RANGOON—Inle Lake, one of Burma’s most well-known attractions, is framed in part by the lush-looking surrounds of the Shan mountain range.But on closer inspection, what appears to be the green of forest is mainly hardy bush and grass, dotted with a few small trees.
Deforestation, particularly in the Inle Lake watershed area, as contributed to the lake’s receding water levels.
Kyi Kaung, who identifies as one of the Taung Yoe hill peoples, hails from the upland village of Nyaung Shwe, home to over 300 people, located close to the peak of Lat Maung Kwee mountain.
He recalls a time when the mountainwascovered withthick forest.
“When I was in my 20s, the [soil] fertility was high and the forest looked good. Now the soil has dried up with deforestation,” said Kyi Kaung, now 49, adding that it was no longer possible to reap adequate crop yields in the area without using fertilizers.
Deforestation can also leave waterways more vulnerable to runoff, Saw DohWah, an analyst with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Burma, told The Irrawaddy.
“When there is a lack of vegetation cover uphill, more silt is released to dams located downstream,” he said.
One reason locals cite for growing rates of deforestation is the careless cutting down of trees, for firewood or for use as building materials, without replanting.
“It is one of the traditions of Taung Yoe to cut down trees to build a new house for newlywed couples,” explainedNyiNyi Lwin, technical field coordinator withthe Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID).
Locals have also noticed that weather patterns have changed, affecting their crop yields and habitual farming practices. But they are struggling to adapt.
Organizations like MIID are helping villagers to build resilience and cope with the impacts of climate change.
This includes,“improving water access, helping the communities plan and manage soil and trees [and] introducing different agriculture practices and reforestation,” said David Abrahamson, Program Manager of Natural Resources, Agriculture & Rural Development with MIID.
“We are hoping that for the Myanmar government, this could be one example of how to help poor communities increase their wealth and adaptto climate change,” Abrahamson said.
As part of the reforestation plan run by MIID, villagers grow up to eight acres of bamboo, edible plants such as avocado, mango, durian, djenkol bean and about 30,000Yay Ma Nay plants.
It has been two years since MIID came to the village to launch their climate change adaptation initiative financed by the European Union. Now, newly grown bamboo and trees are already evident around the top of the mountain after the replanting process.
According to well-known Burmese meteorologist Tun Lwin, one of the main contributing factors to the severity of recent floods was the impact of deforestation.
“If you don’t have trees anymore, you can’t control water, you can’t store water anymore,” he said.“You can’t control the run-off like that if there are no trees.”
Tun Lwin said that although Burma’s forest cover is said to stand at 46 percent of land area, only around 19 percent is deep forest.
A UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)assessment on global forest resources in 2010described Burma as having one of the largest annual net loss ratios of forest area from 1990 to 2010.
Tun Lwin said the country had begun to witness first-hand the effects of climate change from the 1980s, including an increase in average temperatures and more extreme weather patterns.
According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2015, produced by global risk analysis firm Maplecroft, Burma ranked 19 of 32 countries deemed at “extreme risk” of food insecurity and instability due to climate change.
In order to mitigate and adapt to climate change, Tun Lwin said one of the most important factors was building “climate change knowledge,” not only among the general public but also within government.
“Unless you have climate-related knowledge, you can do nothing. They need a good plan and to have a good plan, they need knowledge. That’s what we are missing here,” he said.
LatLat Aye, team leader inthe Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Disaster Risk Reduction program with the UNDP in Burma, said numerous examples of extreme weather in the country, including recent floods, were a warning of the impact of climate change.
“From technical experts as well as community leaders and villagers, we believe that [more extreme weather patterns] are due to climate change,” she said.
Forty-nine year old ethnic Intha man Kyaw Sein, who lives in Taung Kyarin the Inle Lake watershed area, said local villagers had slowly begun to notice changing monsoon patterns and rates of deforestation in recent years.
Farmers have difficulties planning when to plant their crops and longer periods of sweltering heat have caused underground wells—which villagers now have to dig deeper—to more frequently run dry.
But villagers have already taken action to preserve their precious local surrounds. They protect the 98 acres of forest in the area by encouraging “villagers and strangers” not to cut down trees.
They have also dug holes close to the lake to help prevent silt from running directly into the water during heavy rains.
With UNDP funding, 30,000 native trees like the Cassia have been planted.
Results of the community’s environmental protection efforts have already been seen, Kyaw Sein said, with water runoff from their village visibly cleaner.
Although Inle Lake dwellers Kyi Kaung and Kyaw Sein speak different languages, they share one voice on the need to respond proactively as communities to protect the environment and effectively adapt to changing weather.
“This [MIID] project taught us about the links between deforestation and low yields, and how we could adapt to climate change using new [strategies]. With the new techniques we have been taught, the yields have increased,” Kyi Kaung said.