Taking Stock of Myanmar’s Natural Capital

Myanmar: Balancing Conservation with Growth

Myanmar is undergoing rapid change. After decades of isolation, the country is transitioning to democracy and foreign investment is pouring in. A key issue for the country now is balancing the unprecedented growth it is experiencing with conservation and climate resilience. Without balance, the businesses that depend on natural resources to thrive will suffer. So will people and wildlife—all who rely on natural resources to survive. The country’s forests help purify drinking water, its mangroves help protect people from coastal storms, its rivers are habitat for endangered fish, and more.

Creating balance now—before nature is overexploited and its resilience is weakened in exchange for short-term economic gains—is critical. One way to do so is by taking stock of the country’s natural resources.

A new assessment led by WWF at the request of the Government of Myanmar does just that. The assessment includes information about where the country’s natural resources are located, what benefits they provide to people, and how those benefits will change under different climate change and development scenarios. WWF hopes decision makers in Myanmar will use this information about natural capital when they are creating plans and policies related to the economy, energy, agriculture, land use, foreign investment, building the country’s resilience to climate change, and more.

Provide clean water

Keeping drinking water clean for thousands of people downstream

River in Myanmar

When Myanmar’s forests are degraded by agriculture, mining and the construction of roads, soil erodes and washes into rivers and streams. The result is poor quality drinking water for humans, as well as damaged habitat for many freshwater species and reduced energy generation in hydropower plants. This is particularly problematic in areas with erodible soils and steep slopes, as well as areas with more frequent and intense storms that are likely due to climate change. Healthy forests and other natural vegetation can play a key role in reducing or slowing the amount of erosion and chemicals that reach waterways.

Where forests help purify water

Relative percent increase of sediment delivered to drinking water resources if natural vegetation is lost.

map of forests and how it affects clean water in Myanmar

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Provide enough water

Ensuring water availability for households and agriculture

Little girl getting water from a well

Myanmar’s rivers and streams flow fast during the rainy season. The rainwater is soaked up by trees and plants, stored underground and released during the rest of the year. If forest land is degraded—which happens, for example, when trees are harvested illegally—that cycle can be broken. Healthy forests, therefore, are critical to ensuring there is enough water year-round for household use and agriculture.

Prevent flooding

Stopping forest degradation and loss to help protect against floods

Car driving through a flooded and muddy road

Myanmar’s inland forests soak up water during heavy rainfall. They need it to survive. But when their soils can't hold any more water, the water runs fast off of the land and into rivers, often leading to floods. This often happens when forests are cleared to create impervious surfaces, such as roads, or degraded by illegal logging and other activities.

Where forests decrease flood risk

Impact of natural vegetation on flood risk, relative to agriculture.

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Protect coastlines

Conserving a vibrant coastal ecosystem as sea levels rise

Mangroves along the coastlines of Myanmmar

The dense root systems of mangrove forests (as well as other coastal vegetation) that line Myanmar’s coast act as a physical barrier between land and shore, helping to protect people from cyclones and storm surges. They also provide food and habitat for a large variety of fish, shrimp, and other species that are an essential food source for people living along the coast. Protecting Myanmar’s coastline is more important than ever. Large increases in the frequency and magnitude of flooding along the coast are projected as sea levels rise and storms grow in intensity and frequency.

Where coastal habitats help reduce the impact of storms

The role of mangroves, sea grass, and coral in reducing coastal exposure to erosion and storm surge.

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Absorb carbon dioxide

Securing a “carbon sink” and reducing greenhouse gases

foggy forest in Myanmar

When trees are cut down, the deforested land becomes a source of harmful greenhouse gases instead of serving as an important “sink” that absorbs carbon dioxide. Emissions from deforestation account for approximately 15 percent of global carbon emissions. This is more than the total combined emissions from all cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world.

Provide habitat for life on Earth

Protecting a home for tigers, river dolphins and all wildlife

Indochinese tiger in the water

The same forests, mountains, oceans and rivers of Myanmar that are beneficial to people often are ideal habitat for a wide array of species of all sizes, from large Irrawaddy dolphins, Rosewood trees, and Indochinese tigers to small black-bellied terns and Balloon frogs. But much of their habitat is under threat. When roads are built through forests, for example, poaching and vehicle collisions with wildlife can increase. Maneuvering and migrating through the forest becomes challenging, too, making it harder for wildlife to find food, mate and more. Fragmentation and degradation of important habitat can be avoided if the areas are designated as protected and development is well planned.