RANGOON — Over 100 local communities in Shan State banded together on Monday to demand a stop to the deterioration of Inle Lake, which has suffered a dramatic drop in water levels and quality as a result of nearby development.
An event in Nyaung Shwe Township organized by Senior Women of Shan State, which included public talks and discussions with local villagers, kicked off a signature campaign to petition the government for environmental safeguards to protect the lake from further degradation.
“Changes in the past decades are threatening the health of the lake,” read a statement released by the group on Monday. “If it continues like this, the lake could dry up in the near future and local livelihoods would be ruined. We are concerned enough that locals from Inle, local monks and village elders have joined together to start a movement to conserve the lake, in order to prevent damage and ensure sustainable development.”
Inle Lake is the second largest body of fresh water in Burma. For years, it has suffered from a range of environmental problems such as drought, deforestation and pollution, and concerns over its health have accelerated with the construction of new hotel developments to accommodate the burgeoning tourist trade.
Khin Nyunt, a 51-year-old villager from Mine Thout, told The Irrawaddy that water levels had recently shrunk dramatically across the lake.
“The lake is our second city,” she said. “In the past, there was no chopping down trees, not many hotels and no destruction of floating gardens. But now, since conditions are worsening, we have become very worried.”
A photo exhibition documenting the lake’s current condition, pollution emanating from hotel developments on the eastern side of the lake and damage to the area’s famed floating gardens was also unveiled at Monday’s event.
“We cannot have another hotel zone and more new buildings,” Sao Haymer Thaike, a member of SWSS, told The Irrawaddy. “We need to raise community awareness to conserve the lake and stop polluting the surroundings.”
The UN cultural agency, Unesco, last week added Inle Lake to its list of 651 biosphere reserves, becoming the first location in Burma to join the list. Locals hope the designation will bring international help to arrest the lake’s decline. The SWSS will collect signatures until World Rivers Day on Sept. 27, and will present its petition to Union, state and local authorities.