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Reflection, by Hosana

I had the opportunity to participate with an international group in an intensive four-week course at the University of Queensland, one of the leading schools in Australia.

The course title was : "Community Aspects for Resource Development (CARD)" and here I have summarised the activities I found most interesting and worthwhile during my trip.

Study trip to Ipswich City

After a number of presentations by experts in the first week of the course, we went to nearby town called Ipswich, where a range of mining activities has been going on since the early 20th century. I learned so many things from this short three-hour afternoon meeting with community members who are aggressively opposing every single mining activity in their region. They believe mining has failed to bring about the prosperity they had been promised prior to the projects.

At an early stage, the community seems to have agreed to coal extraction because the method used was underground mining, which contributes to less negative environmental impacts compared to open-cut mining which is being employed at the moment. I find it quite interesting that even though the organisation is voluntarily founded and independent, they have strong relationship with city council and are provided with the facilities that they need. This is totally different from Myanmar where the authorities only tries to harness activities that are in company's interest.

But I also found some similar characteristics between civil society in Australia and Myanmar. The first thing is they are not well empowered to go into the fight with the mining companies in terms of capacity and finance. I remember one of the members saying that when they went to the court to justify their case; they were usually beaten by the companies. The baseline study that they had done is not exhaustive and systematic. For instance, they documented only a few of the plant species with pictures, which were shown to us. Plus, they said that they are not aware of any Environmental Impact Assessment done by the company. In accordance with Australia's law and regulation, all the extractive companies are required to release Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and make it available to the public. In Myanmar, civil society has also desperately attempted to carry out community-based social impact assessments, which has also proved to be not very effective due to their lack of capacity and efficiency.

Another interesting thing about the organisation is that most of the group members are retired seniors, and literally no youth, which I thought might reflect that young people had lost a sense of community.

Meeting with "the Lock the Gate" activist group was great. Their initiative is to lock the gate of the farmer from the mining companies. It is quite funny that the photos taken during a meeting holding the sign of the Lock the Gate went viral and has caused some concern to the International Mining for Development Centre (IM4DC), which later asked them to take the photos down from the public domain. Their request had inflamed the situation and the story was covered by a number of national news agency. It is pretty exciting to learn that, even in a country with good regulation and enforcement, there are clashes with the community, and reminded me of the local saying: "Even God cannot satisfy a man's wants".

Radio Interview

While I was in Queensland, I was interviewed by one of national radio channels and I got to share the mining situation in Myanmar. Some of the points I mentioned during the interview were "Resource Curse, violation of community rights, lack of local content, and the relations between resource extraction and civil wars in Myanmar.

Economic Diversification

Economic diversification is of great importance to ensure that the economic benefits become sustainable even after the closure of a mine after a couple of decades. Resource development is inevitable for a country, particularly a developing country like Myanmar, and to leave out mining sector from development agenda would be impossible. To get the most benefits from the mining, the community needs to be well aware of significance of local content, local procurement, and the diversification of the local community.

To come up with a strategic and practical plan, community people need to consider not only need-based assessment but also resource-based study and figure out the comparative advantages of the region. In Myanmar, there is not local content policy or laws, so I am considering focusing on promoting this idea or ideas about alternative livelihoods so that in the future the community become independent after the mine closure.

Hosana's course was organised by International Mining for Development Centre, and funded by Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Implementing partners were the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia.

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