The bride of Myanmar history
A FEW days ago, there was the finale of a song contest on one of the channels of Myanmar Television. The title of the song the winner chose to sing at the event was “The Bride of History,” a very popular song composed and vocalised a couple of decades ago by a local legendary figure in Myanmar music. The names of the winner of the televised song contest and the composer, who has already passed away, are well-known to the public in this country, and they do matter, but what matters most is the name “the bride,” which refers to the river Ayeyarwady.
It is undeniable that the Ayeyarwady is the longest and most famous river in Myanmar and has witnessed all kinds of ups and downs – the greatness of powerful empires and the downfalls of hundreds of kings and queens – in the country. Still, it is the soul and lifeblood of Myanmar. That is what the song is about. It has some sort of political implications and is well-accepted by audiences.
What should be stressed here would be the river’s social and economic value and its environmental sustainability. In a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund, the Ayeyarwady’s service to the country was valued at somewhere between US$2 billion and $7 billion. That is equal to between 12 percent and over 50pc of total exports of goods and services and nearly 10pc of the nation’s GDP (nominal gross domestic product).
Apart from those mind-boggling figures, the number of people whose livelihoods depend solely or almost entirely on the existence of the river is huge and more interesting. Thirty four million people (or 66 percent of Myanmar’s population) live and make a living in the basin of the Ayeyarwady.
Therefore, the health of the 2170-kilometre river affects the health of Myanmar. It’s as simple as that. The Ayeyarwady runs from the north of the country and flows into the sea through the southern delta. Along its way are found the world’s rarest species of whale and other marine life. The mangroves in the delta keep on protecting Myanmar people from all sorts of storms and cyclones. Dozens of hydroelectric dams on it or its arms, the tributaries, are still running and producing much-needed electricity. Hundreds of mines in its basin go on polluting its water.
We know the Ayeyarwady is priceless, but do we actually try to protect it and value it as the bride of the history?