RANGOON — Villagers from Chaung Tha in Irrawaddy Division have rejected a planned land reclamation project that would see mangrove forests cleared to make way for housing plots in the beachside village.
Locals say the mangroves have protected them from natural disasters, including when Cyclone Marlar hit the area in 2006. The targeted mangrove forest is located inland from Chaung Tha’s main stretch of beach, which is the site of a designated hotel zone.
Despite the objections, a company called Sunlight appears to be moving forward with the project, and has already begun cutting down mangroves on two-and-a-half acres slated for reclamation. The land filling itself is due to start at the end of the month, with developers planning to eventually sell residential plots measuring 40-by-60 feet on the reclaimed land.
If the mangroves are cleared, local residents are afraid that erosion in the village will accelerate due to a twice-daily tidal ebb and flow.
Last year, Sunlight sought to build a housing project on about 15 acres of land in eastern Chaung Tha, at the base of Daw Na Mountain. Villagers also rejected that proposal and the project is currently on hold, according to Aye Hlaing, the National League for Democracy’s community chairman from Chaung Tha.
Locals say they do not oppose the projects in principle, but fear their potentially negative long-term impacts.
“We don’t want the environment to be damaged,” Aye Hlaing told The Irrawaddy. “Chaung Tha experiences the sea tide, in and out. The water reaches to the current land-filling place. The waters stay about six hours per tide.
“The water will come into the village when the mangroves are gone,” he added. “The village has lowland areas. The roads will be damaged.”
Ownership of the mangrove forest is split between local villagers and Burma’s Ministry of Forestry. Nipa palm trees are cultivated in the area, and some locals catch fish and crabs in the watery lowlands.
Hin Bi, the owner of Sunlight, told The Irrawaddy that the development plans would be a net positive for the community.
“The region’s value will increase and will develop after the project as people will buy the land and build houses,” he said.
Maung Maung Than, the Burma project coordinator from the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), said the integrity of Chaung Tha’s coastline could be at stake if the plan proceeds.
“An acre or two of [mangrove forest] can have a lot of impact,” said Maung Maung Than, whose RECOFTC is an international environmental NGO.
“The disappearance of mangrove forests can reduce protection from natural disasters like the Marlar storm for villagers—3,000 to 4,000 households,” said Maung Pu, a Chaung Tha villager, acknowledging that Sunlight’s plans would likely lead to a significant rise in property prices.
“The price of land, if it’s worth about 25 lakh [US$2,580], will rise to up to 100 lakh after the land is filled,” said Maung Pu, who is also an information and communications officer for the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.