Severe Drought Hits Burma’s Famed Inle Lake

By Zarni Mann 22 April 2013

Drought has returned to Inle Lake, the famed tourist destination in Burma’s southern Shan State, affecting locals’ access to clean water and inhibiting transportation to tourist attractions surrounding the lake.

“This year is noticeably worse than last year. The water level near the northern entrance to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda remains at only three feet while the other entrances are no more than a foot deep. In the past, the water level at the area used to be at least 10 feet, even in summer. The surrounding waterways are terribly dried up,” said U Damadaza, the abbot of Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.

“Since the boats cannot reach the pagoda and have to stop far away, people have to cross over from boat to boat, which are parked at the waterways in the village. It is quite dangerous. Otherwise, they have to walk in the mud. We see no authority taking care of this yet,” he added.

He said the water level at the village of Nant Huu, and the waterway to Nang Pan Village’s Alodawpauk Pagoda, were critically low and required dredging to remove silt and restore the waterways’ carrying capacity.

Inhabitants of the lands surrounding Burma’s second largest lake say they do not have access to clean water due to the severity of the drought.

“Villagers who can afford bottled water order 20-liter bottles. But those who cannot afford it have to rely on the lake water, however it is not suitable for drinking. Some go to Tha Le Gone Village to fetch fresh water from Nyaung Gone natural spring,” said a villager from Nant Huu.

The village of Tha Le Gone is located on the northeastern banks of the lake, close to a hotel development.

“We could not get enough fresh water from the spring as water flow is reduced due to a pile of soil waste that was bulldozed for the hotel zone project. We are afraid we will suffer more if there’s no rain,” he said.

Environmentalists say Inle Lake is in a region at high risk due to climate change and the deforestation of surrounding lands. Some have warned of the lake’s complete disappearance in the near future.

“If there’s rain, all the silt flows into and is deposited in the lake because there are no forests to hold [the silt]. As a result of climate change, rain levels in the area are quite low. Deforestation of the surrounding area and extreme temperatures this year are additional factors of this problem,” said U Ohn, general secretary of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association, better known as FREDA.

“If we do not take care of this situation, Inle Lake – its scenic beauty, its dwellers and floating gardens – will be just a story to tell [the next] generation,” he added.

During the summer of 2010, high temperatures and the late arrive of seasonal monsoon rains saw Inle Lake suffer similar drought concerns. Environmentalists and locals worry that situation is playing out again this year.