin-state/

"Chin Villagers Complain About Japan's Coal Mining" [note: actually charcoal production] Chinland Guardian, July 13, 2016
http://www.chinlandguardian.com/index.php/chin-news/item/2507-chin-villagers-complain-about-japan-s-coal-mining

"Flood Destroys Three Unfinished Dams in Kalay" Ttwin, Eleven Myanmar, July 4, 2016
http://elevenmyanmar.com/local/5324

"Logging Banned in Chin State Until End of Fiscal Year" Swan Ye Htut, Myanmar Times, June 3, 2016
http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/20643-logging-banned-in-chin-state-until-end-of-fiscal-year.html

"Bullets and Bibles: Pastor Defies Chin State's Macho Gun Culture" Joshua Carroll, Frontier, May 31, 2016
http://frontiermyanmar.net/en/bullets-and-bibles-pastor-defies-chin-states-macho-gun-culture

"Landslide Lake Fears Spark Public Campaign" Khin Su Wai, Myanmar Times, January 11, 2016
http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/mandalay-upper-myanmar/18415-landslide-lake-fears-spark-public-campaign.html

"'Fragmented Sovereignty' Over Property Institutions: Developmental Impacts on the Chin Hills Communities" SiuSue Mark, Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1(1), 125–160. 2016
http://journalofburmesescholarship.org/issues/v1n1/7b-SiuSueMark-en.pdf

"Two Foreign Companies Apply to Explore for Minerals in Chin State" Chan Mya Htwe, Myanmar Times, March 7, 2015
http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/business/19341-two-foreign-companies-apply-to-explore-for-minerals-in-chin-state.html

"Reforestation in Chin State" Khup Khan Thang, Zomi Daily, January 4, 2015
https://www.zomidaily.org/reforestation-in-chin-state/

"Support to Chin State's Comprehensive 5-year Development Plan and Annual Planning 2016-2021 With Local Social Plan" Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development, October 2014
www.mmiid.org/sites/default/files/Support%20to%20Chin%20State%20Comprehensive%20Development%20Plan%20(Vol.%20I)-English.pdf

"Govt Still Studying Controversial Nickel Mine in Chin State: Minister"
Paul Vrieze, The Irrawaddy, June 19, 2014
http://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/govt-still-studying-controversial-nickel-mine-chin-state-minister.html

"Chinese-Backed Nickel Mining Project Draws Concerns in Chin State" Zarni Mann, The Irrawaddy, January 31, 2014
www.irrawaddy.org/burma/chinese-backed- nickel-mining-project-draws-concerns-chin-state.html

"Burma's Heart-Shaped 'Treasure' of a Lake Threatened: Activists" The Irrawaddy, Zarni Mann, January 28, 2014
http://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/burmas-heart-shaped-treasure-lake-threatened-activists.html

"Chin Urge Transparency on Mwe Taung Mining Project" Ei Ei Toe Lwin, Myanmar Times, September 20, 2013
http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/8207-chin-urge-transparency-on-mwe-taung-mining-project.html

"Proposal for Mining Permits in Chin State" Mizzima News, August 13, 2013
http://archive-1.mizzima.com/business/natural-resources/9839-proposal-for-mining-permits-in-chin-state

"Demonstrations Against Burma-China Nickel Project in Chin State" Khaipi, Chinland Guardian, August 12, 2013
http://www.chinlandguardian.com/index.php/chin-news/item/1855-demonstrations-against-burma-china-nickel-project-in-chin-state

"Chin Seek Sustainable Farming Methods" Tyler Chapman, Radio Free Asia, May 31, 2013
http://www.rfa.org/english/commentaries/chin-05312013173907.html

"Myanmar: Could an Unusual Yam Help the March of Community Forestry?"
Duncan Macqueen, International Institute for Environment and Development, May 17, 2013
http://www.iied.org/myanmar-could-unusual-yam-help-march-of-community-forestry

"Rampant Deforestation; Teak Vanishing in Chin State" Khonumthung News, November 19, 2012
http://khonumthung.org/2012/11/19/rampant-deforestation-teak-vanishing-in-chin-state/

"Sanctuary Plans Yet to be Implemented in Chin State" Khonumthung News, November 3, 2012
http://khonumthung.org/2012/11/03/sanctuary-plans-yet-to-be-implemented-in-chin-state/

Books

Chhibber, H.L., "The Mineral Resources of Burma" MacMillan and Co., London, 1934
Fraser, David W. and Barbara G., "Mantles of Merit: Chin Textiles from Myanmar, India and Bangladesh" River Books, Bangkok 2005
Sakhong, Lian H. "In Search of Chin Identity: A Study in Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identity in Burma" NIAS Press, Copenhagen, 2003
Stevenson, H.N.C., "The Economics of the Central Chin Tribes" Times of India Press, Bombay, 1943
Vumson, Suantak, "Zo History" self-published, Aizawl, Mizoram, India, 1986

 



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