Protecting community resources in Myanmar

With the peace process in Myanmar making little headway, conflict continues to be an ever-present part of life for many communities.

Illegal logging is one major source of insecurity for affected communities. In addition to contributing to deforestation and increasing the risk of flooding, it affects communities’ abilities to farm, pollutes their water supplies and creates a shortage of wood for building homes.

Saferworld and partners have been working in a village in south east Myanmar, where a community group has taken action against illegal logging. Determined to find solutions, they held village meetings and raised their concerns with loggers, businesspeople and local and township authorities.

“As a community, we want our village to be secure,” said Naw Htee Khine, a community group representative. “We knew we would face many difficulties if we didn’t do something about the illegal logging. We depend on this river. In the summer, we get water from it, but it is diminishing year by year because people are cutting the trees. If they cut more trees, there won’t be any water left in the future. We are also afraid of landslides making the problem worse. If there is no water, how can we work on our plantation in the future? We will starve if we can’t continue to produce rice.”

After several meetings facilitated by Saferworld between the community group, villagers and the authorities, the illegal loggers accepted the demands of the community. Those who were logging illegally in the community’s protected forest agreed to stop, and paid six million kyats (US$ 4,461) to affected villagers, who put the money towards a community fund. Township authorities also committed to preventing illegal logging in the future and submitted an official letter to all district and village tract officials urging them to better enforce their policies. “Before, we didn’t dare go to the authorities with our concerns,” said Naw Phaw Wah, another representative of the community group. “The first time we went and spoke with them, they didn’t listen to us. The more we went, the more they showed interest and participated in our discussions. Our relationship improved. Now that we know them, we have more confidence in communicating with them.”

“At first when I thought of community security I only thought about issues like landmines and the presence of armed actors,” said Chit Min, team leader with the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), one of the organisations working in the village. “However, now I realise that it is about identifying the problems in our households, communities and daily lives, and finding solutions.”

Elsewhere, these community groups have looked at how gender relates to safety and security issues and have developed advocacy materials. This included a cartoon booklet, translated into Burmese, that simply and clearly outlined the main concepts of community security for communities and partners.

“I think that communication between communities and authorities has improved a lot,” said Sandar Oo, a KHRG team leader. “I feel like we have become peacemakers and have built hope through this project.”

*The names of some of the people mentioned have been changed.