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United Nations Wa Project expands

Civilized, sophisticated Singapore with shop-houses

United Nations Wa Project expands

Ronald Renard

UN planners are redesigning the Wa Project in the Shan State of Myanmar. A revised project document is being finalized at UNODC headquarters in Vienna that will extend the work of the project from its enclave in the small southern Wa Region, where it has operated since 1996, to the entire region.

The main road of the village Long Tan, a typical Wa city.

The revised project will address the needs of the peoples of the Wa Region where a ban on opium poppy cultivation goes into effect as of 26 June 2005 (International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking). Over 90 percent of the 400,000 people in the region depend on opium income to offset rice shortages. Because few alternative income sources exist, the growers, mainly Wa but also including Lahu, Akha, Shan, Palaung, and Kachin face a difficult situation when the ban goes into effect.

This photo has it all: forbidden logging on the very left, some so big that it needs a ten wheel truck to transport one! You can see an old part of a Wa Village in the foreground and resettlement Wa village in the background.

Skeptics claim that the ban will either be postponed or not enforced comprehensively. However, UN officials - some of whom who have worked with Wa leaders for about a decade - are convinced the Wa are determined to make a go of eliminating opium.

Chinese logging vehicle at a dam in northern Wa.

Since the needs are so great and UNODC resources limited, partnerships through KOWI (Kokang and Wa Initiative) established in 2003 will be brought to bear. Already several NGOs such as Malteser (Germany) and AMI (France) are active in the Wa Region, mainly in health care such as HIV/AIDS prevention and malaria control.

The UN’s World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation are also becoming involved. In July 2004, 500 tons of rice reached the Wa designed to support Food for Work projects. The WFP provides rice in exchange for villager work to improve their ability to make a living, such as by expanding rice fields and building small feeder roads to provide access for local produce to markets.

Two Wa women with a child.

By 2007, when this third and final project phase is completed, these and other partners such as UNDP will be able to take over the work so UNODC can work in other drug-producing areas of the country.

Without such help, a situation might arise such as is now occurring in Kokang where opium was banned in 2002. Out of a 200,000 population, 60,000 have now left Kokang, to grow poppies elsewhere. Severe rice shortages have resulted in health problems and led to high absenteeism in schools. Phase 3 aims to help prevent such problems from occurring in the Wa Region by acting before the ban.

The first two phases of the Wa Project followed an integrated approach to provide inputs to support alternative livelihoods (agriculture, livestock, income generation), health, education, infrastructure, and crop monitoring, under an overall community development approach. During this time the UN also found ways to work in this remote region with overlapping authorities.

When the project started, the UN made the agreement with the Myanmar government. However, it was necessary to renegotiate many aspects of the project with the Wa Central Committee and the Wa army, both of which were unfamiliar with community-based work, the United Nations, and also distrusted the government. Wa leaders, considerably influenced by the top-down thinking they inherited from the Burma Communist Party from the mid-1960s to 1989, would have preferred the UN develop infrastructure such as roads, schools, and medical facilities as well as large-scale initiatives such as a tin smelter, paper factory, and rubber plantations. Although the UN made some concessions in this regard, and the Wa on occasion prevented community-based work from taking place, (even once in 2000 at gunpoint), mutual trust developed so that a more bottom-up approach is being integrated in the Wa’s own planning.

As it has learned how to work in the Wa Region, so has it learned to work with the government in a remote area of the country where many nationals cannot visit. Although this raises suspicions among some border groups and NGOs, the UN contends that this is a big ‘poor country’ subject with so many problems that ought not to be ignored or postponed until a political situation can be reached.


Civilized, sophisticated Singapore with shop-houses

Rebecca Lomax

I would like to take issue with those friends who told us to just skip Singapore. According to their collective wisdom, it is regulated beyond being interesting and so corporate that you feel as though you are in a perpetual meeting: bored and bland. Using the direct flight with SilkAir directly from Chiang Mai we decided to check it out by ourselves.

Colorful shop-houses, a huge contrast to the high rise buildings.

True, Singapore is regulated and legislated to the point that we can’t help but smile. Public behavior is strictly enforced and misdemeanors abound. Forget about spitting or urinating in public, jaywalking or - chewing gum? Having been in the French Quarter of New Orleans on many Sunday mornings after tourists and locals have enjoyed a boisterous Saturday night, I cheered the unobstructed sidewalks and clean smell.

Sir Stamford Raffles, scholar and Singapore colonist, still guards Singapore.

But Singapore isn’t only about major corporations and splendid high rise architecture. In little ethnic neighborhoods all over town shop-houses, some built as early as 1840, have been preserved and renovated and provide a striking contrast to the towers of corporate Singapore. Chinatown, Telok Ayer and Marina Bay in Colonial Singapore offer charming examples. Neighborhoods of colorful shop-houses evoke memories of home, and those Sunday morning smells of the French Quarter don’t seem so bad after all.