Myanmar is Southeast Asia’s second-largest country and its diverse landscapes hold rich natural resources, from oil and gas reserves to vast gemstone and mineral deposits, rivers with huge hydropower potential and some of the region’s largest intact forests.
Many of these resources, however, are located in its rugged periphery, in ethnic minority areas that have long been the stage for brutal ethnic conflict. During decades of repressive military rule exploitation of resources was largely unregulated and associated with militarization, human rights abuses and heavy social and environmental impact. Resource revenues were often siphoned off by a corrupt army elite.
Since a quasi-civilian government took over in 2011 and initiated a democratic transition, increasing transparency and sustainable management of extractive resources has become a government priority. Myanmar is keen to improve the sector’s image to attract foreign investment, and in 2014 it became a candidate country for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Countries can join this voluntary global initiative, which obliges governments to publish natural resource revenues and Myanmar produced its first EITI report in January 2016. EITI requires government, private sector and civil society to cooperate, creating an opportunity to also work on improving social and environmental impact standards. Whilst Myanmar’s EITI membership is a significant step towards cleaning up the sector, there is still a long path ahead that will require ongoing independent research, documentation and monitoring of extractive projects.
The UNEARTH project began in 2015 as a collaboration between six documentary photographers and the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) in order to provide a visual record of Myanmar’s resource sector. The site is a platform for an expanding collection of stories from independent photographers, filmmakers and writers shedding light on extractive industries in Myanmar at a time of unprecedented change in the country’s history.