Environmentalists Reject Irrawaddy River as ‘International’ Waterway

Myanmar, Burma, The Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy River, China, Ayeyarwady, environmentalism, international

Men bathe on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay. (Photo: Reuters)

MANDALAY — Environmental activists have rejected a government body’s designation of the Irrawaddy River as an “international river,” saying the trans-border status could invite undue influence on the river by neighboring countries.

In a letter, Burma’s Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems (DWIR) wrote that the Irrawaddy originated from the tributary rivers of Dayin and Xi-ann in China, and another small river from India, and thus was an “international” river spanning the three countries. The letter was included in an invitation to the Mandalay-based environmental NGO Green Activities to attend an event on Friday in Mandalay concerning the Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management project.

Activists argued that the relative insignificance of the tributaries did not warrant the description of the Irrawaddy—which flows across more than 1,300 miles in Burma and sustains livelihoods for millions of Burmese people—as an international river.

“If they use [terminology] like this, someday, every time we talk about the Irrawaddy, we will have to negotiate with those two countries. The Chinese are saying the Irrawaddy is a part of China because they want to resume the Myitsone dam project. Such usage is intolerable,” said Tin Thit, president of Green Activities.

“Can we say the whole Irrawaddy is originating from China or another country and call it an ‘international river,’ simply because of a small river from China that has little effect on the flow of the Irrawaddy?” Tin Thit said.

The activists said they raised their disagreement on the designation by distributing pamphlets and statements at the Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management (AIRBM) event, condemning the DWIR assertion.

According to the activists, a World Bank official involved with the AIRBM reacted to the environmentalists’ concerns by apologizing and assuring them that the designation would not happen again.

The AIRBM is a US$100 million project funded by the World Bank that aims to safeguard the Irrawaddy River, its ecosystem and the livelihoods of the people living along it.

“Actually, that letter came from DWIR, which is under the Ministry of Transport. As they are part of the government, they must take care of the terminology, as the issue of the Irrawaddy is very sensitive—no one wants the influence of China or another country over this river since China planned to build a dam on it,” said Maung Maung Oo, secretary of Green Activities who attended the event.

The event was organized to share information on the preliminary stages of the AIRBM project, and seek advice and consultation from local NGOs, environmentalists and social workers. The project includes efforts to improve the waterway’s flow between Mandalay and Nyaung Oo, which is badly crimped by sedimentation.

“We advised them that the project should be people-centered and urged them to bring along local environmentalists and researchers to benefit the people, not the government,” Maung Maung Oo said.

4 Responses to Environmentalists Reject Irrawaddy River as ‘International’ Waterway

  1. Irrawaddy river is not a prostitute. It will never be open to all. Thein Sein administration is running business crazy. It is not willing to have real democracy while it is forcing Irrawaddy to prostitute to aliens.

  2. Actually, the government should represent the people, but very sadly, it doesn’t. Their ignorance of, and lack of concern with, the people’s welfare and pursuit of happiness leads them to their ostentatious feeling of pride in claiming something they think is great, such as designating the Irrawaddy river international – they have no idea of political impact as long as it does not meddle with the assumed supremacy of their military dictatorship.
    I am one who support the environmentalists’ endeavors.
    And there is nothing wrong with the aim and object, and hopefully, their implementation of the project.

  3. DWIR seemed to be sleepwalking with talking about the river.I am sure some people got a chill up their spines.

  4. I never heard of other country has claimed it’s co-own the river which was flowing inside another country’s territory because of some of its country rivers flow into the main river.

    No other countries can claim of ownership inside another country or Burmese territory.

    They can do whatever they like on river which was inside their territory.
    Don’t confuse with East and South China seas dispute between China and other Nations.

    I hope Burmese environmentalists and Green activists should educate themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available. Comments with external links in the body text will be deleted by moderators.