Govt Investigates Taungthaman Lake Project, Following Locals’ Complaints

By Zarni Mann 13 September 2016

­MANDALAY – The divisional government launched an investigation into a resort and culture park under construction on the eastern bank of the famous Thaungthaman Lake outside the city of Mandalay, after local residents complained about the impact of the project.

Some of the initial construction near the famous U Bein Bridge has been suspended after staff from a number of ministries visited the site last Thursday. They gave notice to halt construction after concerns were raised that it could damage the local culture and environment.

Representatives from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, the Department of Archaeology under the Ministry of Culture, and Mandalay’s Department of Municipal Affairs all visited the site.

“The archaeological department has instructed them to suspend their operations near U Bein Bridge and to repair the area,” said U Myo Thit, divisional minister of environmental conservation and forestry.

According to a spokesperson for construction company Taungthaman Thitsar, the project is approximately halfway finished clearing the area and piling soil for foundations. The process will take at least one year to be completed.

The investigation comes after residents of Amarapura Township appealed to the divisional government regarding the impact of the project. Locals blamed the development for abnormal flood levels during the early August monsoon, and complained that the construction has cut off access between villages, the lake, and nearby waterways.

Locals said it took around one month for water throughout the surrounding area to recede after flooding, although the level of the lake itself went down after just two days.

“This is abnormal and it only happened after the project began building up the eastern bank. Normally, any flooding recedes along with the water level of the lake. We’ve suffered a lot to clean out our village,” said U Chit Thin, an elder of Thaungthaman village.

Locals complain that although road conditions have been improved, they have been constructed on raised soil, and the extra sediment in turn blocks waterways. They say that the culture park has blocked access to the lake and other adjoining waterways. Farmers were hoping to grow crops on fields recently drained by government schemes after decades under water.

In the past, Taungthaman Lake naturally experienced seasonal shifts in water levels. It filled up with water during monsoons and drained in the winter and summer. Locals worked as fishermen during the monsoon season and grew corn, pulses and vegetables during the winter. The area is known for its beauty, including the world’s oldest and longest teakwood bridge, U Bein Bridge.

“We are watching closely and will appeal to the government to review the project, though we understand that it is good for regional development,” said U Kan Myint, 62, an elder in Taungthaman village. “We are not against the development, but we also want the authorities and the responsible persons to think about locals as well.”

Taungthaman Thitsar said they are committed to the needs of locals living around Thaungthaman Lake.

“In every aspect of the project, we are taking care to make sure not to affect the environment, the region’s historical value, or the livelihood of the locals. The local flooding was due to heavy rain and rising water levels, not because of our project,” said Khin Maung Tun, spokesperson of Taungthaman Thitsar company.

“The locals can tell us openly any disagreements that they have and we are ready to listen to them,” he added.

The spokesperson said the culture park intends to revive and promote Burmese culture and history. The park will be public and will host traditional seasonal events. “There are plans to employ the locals who have traditional handicraft skills. We believe our project will not only develop the region but also the lives of the locals,” Khin Maung Tun said.