River Bank Erosion Forces Hundreds of Families to Relocate

By Zarni Mann 3 September 2013

RANGOON — Erosion has led to the collapse of long stretches of river bank along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers in Magwe Division, central Burma, forcing hundreds of households in riverine communities to relocate to safer areas, according to local villagers.

In Thahtaygone village, Yaynanchaung Township, about 32 houses out of 120 household were moved in recent days, said U Agga Daza, an abbot of the village monastery. The relocation of a local monastery and a primary school, however, is problematic.

“We still have to wait for the permission from township educational office. Without their approval, we can’t move the school. We do not get support for the relocation of the school, so the village will have to share the costs” of moving, U Agga Daza told The Irrawaddy.

He said village officials had approached education authorities about the problem, but had yet to receive a reply. “The area of land loss is just one hundred feet away from the school. If we do not get the permission in time, we will decide to move the school by ourselves,” said another villager.

In Nyamyargyi, Lay Yar Pyae, Ngar Lan, Nwae Ni and Aung Pan Kyaung villages in Yaysagyo Township, high water levels in the Chindwin River have also led to collapse of river banks. In each village, about 150 households are being threatened by the collapse and will have to move if erosion continues.

In Nyamyargyi, the worst-affected village, 180 families have already been forced to relocate as their homes are dangerously close to the disintegrating river banks. Local villagers complained that it was the third time that they were forced to move due to river bank erosion, adding that they also had to relocate in 1993 and 2012.

“Actually, we recently relocated after last year’s erosion, so we now don’t have enough savings to buy new land for relocation. Another issue is that the only place we can find is near Nyamyarlay village. It will be a bit crowded if we moved there,” said villager Nyein Mar.

“Since last year, we lost our farmlands so that we do not have enough money to buy new land. If erosion would occur every year, we will not be able to survive”, she said. Nyein Mar added that the displaced villagers from Nyamyargyi were forced to live together on a small area elsewhere, as they could not afford to buy any bigger plots.

Villagers said Yaysagyo Township township and district authorities had inspected the river bank collapse last week and ordered the implementation of provisionary measures, such as the construction of a retaining wall made with bamboo and reeds. The villagers added, however, that the measures had done little to prevent further erosion.

“Water levels are getting high as rains in the upper region of the river are heavy this year. So the water flow is quite strong this year, causing land erosion,” said Nyein Mar.

Erosion and collapse of river banks along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers is common during the rainy season and riverine communities are frequently forced to relocate.

According to U Ohn, an environmentalist working for Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association in Rangoon, the worsening erosion is caused by rampant deforestation and river dredging in central and northern Burma.

“Deforestation in the watersheds of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers is the main cause behind this erosion,” he said, adding that “The government has allowed companies to dredge sands and pebbles near the river banks without any controls.”

Riverine communities also contribute to the environmental problem, said U Ohn. “Deforestation is also occurring along the riverbanks because people collect firewood. They also burn vegetation to clear land for farming,” he said, adding that villagers should be educated about maintaining vegetation along the rivers.

Government policies for river system management have been poorly developed under the past military regime. Currently, international donors are working with the government to develop and fund such management plans.

South Korea has pledged support for a three-year, US$4.2 million Irrawaddy River Master Plan that will contain an erosion prevention component, according a 2013 UN workshop presentation by Ministry of Transport’s director of water resources Sei Tun.

The Mandalay Division government reportedly announced in May that it plans to spend $1.1 million on river bank reinforcement along the Irrawaddy.