Toily Kurbanov: Opening Remarks at the Knowledge Sharing Workshop on Lake Conservation Management Practices

Jun 10, 2014

Your Excellency, Shan State Minister of Forestry and Mining, U Sai Aik Paung; Your Excellency, Minister of Innthar Affairs, U Win Myint; Honorable members of the Shan State Government, Distinguished guests and participants of Union and State Government, The Ambassador of Norway, Your Excellency, Ms. Ann Ollestad, distinguished colleagues and friends;

As we have come together for the opening of the conference on lake conservation management mechanisms and practices bridging the Asia Pacific experiences for the conservation of Inle Lake and as we are meeting in the capital city of the most beautiful, most diverse and famously hospitable Shan State, let me greet you in Shan and say Mai Sun Kha.

As we are meeting in this great nation of Myanmar, this great union of at least 135 diverse races, including Pa-O, Danu, Taung Yoe, let me also greet all of you and say Mingalabar. And as I am about to exhaust my vocabulary of local languages, let me switch to English language for the rest of my remarks  and extend to you warm greetings and sincere wishes for good health, well-being and mental & spiritual health on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We may speak different languages, come from different countries, have different life experiences, wear different clothes, but, we all have come together sharing the same purpose: protection and sustainable development of Inle Lake.

A lot has been done and this area over recent years and, in fact, when we look back to review past efforts we can easily observe that for all the results achieved in the past, they were derived through joint collaboration.

When Union and State Governments work together, they achieve breakthrough in the development of impressive infrastructure around the Inle Lake. Where private sector and local communities worked together they established first class hotel accommodation. Where development partners and civil society work together, they improve the communities' awareness of sustainable livelihoods & agricultural practices.

And when all of the stakeholders work together they put the Inle Lake on the world map of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves where it is on the list of natural assets of not just national but global significance. In fact, we are expecting any day the news from UNESCO that Inle Lake is approved as a Biosphere Reserve of global stature and importance.

Ladies and Gentlemen

We have some good reasons to celebrate our joint work. We also have very real reasons to ask ourselves: what we have been doing is good, but is it good enough? Have we stopped unsustainable natural resource use practices? Having spent billions of Kyats, millions of dollars, implemented hundreds of projects, and organized dozens of workshops, are we confident of preserving Inle Lake for future generations?

We have studied these questions in UNDP, and I must say with very heavy heart, that the answer to those questions is probably “no”. For the lake water surface is shrinking: from 104 square miles in 1934 to something more than half of that - only 63 square miles in 2007. At this rate and speed of resource depletion, there may be no Inle Lake by the end of this century.

Today, we are enjoying the beauty of Inle Lake because generation after generation of Innthar, Danu, Taung Yoe, and Shan ethnic people preserved it for us. Our children may still enjoy it but unless we stop unsustainable exploitation of the lake our grandchildren will only know of it through history books and old Facebook photos postings.

Therefore, the first set of questions that this meeting needs to address is around whether all actors - Union Government, Shan Government, local authorities, private sector, communities, civil society, development partners have been indeed working in united, coordinated and interested, fashion on the common objective of Inle lake preservation? Or whether we need stronger coordination mechanisms,  more robust institutions, perhaps even a specific, dedicated  body, an Inle Lake Authority, to take charge  of the coordination of all actors, to be empowered by authorities at all levels, and to be held accountable for preservation and sustainable development of Inle.

Ladies and Gentlemen

As you will be tackling these important questions, we should also remember that at the heart of our concerns is not just a beautiful lake, but, a lake with almost 400,000 people of different ethnicities - men, women, children, elderly people, people with disabilities. Only a minority of them are wealthy, most are struggling to make ends meet, and in fact, one in 4 families (this is average for Shan State) are living below poverty line. For them, the preservation of Inle Lake will means little if it does not promise improved livelihoods, more jobs, better schools and health care facilities.

Let me just share with you some numbers. In the last few years, UNDP was implementing Inle Lake Conservation Project thanks to contribution from the Government of Norway, about 2 Million US dollars. Norway is considered amongst the most generous donor countries in the world: around 1% be their GNI is channeled to ODA. These numbers mean that for Norway to invest 2 Million US dollars of their taxpayers’ money in Inle Lake, their people back home - farmers, oil engineers, restaurant waiters - had to create 200 million US dollars in goods and services in the economy.

Myanmar is fortunate that it can still tap into donor assistance, but sooner or later, it will have to stand on its own - like many other countries in Asia that are working or have worked their way out of poverty. Therefore, we should be asking ourselves: what will be the ways to generate at least additional 200 million US dollars in Inle Lake’s economy without undermining its future and to set aside some money for preservation activities.

Hence, the second objective of this meeting is to discuss how the stronger governance arrangements can spearhead sustainable growth and financing mechanisms that will protect the lake and help lift people out of poverty?

Ladies and Gentlemen

UNDP and our partners have some good news for you also, and that is Myanmar is not alone. We are pleased to present to you at this workshop a distinguished roster of experts from Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Japan- who have already spent years if not decades in solving similar issues across Asia. They bring to Myanmar, to Shan State and to Inle Lake invaluable expertise on lake development authorities, management systems and mechanisms. We are fortunate to have them and grateful for their time and advice.

But our meeting is called workshop not talkshop. Therefore, the programme provides opportunity to not only listen, but also to brainstorm which of the foreign experiences will be most relevant on Myanmar soil. How can we replicate their successes and avoid their mistakes? What will be our plan of concrete actions for preservation and sustainable development of Inle Lake? What are the decisions and priorities that matter most this year; in 2015; and beyond that once implemented will guarantee that our generation made all we could to cherish Inle Lake, the unique national treasure of the past, present and future Myanmar?

On this note, we wish all of you the most the fruitful and productive three days ahead.


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