A Tide of Trash Swamping Setse Beach

By Hintharnee 21 April 2017

THANBYUZAYAT, Mon State—Setse Beach and its iconic Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, built upon a rocky promontory about 900 feet from the shore, are among the top attractions in southern Burma’s Mon State.

Stretching for 5.6 kilometers, the brown-sand beach in Thanbyuzayat Township faces the Gulf of Martaban in the Andaman Sea and can be reached by car in one and a half hours from the state capital Moulmein.

Despite being a popular resort since the 19th century, successive governments’ attempts to turn the strip into a well-facilitated, clean destination have been hindered by mismanagement and littering.

These days, plastic bags, water bottles, coconut husks, and other rubbish strewn across the sands spoil the beach; vendors and their customers contribute to the eyesore by flinging their trash on the ground.

An environmental committee formed of lawmakers from the Lower House and the state parliament visited the beach on April 19 after receiving complaints about the litter.

“The state parliamentary committee had to make the field survey because the regional authorities are not ensuring the sanitation of the resort,” Lower House lawmaker U Nyan Hein of Thanbyuzayat Township told The Irrawaddy.

The committee found creeks blocked by rubbish; sand taken from the beach and sold to construction sites; an absence of waste systems in hotels and bungalows; and unlicensed shops.

“Some bungalows just dump sewage into ditches,” said U Nyan Hein. “The sewage then may dissolve into the sea when the tide comes in. The situation was quite bad in Kayinthaung village, where the graveyard is almost submerged now [because the creeks are blocked by litter].”

People are also flouting bans on motorbikes and the sale of food on the beach, which continues the stream of rubbish.

More than 20 government departments including Myanmar Railways, the labor department, and Thanbyuzayat Township own land there.

“Since the time of the Myanmar Socialist Program Party, departments have built bungalows here for their heads to stay during visits,” said U Min Min Latt, the chairman of Thanbyuzayat Township.

“Those bungalows are still managed by the same departments. Our municipality has leased out our land for 30 years, and 21 Paradise Hotel is the only one operated by a private businessman,” he said.

U Nyan Hein said the “so-called” hotels and bungalows built and operated by the departments on the beach do not have adequate facilities.

Former Mon State chief minister U Ohn Myint of the U Thein Sein administration tried to renovate the area. He formed management committees at state, township and village levels to oversee the running of the beach, but bad management and a lack of funds stifled the initiatives.

Mon State chief minister Dr Aye Zan said the state government began implementing plans to develop Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Setse Beach, and Moulmein as tourist destinations when it took office.

The state’s resources and environmental conservation minister, Dr Min Ky Win, said he had told managers of hotels and bungalows on the beach to follow the rules and regulations, and report violations.

“We have instructed hotels to dump their waste properly. If they fail to follow the instruction, we will take disciplinary action, depending on the degree of their violations. We can suspend their operation, but we’ve never done it before,” he said.

Only time will tell whether U Aye Zan and his colleagues can solve the problems plaguing Setse Beach and realize its potential to be one of the country’s best retreats.