By Stew Motta, WLE Greater Mekong Network Coordinator
Kachin State in Myanmar is rich in natural resources; unfortunately, stakeholders in Kachin have little access to data about these resources and lack the agency and capacity to improve natural resource management (NRM).
In order to address this, our capacity building projects in the Ayeryarwady, MK30, held a four-day training from March 6-9 at Myitkyina University in the capital of Kachin State. This training was for a second batch of fellows selected by the project, with 20 in total representing government, academic institutions, NGOs, and private sector organizations.
Myitkyina University has quite literally been left in the dust; the campus lecture theater where the training was held hadn’t been used for a very long time and, and participants had to clean it up before the workshop could start. The University receives limited support and attention for its academic endeavors, and while it has some very capable professors, a critical lack of resources is a problem for both research and teaching. For instance, one professor teaches a GIS masters course without computers; as she put it, “I teach GIS theory.”
After dusting down the neglected but endearing venue, the workshop got underway.
Over the four-day event, the project team and the fellows presented their work, as well as on larger topics relevant to Kachin. This included presentations on water conflict and diplomacy, since this region is still embroiled in a civil war and water issues are at the forefront of some of these conflicts. In addition, the project leads from UNESCO-IHE presented on fish migration and bio monitoring.
Some of the outcomes presented by the fellows during the workshop were of particular note. One presentation from Dr. Aung Ze Ya from the West Yangon Technological University, whose research concluded that, despite Myanmar having serious energy shortages, the Yeywa dam was operating well below capacity. Ms. Seint Seint Aye Assistant Project Manager and Assistant Environmental Consultant, Myanmar Sustainable Engineering Services Company presented her work on water quality in the upper Ayeryarwady, specifically her ongoing research that seeks to measure mercury and other heavy metal contaminants in the upper basin. During the workshop, her discussions with a professor at Myitkyina University inspired her to add some indicators to her study, all of which would be new and much needed data for Myanmar. There is great potential to scale up this work so that the assessments could be compared across different locations throughout the year.
A very active and lively group was in attendance at the workshop, including the deputy speaker of the Kachin State Parliament. It was quite inspiring to see such engaged parliamentarians debating directly with our young capacity building fellows and sharing ideas and experiences with representatives of universities and CSOs from Kachin.
While the content of the workshop was undeniably important, perhaps of greatest value was having a multi stakeholder group engaged in such long-form, open discussions on sensitive and immediate topics of NRM. An additional benefit was having primarily fellows and academics from the lower Ayeryawady Basin at a workshop in the upper basin. Most had never visited Kachin state, let alone the ,confluence of the N’mai and Mali rivers where the Ayeryawady forms. This contributed to improving their understanding the issues faced by people in this region. It seems that communication between upper and lower basin representatives, as well as between the university and state parliament, has been limited for quite a long time. This four-day workshop was a great opportunity for various important stakeholders in Myanmar (academics, parliamentarians, CSO representatives, and the MK30 fellows) who would normally have very little interaction to get together and dialogue on critical issues surrounding river health and water governance in a rapidly changing political and investment landscape.
This was just one of many WLE dialogues being hosted in Kachin and the program looks to expand these engagements in the future.