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.
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
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.
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.
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.