Is Our Inle Lake Healthy? - Thoughts of Inle lake ecosystem

Inle-7 Writer Facilitating a workshop in Inle Lake with a Local Community

In this article, you will find out the current situations of Inle lake ecosystem and its environmental challenges, and why Inle lake is needed to be saved. Back in August, I was volunteering as a language teacher in a village called Le Pyin Taung which is near the Inle lake and luckily I have got a chance to visit the lake one day. Inle lake is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and located in Nyaung Shwe township of Shan state. The surface area of the lake is 116km2 and the length of the lake from north to south is 9mile while the longest way from east to west is 3.5mile. The maximum water depth during the rainy season is 12ft which is 7ft deeper compared with the depth in the dry season. Additionally, Inle lake is the one and the only main source for Lawpita hydropower dam which supplies 24% of country's total hydropower capacity.

On the one hand, this freshwater Inle lake is a home of many different races especially Intha, Shan, Danu, Paoh, Taungyo and Kayah as they build and live in floating wooden houses on the lake and along its shore. Apparently, the social and economic development of all communities around this lake area is depending upon the lake and its environment. Most of the villagers earn for a living as fishermen and farmers while others run small traditional businesses such as silk weaving, making gold and silver jewellery and selling handcrafted souvenirs.

A Beautiful Scene in Inle Lake

As I expected, the trip to Inle lake was marvellous since I have had an opportunity to learn this local people's unique way of living. Plus, the breathtaking view of mountains around the lake and the extraordinary daily lives of villagers caught my attention all the way until I reached to Maing Thauk bridge. Maing Thauk bridge is a kind of teak bridge, situated at the southern part of Nyaungshwe township and it is regarded as the major tourist attraction of Inle lake where one should never miss visiting. Taking a walk on the bridge would bring the lovely view of hills, floating farms, long-legged floating houses and distinct traditional way of rowing boats. Nonetheless, apart from this beautiful spot, what I found out was some environmental concerns around the lake, for instance, the quality of water from the lake. 

Organizing a workshop dealing with Inle Lake's Environmental Issues
Group Result after the discussion on Environmental Issues

Is the lake water found in hygienic conditions? 

Here is why I have made a decision to organize a workshop dealing with Inle lake's environmental issues. Without the need of technical water quality test, I could easily say that the water is polluted as soon as I got the unhealthy smell of water from the lake. Furthermore, the water colour from Inle lake is almost the same with greywater which can be harmful to aquatic animals and can endanger to all Inle lake's biodiversity. When I noticed the environmental degradation of Inle Lake, I studied from reading articles which mention all the reasons for causes and effects concerning with the environmental problems which Inle lake is suffering. 

How and why did the water pollution start in the lake?  

According to some articles and news I have read, it is claimed that the Inle lake is facing with the severe water pollution which cannot be easily filtered by the natural process because of these main reasons. Obviously, the first one is beautiful and touristic attraction floating gardens. Starting from the 1960s, the hydroponics which we commonly known as the floating farms has become popular planting technique among the farmers of Inle lake and those floating garden area of growing tomatoes, peas and cucumbers has reached to one-fourth of the Inle lake area. Consequently, the number of utilization herbicides and insecticides were always greater than the required amount for those farms. Besides, the farmers are willing to use chemical fertilizers rather than the organic fertilizers as there is no sustainable organic product market. Therefore, it is clear that the long term action of chemical fertilizer usage led to the pollution of water. What is more, disposing of toxic chemical dissolved wastewater produced from local small businesses like dying silk, making jewellery and wastewater from houses and hotels directly into the lake are the other factors affecting the water quality of the freshwater lake.

Does the water pollution of Inle lake have a disastrous effect? 

You might want to know whether this water pollution has a terrible effect on Inle lake and its mutual dependants or not. Well, the answer to these questions is yes and it certainly has terrible effects to Inle lake biodiversity and local people. As a result of water pollution, the water from the lake becomes more acidic and contains less oxygen amount than it should have and this pollution in the lake is significantly threatening the lives of all fish species and villagers. Unsurprisingly, water pollution is not the only environmental problem that Inle lake is facing. The deforestation of all the mountains around Inle lake has happened huge silt sedimentation in the lake over the past years. According to the measurement of the lake area, in 1934, the total surface area of the lake was 271km2, then in 2007, the area lasted only 163.2km2 while the open source area of water is only 62.2km2. The lake area of nowadays is 116km2 and we have to accept undoubtedly that the lake is dying because of this huge soil accumulation in the lake.

What are the Inle lake region deforestation and its related risks? 

Here comes the question of how deforestation and silt sedimentation is related and why it is happening. Factually speaking, the growth of population is also one thing which needs to be considered under this question. For the demand of increased population in the country, agricultural works have to be accelerated and the trees from all hilly regions are being cut down for the need for farming land year after year. Similarly, illegal logging, using trees as firewoods, cutting trees down for the purposes of building houses are still happening at the mountain areas of Inle lake. As a consequence of deforestation, erosion can occur easily and topsoil from the land is swept away directly into the lake during every heavy rain and a large amount of silt is accumulated in the lake. Sadly, there is still another reason letting the lake shrink which is the catchment area around the lake. Since the responsibility of trees in the catchment area is absorbing and collecting the flooded water like the sponge during the rainy season, storing them in the underground aquifer and refilling them in the lake in the dry season, but how could it be possible if there are no more trees in the catchment area.

How does the conservation of Inle lake can be carried out? 

Taking consideration to all the human-induced environmental problems of the lake, the process of saving Inle lake cannot be performed only with the efforts of ministries, it can be achieved successfully with the deep cooperation of all local communities, respective ministry departments and all the ethnics live in the Inle lake. Then, as I have learnt a little about the ecosystem of this lake, I also had a strong desire to give a helping hand as possible as I can, so I led a small workshop with the title "Save Our Inle Lake" and shared about the current environmental situations of Inle lake with the youths from the village. We discussed all the environmental concerns and found the most common and easy solutions to follow to protect the ecosystem of the Inle lake. And I believe that the Inle lake will be recovered soon from these problems if we all truly love and lend a helping hand.

Writer's profile

Thidar Maung Maung graduated from Technological University Taungoo with a Civil Engineering degree and she is highly enthusiastic about water and environment management in Myanmar.

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