28 May 19 - Source: The Irrawaddy - YANGON—The Shan State Parliament will soon discuss a draft law that will allow the participation of local residents in the conservation of Inle Lake, one of the most prominent landmarks in Shan State. The draft law proposes the formation of a lake governing body that will include four representatives from civil society organizations (CSOs) and three local residents. Yawnghwe Township lawmaker U Khin Maung Win said it has been submitted to the state parliament's Bill Committee. "We want the soonest [possible] enactment of this law. Only then will we be able to manage the lake properly," he told The Irrawaddy. "We have sought input from the public, and will consult with the public in the first week of June."
The draft Inle Lake Conservation Law appoints the Intha ethnic affairs minister as the chairman of the lake governing body, and the chairmen of the administrative bodies of the Pa-O and Danu self-administered zones as vice-chairmen. The law also appoints Yawnghwe Township lawmakers and departmental officials as members of the governing body. The state parliament said it would hold consultations with local people from June 5 to 7. "It is important that locals and representatives of CSOs can participate in [the] decision-making process, and we need a law for [the] conservation of Inle Lake," local resident U Myat Min Soe said. "The lake has been deteriorating due to various projects implemented there." The water level of the lake has fallen and the water quality has also suffered due to the irresponsible use of chemical fertilizers, the clearing of forests for hotel projects and the expansion of floating farms, plus silting, according to local CSOs. The Norwegian government and the UNDP have been giving assistance to the Myanmar government to restore the lake.
Locals, CSOs and departmental officials held seven rounds of talks to draft the Inle Lake Conservation Law, said U Nay Myo, a member of the Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Committee in the Lower House of the Union Parliament. "The lake is likely to dry up soon if we don't control it with a law in time. It has silted up a lot now. Though businesspeople have taken advantage of Inle Lake, they have ignored the locals," said U Nay Myo. While private investors have acquired land for projects in the surrounding forested areas of Inle Lake, local smallholder farmers have had difficulties acquiring official land titles—the government does not recognize the inherited customary ownership of land—and limited access to agricultural loans. Over the past few years, locals have raised concerns over the negative impact of hotel projects on their lake.
In September, the President's Office received a petition signed by more than 4,000 lakeside residents opposing plans by the Myanmar Naing Group—owned by U Tun Naing Shwe, the son of former military strongman U Than Shwe—to build a hotel on 90 acres of land by the lake in Mai Thaut Village, Yawnghwe Township. Those forested lands were permitted for development by the Forestry Ministry during military rule. The current government has conducted an investigation into the proposed project in response to complaints from locals, but has yet to announce its official decision The enactment of the Inle Lake Conservation Law will enable the new body governing the lake to coordinate with concerned ministries to establish community forests and support community-driven development in the area.
Inle Lake, the home of migratory birds and other wildlife species, was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1985. In June 2013, the lake was designated as an ASEAN Heritage Park; two years later it was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, becoming the first ever biosphere reserve in Myanmar. Inle Lake became the fifth Wetland of International Importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention, in Myanmar in 2018.