Annual Drought Plagues Inle Lake

By Zarni Mann 7 April 2015

MANDALAY — Southern Shan State’s famed Inle Lake is again facing drought conditions that have seen many of the area’s waterways dry up and access to clean water reduced.

Though boating through the lake’s central reservoir remains possible, water levels are significantly lower at the villages of Ywa Ma and Nant Huu, located on the southwest end of the lake near the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, and at the waterway south to Nang Pan village.

“To restore the waterways, dredging the silt is urgently needed,” said Thar Gyi, a resident of Thale Oo village. “Many of the waterways of the villages on the eastern and western banks are mostly dried up. The worst-hit villages are on the western bank.”

High temperatures and the failure of pre-monsoon rains to materialize this year are being blamed for the drought, which can cause particular headaches in an area that largely relies on water transport. Currently, water levels in the channel linking the lake to the tourist town of Nyaung Shwe and the entrance to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the lake’s most famous shrine, are down considerably but motorized boats are still able to pass through.

“We’ve informed the local authorities to dredge the waterway before summer. It was done only for the waterway to the pagoda and for the VIPs’ waterway—the routes to major attractions and hotels,” said a member of the pagoda’s board of trustees.

According to locals, many villagers are taking the channels on foot on water routes that are too shallow or have completely dried up and can no longer accommodate boats.

“Climate change is affecting us a lot. Given the drought, we are now struggling to find clean water,” said U Damadaza, an abbot from Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.

Many of the area’s residents rely on lake water for cooking and other household tasks.

“Those who can’t afford bottled water have no choice,” U Damadaza explained. “We hope that conservation of the forests around the lake will work as soon as possible to protect the lake.”

Unrelated to the drought, lake dwellers were told by local authorities through a letter of notice that water from the lake was not suitable to drink, especially during the summer months. The notice said the water’s PH level, an indicator of acidity, was measured in February exceeding 8.2—a level beyond what is considered potable—and was likely to rise further in the summer.

The notice also urged lake dwellers to reduce their use of chemical fertilizers on the many floating gardens that the lake hosts, with local authorities warning that consequences of unrestrained use of fertilizers included water toxicity and attendant negative impacts for the area’s flora and fauna.

In the summer of 2010, high temperatures and an irregular monsoon season blamed on climate change resulted in severe drought in the area, a popular tourism destination. Every year since, Inle Lake has been plagued by similar problems.

“Support from authorities is needed for environmental protection of the lake. The lake dwellers also need to be educated about excessive use of chemicals on crops to protect clean water as well,” said U Damadaza.

“We hope the summer won’t last long,” he added.

In Shan State, a bout of showers preceding the monsoon rains typically arrive in mid-March, with the rainy season fully setting in by June and lasting through September.