Cablegate: Burma Ngos Lay Out Conservation Priorities

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) Summary: A team of locally based environmental NGOs,
backed by local experts, has produced a comprehensive
analysis of Burma's most pressing priorities for biodiversity
conservation. The report is the first of its kind that we've
seen and is realistic in its objectives and its assessment of
the key barriers to success: weak civil society, limited
resources, and poor government policies. We think the USG
can help address some of the report's central challenges
without violating restrictions on passing assistance to the
GOB. End summary.

First, Identify the Problem

2. (U) A Rangoon-based contractor for UK NGO BirdLife
International led a small team of Rangoon-based INGOs in
drafting a comprehensive assessment of Burma's conservation
priorities (pouched to EAP/BCLTV). The report, entitled
"Investment Opportunities in Biodiversity Conservation by
Civil Society in Myanmar," was drafted at the behest of a
group of local environmental NGOs and academics following an
August 2003 roundtable discussion of the critical situation
for Burma's biodiversity. The Chief of Mission (COM) and
econoff attended a July 9 briefing on the results of the

3. (U) The group, and subsequent draft report, identified in
Burma 72 priority sites, ten priority corridors, and at least
145 globally threatened species in Burma. The major threats
to these areas and species were: (1) overexploitation of
certain animal species for food and the international
wildlife trade (mostly to China), (2) habitat loss (from
logging and infrastructure projects), (3) conversion to farm
land (especially oil palms); and, to a lesser degree, (4)
invasive species and (5) pollution. The report's authors
were cautious not to put too much blame on the GOB for these
situations, though they did clearly mention the negative
impact of poor administration of environmental policies,
anemic GOB spending on conservation, and environmentally
unfriendly development and land-use policies.

Next, Be Realistic

4. (U) The NGOs and experts responsible for the report agreed
that considering the poor state of civil society and a dearth
of funding it was unrealistic to expect positive
"conservation outcomes" for each of these priority areas.
Thus, the report's authors established a more manageable list
of areas where conservation partners could focus their

5. (U) In the final analysis, the experts chose seven
priority corridors. Within these corridors the authors
identified 37 priority sites and four additional sites
outside the corridors (because they contained globally
endangered species or globally threatened species endemic to
Burma). Finally, the experts narrowed the list of species to
38 -- including 11 globally endangered species and nine
globally threatened species endemic to Burma.

Better Coordination and Education Needed

6. (U) The report also stressed the need for a better
conservation infrastructure in Burma. These "thematic" or
strategic priorities included making biodiversity and
conservation a part of broader GOB policy decisions, building
civil society's capacity to participate in conservation, and
improving coordination among local and international NGOs to
most efficiently use limited resources.

Who'll Foot the Bill?

7. (U) One of the most important obstacles to achievement of
the report's "conservation outcomes" is lack of funding. The
report blamed sanctions by "western governments" for
discouraging investment in this area and also the GOB for not
attaching enough budgetary importance to conservation. The
GOB as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity
has committed to providing financial support for biodiversity
protection, however little has materialized. Likewise local
civil society and private sector actors have provided
basically nothing for conservation. Though the funds are
lacking for effective protection, the report rightly
recognizes the GOB's improving attitude toward conservation
with its recent decisions to set aside two large areas of
land as protected areas.

8. (U) The report identifies the Japanese government and the
UN as the largest bilateral and multilateral donors to Burma,
though neither spend particularly much on conservation
programs. The multilateral development banks (MDBs) are not
active in Burma due to Burma's arrears to the World Bank and
U.S. opposition to MDB programming in Burma. Likewise large
private environmental funds, such as the Critical Ecosystem
Partnership Fund, do not offer grants for Burma because they
often receive significant contributions from the World Bank
and other private foundations that will not support anything
in Burma.

9. (SBU) In this thrifty environment, the UN resident
coordinator in Rangoon is taking the lead to try and respond
to the the report's challenge to find investment. In a
sidebar conversation with the COM, representatives of the
German and Japanese Embassies, and several INGOs, during the
July 9 briefing, the UN official said he intends to approach
the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to see about getting
GEF funding into Burma. He cited the recent success of
getting money approved for Burma from the Global Fund for TB,
Malaria, and HIV/AIDS as evidence that proper monitoring and
accountability mechanisms are in place here to receive
disbursements of GEF funds. The GEF focal point for Burma is
the director of the National Commission for Environmental
Affairs, a 1986 Humphrey Fellow and close Embassy contact.

Comment: There's Merit, But Not Money

10. (SBU) We welcome the report as the first in-depth
analysis of the country's conservation priorities. The
report is comprehensive and realistic in its scope and its
prescriptions. Finding funding will be a challenge, though
the GEF may be a good (though longer-term) partial solution.
In the more immediate term, we think the USG can help this
worthy cause in a small way without violating restrictions on
assisting the GOB. Two of the report's strategic priorities
(building civil society and improving NGO coordination) are
precisely the objectives driving a proposed local
"Conservation Gateway" NGO that would act as a clearinghouse
for information, allow coordination among environmental NGOs
already on the ground, and integration of new entrants (ref
memo). Minimal USG funding, either from OES or EAP
resources, would get this Gateway up and running in short
order. End comment.

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