“Both Sides Now…Burma Today”

14 Jul

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Interview by: Andrew Parker, PISA Research Fellow/Program Assistant

Edited By: Suzanne Kelly-Lyall, Deputy Director, PISA

Team PISA recently traveled to Burma/Myanmar to conduct a needs assessment.  We want to share with you a few of Linda Yarr’s  impressions.  We have also included links to additional reading on the rapid changes underway in Burma today.  Have you been to Burma lately?  If so, tell us about it….

In your analysis, what is the trajectory of the current transitions taking place in Myanmar today?

From my understanding the trajectory in general is on an upward and positive trend. Nevertheless, we must proceed with caution. Myanmar’s post-independence history has been punctuated by both tragedy and trauma so it is unreasonable to expect that a transition to an open, equitable, and democratic society would be smooth.  See: 

First Day in Parliament for Myanmar Opposition Leader – NYTimes

thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/…/first-day-in-parliament-for-myanmar– …

Based on your observations and conversations in the field what are some of the major challenges Myanmar will face in the coming years and how can the international community help?

The most critical challenge will be capacity building. Myanmar has suffered from both brain drain and a lack of support for higher education. It will flourish only once its public servants are given the opportunity to improve their knowledge and skills. I call this “soft infrastructure.” See: 

Internet Unshackled, Burmese Aim Venom at – The New York Times

www.nytimes.com/…/new-freedom-in-myanmar-lets-burmese-air-ve…

In terms of “hard” infrastructure, the most important task will be to link the country together with improved communications systems; especially internet access.

The international community should first engage in dialogue. The Myanmarese have a strong sense of dignity and any solution supported by the international community need first spring from the population itself.

What are Myanmar’s principal environmental vulnerabilities and in what ways can stakeholders begin to grapple with them?

In the mountains, deforestation has caused mudslides that endanger local populations; the delta is vulnerable to severe weather such as Cyclone Nargis; and in the dry- zone droughts are threatening livelihoods. Myanmar clearly needs urgent disaster preparedness solutions that mainstream climate change.

What was you strongest impression of Burma?

I found that there was a very strong sense of poise and hospitality among the Myanmarese I met during my all too brief stay last month. There is a feeling that change can really happen. 

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