Grantee Myint Zaw Wins 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize

Partners Asia is delighted that Myint Zaw’s work to protect the Irrawaddy River has been recognized by the prestigious Goldman Prize. In February 2015, we provided support  for Myint Zaw’s “Living Rivers” conference, which was held in Yangon to bolster public opposition to the Myitsone Dam.

In 2011, due to pressure from Myint Zaw and other activists, President Thein Sein signed an order halting dam construction for the rest of his term. They organized their efforts in bold and ingenious ways to reach as many people as possible in a country that lacks any sort of email infrastructure. Word of mouth and peer-to-peer distribution of illegally printed materials about the campaign spread the word, and the people presented a united front against the dam.

Myint Zaw works closely with the Ju Foundation on environmental work, but he recognizes the explicit link to peace in this work. Meeting with Partners Asia in February, in preparation for the conference, he recalled how he had briefly studied psychology while at Berkeley (on a journalism course). He said he was greatly influenced by the need to teach people how to listen critically, even to monks and others in positions of authority.

His view is that environmental issues enable the Ju Foundation to talk about morality, self-respect and respect for others, including the environment, outside of a religious frame of reference, and that this is important in Myanmar. Loving the environment, the country and the nation, without nationalism is a key way to unite people who are constantly divided by their cultural heritage.

Partners Asia is honored to have been able to support the Ju Foundation and Myint Zaw over the past two years, through generous gifts from our donors. Click to read the official announcement about Myint Zaw receiving the 2015 Goldman Prize.

The fight to stop the Myitsone dam is sadly not over, and Myint Zaw will continue to spearhead the campaign against its resumption. Ever since 2011, the Chinese company CPI has continued to extract resources from the upstream area that would be submerged by the seven proposed dams, including prospecting for minerals and gold.

There are worrying signs that post the 2015 election, a new government would have its hands tied by legislation that is currently in front of parliament. The Investment Law as currently drafted ties all future governments to contracts already signed by previous governments. It would also enable both local and international investors to seek redress in international courts should Myanmar governments seek to draft regulations, such as labor laws or environmental laws, that would adversely impact their investment.

For more about the Investment Law in Myanmar, read comments from the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business.