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Myanmar cracking down on opium, but conflicts fuel drug trade | News

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The amount of land being used to grow opium poppies continues to decline in Myanmar, but ongoing conflicts are hampering efforts to stamp out the trade at a time when the illicit drug economy is becoming increasingly diverse, according to a new UN report.

Some 37,300 hectares of land in the country was under poppy cultivation last year, down from 41,000 in 2017, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its Myanmar Opium Survey 2018 on Friday.

Nearly 90 percent of all the opium was grown in the northeastern Shan state, where government forces continue to battle ethnic rebels.

“The biggest drops in cultivation have been seen in areas that have had relatively good security,” the UNODC said.

“However, in parts of Shan and Kachin experiencing a protracted state of conflict, high concentrations of poppy cultivation have continued – a clear correlation between conflict and opium production.”





 

Myanmar has been battling conflicts in its border regions for decades and the unrest has long underpinned the drugs trade; in the mid-1990s, Myanmar’s Golden Triangle, which includes the border areas of Laos and Thailand, had the dubious distinction of being the centre of the world’s opium and heroin trade.

Since then, government eradication efforts have helped tackle the problem, but the conflicts continue to provide the kind of conditions that allow the illicit drug trade to thrive.

Myanmar is still the world’s second biggest producer, after Afghanistan, and it remains the major supplier of opium and heroin in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia.

Shift to methamphetamines 

The UN drugs and crimes agency said civil strife last year also made it difficult for the government to access opium-growing areas, obstructing efforts to destroy poppy fields.

About 2,605 hectares was eradicated in 2018, 26 percent less than the previous year, it said. UNODC data shows eradication has been in decline since 2015.

The agency noted that economic problems including a lack of job opportunities and income inequality also contributed to the resilience of the drug trade amid increasing efforts by traffickers and organised criminals to diversify the market.






UN warns of intensified violence in northern Myanmar

The UN drugs and crimes agency pointed out that of the 11 countries in the region that shared data with it, nine now say methamphetamine is their biggest drug of concern, compared with only four a decade ago when heroin was their main worry.

“There has been a sharp increase in the supply of, and demand for, synthetic drugs and particularly methamphetamine across East and Southeast Asia and neighbouring regions,” the UNODC said. “The downward trend in opium cultivation and related heroin production needs to be understood in this context.”

The agency’s report came days after the International Crisis Group said that the long-running conflict in Shan state had turned the area into a hub for the global trade in crystal methamphetamine or ice, with the business controlled by local armed groups.

“The trade, which now dwarfs legitimate business activities, creates a political economy inimical to peace and security,” the group said in a report on Monday.

“It generates revenue for armed groups of all stripes.”

Crisis Group also said the militias and other armed groups who control both the areas of production and the main trafficking routes have no incentive to demobilise, because the weapons, territorial control and absence of state institutions are essential to the maintenance of their drug income.

The trade also attracts transnational criminal groups and allows “a culture of payoffs and graft to flourish” as officials are bribed for protection, support or to turn a blind eye to what it happening.

This “adds to the grievances of ethnic minority communities that underpin the seventy-year old civil war“, the group’s research found.

Regional strategy needed

In its survey, UNODC noted that while fewer hectares of land were being cultivated with poppies in Shan and Kachin, the concentration of fields was highest in the parts of the states where the conflict was most protracted.

In Kachin, most opium cultivation took place in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army, while in North Shan it was in areas under the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army; in South Shan, the Pa-O National Liberation Army, the Restoration Council of Shan State and the Shan State Army South, and in East Shan, the People Militia’s Force.

“There is a direct connection between drugs and conflict in the country, with the drug economy supporting the conflict and in-turn the conflict facilitating the drug economy,” the UNODC said. “Providing solutions to the conflict requires breaking this cycle.”

Resolving the issue will also require regional cooperation, Jeremy Douglas, regional representative for the UNODC in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, told Al Jazeera.

The manufacture of methamphetamines and ice require precursor chemicals, which are often smuggled into the country from China, while the drugs themselves need reliable trafficking networks to reach consumers beyond Myanmar’s borders.

“The region needs a shared strategy,” Douglas said. “Myanmar will not be able to solve the situation alone.”

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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