Irrawaddy River and River Comprehensive Management
1.Overall Evaluation of Health Condition of Mother River
According to the investigation by environmental experts, currently the ecological environment of the Ayeyawady River Basin is facing the following major threats:
Raging flood:There are no storage regulation and flood control measures for the River Basin at present except passive defense in case of flood. The reach upstream Myitkyina is characterized by flood of a large volume and a high water head in rainy seasons. The flood often occurs in this season and surges downstream with rubbles and sediments, threatening the safety of people’s lives and properties and causing relatively large impact on vegetation, animal habitats, fish living environment, agricultural production and so on along the banks of Ayeyawady River.
Geological disaster: There are no measures against geological disasters in the Basin at present. Collapse of banks caused by irregular water flow, debris flow disasters caused by sudden rainstorms and so on happen from time to time, resulting in serious water loss and soil erosion day by day. After occurrence of ecological disasters, catastrophic damage is caused to vegetation and animal habitats and the content of sediment in downstream river channel rises accordingly. As a consequence, water quality has degraded.
Grass burning for crop rotation: Most of the Basin upstream of Myitsone is high mountains and valleys with few flat lands, so local residents have to burn grasses to get arable land on the slopes.The grass burning for crop rotation directly leads to the destruction of vegetation in large area and even the forest fire.
Excessive deforestation: Since there is no stable power supply in the local area, residents have to depend on the forest for fuel wood and house construction materials in order to make a living. Additionally, to gain family income, some residents have to be engaged in timber logging and trade, leading to destruction of the forest resources.
Gold mining: Gold mining is very common along the river banks, but there are no practical environmental protection measures. As a result, remarkable influence is exerted on the water quality of the river channel and the vegetation in the mining area.
Wildlife trade: Without proper means of subsistence such as a certain scale of industrial enterprises, modern agriculture, mature service industry and other trades, some people have to be engaged in killing wildlife and make a living by the trade of fur, bones, meat and so on of the wildlife, which has imposed a huge threat on the wildlife in the Basin.
The variety of environmental threats mentioned above directly lead to the following environmental problems:
The lack of measures for prevention and control of flood and ecological disasters and for making the best use of the circumstances, promoting advantages and eliminating disadvantages poses a threat on the safety of people’s lives and properties, agricultural production, vegetation, animal habitats and fish living environment along the banks of downstream Ayeyawady River.
The grass burning for crop rotation and the deforestation have led to vegetation deterioration and disappearance of many animal habitats, worsened the water loss and soil erosion and even caused debris flow, which in turn has increased the sediment in the river channel and degraded the water quality.
The wildlife trade has led to the reduction of species and population of the rare and endangered animals in the Basin, which has imposed direct threat on biodiversity.
The waste water with a high content of sediment, mercury, cyanide and oil generated during gold mining has been constantly degrading the water quality of the river channel, which in turn has affected the downstream industrial, agricultural, and living water and the living environment of fish.
According to comparison of the historical data by experts, the problems mentioned above have existed for a long time resulting in a trend of constant degradation of the ecological environment in the Basin.
2.Protect the Mother River with Concrete Actions
At present, the ecological environment of the Ayeyawady River Basin is being threatened by raging floods, geological disasters, gold mining, grass burning for crop rotation, excessive deforestation, wild animal and wild plant trades, etc. To stop continuous deterioration of the ecological environment in the Basin, the following actions shall be taken:
Strengthen environmental management. To stop the activities damaging ecological environment, the legal system on environment protection shall be improved and the work team of environmental management shall be established without delay. The measures to be taken shall including providing environmental protection management personnel, setting key protection regions, providing smooth and efficient law enforcement methods and establishing monitoring and management facilities, as well as necessary equipment.
Increase investment in environmental protection. To turn around the deterioration tendency of the ecological environment in the Basin, it is necessary to take a series of environmental protection measures, but what is more important is to gain larger amount of sustainable financial support. This requires concerted efforts of the government, enterprises, NGOs and local residents.
Change the traditional living style. Traditional living style, such as making a living by felling, gold mining and wild animals and plants trades, as well as consuming fuel wood for living are directly responsible for the deterioration. Therefore, the traditional living style shall be changed as soon as possible. To change the traditional living style, the support of stable and cheap energy supply, as well as reliable and sustainable economic source are required.
Change the way of economic development. The fundamental way to gain stable and cheap energy supply, as well as reliable and sustainable economic source is to change the current economic development mode. It requires transforming the resource advantages of north Myanmar into economic advantages, as well as sound infrastructure including highway, electric power, communication, hydrology and safety forecast to facilitate the comprehensive development of modern agriculture, tourism and service industry. Stable energy could facilitate the development of non-polluting industrial projects and transforming of resource advantages could provide financial resources to the government for ecological protection.
Therefore, the inevitable choice for the ecological environment protection of the Basin is to give full play of resource advantages, to develop non-polluting industrial projects and to promote sustainable development of regional ecology and economy.
Strengthen river course management. To completely change the influence of floods to the social economy and ecological environment, river course management shall be strengthened. Effective flood control shall be realized, during which passive flood fighting shall be changed into active river training. By making the best use of the circumstances, promoting advantages and eliminating disadvantages, the frequent flood disasters can be turned into superior resources through regional ecological protection, soil and water conservation, flood regulation and storage, as well as flood forecasting and warning.
To control the adverse influence of geological disasters, technical research and prediction abilities of regional geological conditions shall be improved as soon as possible. Specific disaster alleviation measures shall be proposed according to weather forecast, flood monitoring and geological condition monitoring, so as to control the adverse influence caused by geological disasters.
Speeding up the development of large hydropower projects in the Basin contributes to expanding the investment channel of environmental protection, changing the traditional living style of local residents and changing current local economic development mode. It transforms the rich hydropower resource advantages into economic advantages and the benefit of economic development is used to support ecological protection. To completely change the influence of floods to the social economy and ecological environment, measures shall be taken to make the best use of the circumstances, promoting advantages and eliminating disadvantages. And the frequent flood disasters can be turned into superior resources, thus the overall development of the mother river is realized in this way.
Graphic of the planned Myitsone dam. Photo: SPIC