Interview by: Andrew Parker, PISA Research Fellow/Program Assistant
Edited by: Suzanne Kelly-Lyall, Deputy Director, PISA
Last month, the PISA team traveled to Burma together with Dr. Christina Fink of George Washington University. We went as part of a needs assessment for PISA’s Climate Leadership Initiative. Over the course of a week, we met with many Burmese officials, held a group dialogue with twenty civil society activists, and learned from our NGO partner, ECODEV. We want to share what we learned with you! The interview with Linda Yarr, PISA’s Director, encapsulates both the fragility of the current reforms in Burma and the sense of optimism about the country’s future.
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.
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.”
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?