Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation are developing policies to mainstream biodiversity conservation into plans and practices for the cement industry.
On 11 May, the first ‘karst (limestone) ecosystem conservation’ stakeholder workshop, including forestry, environmental conservation, mining and heavy industry departments, cement companies and civil society organisations convened to ensure that policies, plans and practices for limestone quarrying by the cement industry include appropriate safeguards for karst ecosystems.
Limestone is a key raw material for the cement industry. Considering Myanmar’s rapid urban growth and the growing demand for cement to feed road and building construction, the development of quarries and cement companies is expected to accelerate, with foreign investment in the sector increasing.
The environmental impact of quarrying limestone has rarely been adequately assessed, not only in Myanmar, but across the world. The special nature and concerns of limestone areas have not been taken into account. The biodiversity of limestone ecosystems, both surface and cave systems, is highly characteristic and restricted, comprising species able to cope with the extremely alkaline environment, species that can endure dry soil and rock conditions, and species confined to caves. Some species are confined to a single limestone hill or cave system, the quarrying of which can lead rapidly to global species extinction.
Some of the cave species have significant economic value and provide outstanding environmental services. For example, swiftlets found on the limestone islands of the Myeik archipelago produce edible nests, while large colonies of cave bats feed on millions of insects every night in the surrounding agricultural landscapes, thus helping to control pests in thousands of hectares of paddy fields.
The extraordinary bumblebee bat, the smallest bat in the world weighing no more than two grams, occurs in very few caves in Mon and Kayin states, as well as adjacent sites in Thailand.
Myanmar’s caves also have tremendous archaeological and cultural value; the Padah Lin harbours remnants of Neolithic culture, including 13,000-year-old rock paintings of human hands and animals. Other caves host important historic Buddhist temples such as the Pindaya caves temple with Buddha images dating back to the late 18th century. The caves remain an important pilgrimage site even today. Without doubt there are unknown and hidden caves in Myanmar that could hold enormous interest related to Myanmar’s rich heritage.
Important limestone and cave areas in Myanmar are located mainly in Shan, Kayah, Kayin states, and in Mandalay and Taninthayi Regions.
In the workshop, participants identified several recommendations and actions for mainstreaming karst biodiversity conservation into the cement sector:
1. Develop guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessments for limestone quarries;
2. Designate and protect key limestone biodiversity areas for protected area designation (e.g. Wildlife Sanctuary) or management as local nature monuments (e.g. cave management by local monastery);
3. Develop best practices for biodiversity conservation for limestone quarry plans and operations;
4. Pilot best practices for limestone ecosystem conservation at private sector and state-owned cement company quarries.
Cement companies can completely destroy limestone ecosystems and cause global species extinction. However, if the government develops adequate EIA and planning procedures that identify and avoid areas of high limestone biodiversity for the development of limestone quarries, and if the cement industry applies best practices in limestone quarrying, Myanmar can still safeguard the outstanding natural and cultural heritage of its unique limestone landscapes.’ says Fauna & Flora International’s Myanmar Programme Director, Frank Momberg.