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Myanmar: We need our forests, not mines!

A view over densely forested hilltops Around half of Myanmar is still covered by dense forests. (© Sein Lin) A man climbing an enormous, ancient banyan tree These ancient giants commonly grow as solitary trees by the roadside. (© Lothar Kinzelmann) Two houses surrounded by lush gardens and a bamboo forest Baw Sai village lies deep in the mountain forests of Myanmar’s southern Shan State (© Christiane Zander) A small lake surrounded by forested hills One of the lakes polluted by drainage from the mine. (© Christiane Zander) Activists Kyaw Soe and Shining Nang on the bank of a lake, forested hills in the background Kyaw Soe, farmer and activist, describes the situation of the lakes to environmental activist Shining Nang. (© Christiane Zander)

In Myanmar, activist Kyaw Soe is standing up to a mining company that is wrecking the mountain forests of his ancestral land: drainage from the mine is poisoning the lakes he and his 2,000 fellow villagers rely on for drinking water – many are sick, several have died. The villagers need our support in their fight to shut the mine down.

“We have democracy now. Finally, we can raise our voices and fight for our rights,” says Kyaw Soe, a resident of Baw Sai, a mountain village surrounded by dense forests in southern Shan State in Myanmar. But even before the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in November 2015, the 58-year-old farmer spoke out fearlessly against Top Ten Star, a mining company that has been trashing the forests of his home and poisoning its lakes for the past five years.

Sitting cross-legged on bamboo mats on the floor of his house, Kyaw Soe shows us the notebooks full of evidence he has collected over the years. In 2010, the military government zoned the region around a dozen villages, including Baw Sai, as a mining area – without bothering to consult the local people.

The first villagers got sick in 2012: some complained of weakness, others were suddenly paralyzed, and five people have since died. It soon became apparent that the problems were being caused by contaminated drinking water. Rain was washing pollutants from the mine into the streams and lakes – the only source of drinking water for 2,000 people.

“We held meetings to inform people of the danger,” says Kyaw Soe. “But we can’t even say exactly what the toxins are. We need reliable water tests. If we can prove that the mine is poisoning the land and our people, it will be shut down immediately by law.” The villagers cannot afford the tests, however. They have grown poorer and poorer in recent years.

“We have lived in and with these forests for generations, gathering bamboo, mushrooms and valuable medicinal herbs. We also grow tea at higher elevations. We were able to make a modest living this way, and as the Danu ethnic minority, we have the traditional right to use the land of our fathers,” says Kyaw Soe. “We never thought that it could be taken from us.”

We are supporting the mountain villagers by collecting donations to have the water tested in an independent laboratory in the capital Yangon, to produce the necessary documentation, provide transportation, and organize meetings and workshops to inform the villagers.

Given the necessary resources, the villagers have a fighting chance of shutting the mine down. Small donations can have a real impact. Here are some of the costs we intend to cover:

  • €30 each for water samples from the five affected lakes
  • €70 each for presentations and workshops in the villages (12 villages in total)
  • €200 for printing and distributing information flyers

Thank you for your generous assistance!

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