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We asked our Green Economy Programme Manager, Hanna Helsingen, to provide an overview of the BRI and explain how it is expected to impact Myanmar.
Q: What is the Belt Road Initiative (BRI)?
The BRI has been described as ‘probably the most ambitious Chinese international policy initiative in history’. It’s made up of two key proposals joined together – the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘Maritime Silk Road’. Together these form the BRI which aim to connect and impact 60 countries. The purpose of the initiative is to promote economic development, partly through investment in regional infrastructure, with the objective to enhance policy dialogue, infrastructure connectivity, free trade, and people-to-people trade.
Q: Which parts of Myanmar will be impacted?
The BRI in Myanmar cuts through areas of the Ayeyarwady River Basin and surrounding mountainous areas which are home to around 24 million people. The people in these areas depend on rich natural assets to survive – the forests, rivers, land and ocean – for important benefits such as clean drinking water or shelter from natural disasters. The areas are also home to important species.
Q: What opportunities could the initiative bring to Myanmar? Evidence from other countries suggests that BRI road projects can offer considerable economic opportunities, and this is also expected to be the case in MyanmarA review by the World Bank in 2015 said that road infrastructure, for example, can result in a range of socio-economic benefits like increased productivity, reduction of trade costs and barriers, and increased employment.
Q: What are the risks?
There is a risk that the benefits of the BRI road project could be outweighed by substantial social, environmental and economic loss. If BRI road corridors and other infrastructure are constructed in ways that fragment ecosystems, endanger wildlife, contribute to deforestation and landslides and pollution – the natural treasure trove in Myanmar is at risk. We can avoid and mitigate these risks, but that requires good planning and design of the BRI road corridors.
Q: What is WWF doing?
China’s president Xi Jinping has already highlighted the importance of working towards a ‘green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful’ Silk Road, and WWF- Myanmar is working for this to be achieved in Myanmar. We are assessing the risks to natural capital from the BRI in Myanmar, focusing on how the infrastructure could affect, and be affected by, natural capital assets – the very foundation of Myanmar’s sustainable development. We will push for this information to be used in planning and decision-making related to the BRI to ensure that this infrastructure investment brings positive social, environmental and economic benefits without putting people and nature at risk.
Q: What is WWF’s ultimate goal?
Our goal is to help make the BRI in Myanmar a sustainable investment, allowing for the country to harvest its economic opportunities without putting people and nature at risk.