Southern Myanmar’s indigenous groups say the UN should scrap $21 million conservation plan

Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region is among the most vibrantly biodiverse places in Asia. The southern tail of kite-shaped Myanmar, Tanintharyi encompasses hundreds of islands in the Myeik Archipelago, mangrove-lined coast, evergreen forests and the mountainous spine that forms the Thai-Myanmar border.

The region holds some of Southeast Asia’s largest intact forests, which feed and house complex ecosystems of tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, clouded leopards, tapirs, pangolins and people. Nearly 1.5 million people living across Tanintharyi’s forests and coastline rely on the region’s ecosystems to fish, hunt and harvest vegetables and herbs.

But an alliance of local community groups in Tanintharyi is calling for the government and environmental organisations to drop plans for a US$21 million conservation project in the region.

The UN-backed Ridge to Reef Project aims to turn 3.4 million acres of land—over a third of Tanintharyi—into conservation areas, but the Conservation Alliance Tanawthari (CAT) says the project will jeopardize local communities’ access to food and livelihoods. According to CAT, the conservation project will dispossess tens of thousands of indigenous people of their land, primarily ethnic Karen communities.

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Skylar Lindsay