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LIFE IN MYANMAR'S ISOLATED CAPITAL CITY
The road looks endless. I can barely see an end to it.
This is one of the most common views in Naypyidaw: endless roads, with no traffic. Some would even say this is what it’s famous for: the 20-lane highway outside the Parliament building where you are more likely to see water buffalo crossing than cars, the empty roundabouts with exotic flowers and impressive, immaculate roadside landscaping. This view is now part of my everyday life. As of four months, I’m WWF-Myanmar’s first permanently based staff in Naypyidaw. When I made the decision earlier this year to move here, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been visiting for the last four years but actually living in this sprawling megacity is a different experience altogether. Spending evenings and weekends in this intriguing and solitary place – a good example of how to build a city if you want to limit interaction between people – was always going to come with challenges.
Naypyidaw is 4.5 times the size of London but has only a fraction of its population. In fact no one really knows exactly how many people live here. The city was built from scratch in 2004 around five hours north of Yangon, the then capital. In 2005 it was announced that Naypyidaw would become the country’s new capital, and relocation of all government offices and was almost instant.
"People say that before there were roads and hotels, there were trees and tigers"
I hoped to live somewhere that could feel like home. I wanted a proper house, neighbors and enough space for my old teak furniture and two street cats that came with me from Yangon. In my garden I have a lime tree and a mango tree and roses that will bloom no matter what. Power cuts are frequent, until now even more so than Yangon. You need to be quick to pump water; doing laundry, taking hot showers and cooking when the power is on. On evenings and weekends, I see the few friends I have here. It turns out there is a small community of expats trying to make a life in this strange place. We even have a Whatsapp group. It’s called: “Need some life in NPT!”. In this group we share tips and trick for how to make the most of life in Myanmar’s quiet capital.
It is quiet but it’s not all bad.
Naypyidaw is a very green city, especially during the rainy and cool seasons. It feels as though nature is taking back its place – with some areas already being reclaimed by the forest that was razed for construction some 14 years ago.
In the east you see the Shan mountains, a spectacular view that turns 50 shades of blue at dusk. Bird watching is great too, and you can spot many of Myanmar’s endemic bird species in Naypyidaw.
"On the roads, there are usually more water buffaloes, cows and dogs than cars and motorbikes. The evening commute is an unlikely mix."
I come home after a long day of meetings, emails, skype calls and in the midst of all of that some actual work – producing papers, reports, key messages or presentations. I open the gate to my house and am greeted by the three street dogs that have decided to move in with me. I stop for a second and look up. The sky is full of stars, and the moon is full and bright. In how many capitals in Asia is it still so dark that you can actually see stars?
My phone is filled with photos of skies at different sunset times – every hue of every sunset colour. At the end of the day the fact remains; if we want to be where decisions, plans and polices are being made – this is where we have to be.
Recent research by WWF’s Asia-Pacific office showed a 74% increase in Facebook posts selling wildlife items in Myanmar between 2020 and 2021.
Tha Bar Wa project developed the sector specific Environmental Management Plan (EMP) checklist and guidance with the support of an international consultant, in order to assist small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in food and beverage (F&B) sector in preparing and implementing effective EMPs.
The paper seeks to share lessons learned from the project and advance sustainability finance in the region.
It would be part of a campaign called ‘Voices for Rivers’. Mohinga, the nation’s favourite dish and one that always features fish, was the perfect entry point. Without healthy rivers, there would be no mohinga.