Mapping Myanmar’s water resources is key to developing sustainable aquaculture and improving nutrition

Photo Photo: Majken Schmidt Søgaard / WorldfFish

19 April 2021 - Source: International Water Management Institute (IWMI) - Many people in Myanmar suffer from poor nutrition because they eat too many carbohydrates – primarily rice – and too little protein.

One way to overcome poor nutrition is to expand small-scale aquaculture by increasing the number of fishponds and stocking existing water bodies with protein-rich fish. This is the ambition of the Fish for Livelihoods project, led by WorldFish and supported by USAID. The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is supporting the project by identifying locations with sufficient and sustainable water resources to expand fish production.

IWMI's project team is modeling the Irrawaddy river basin that covers approximately 50% of Myanmar (337,400 km2). The objective is to quantify available water sources and pinpoint potential areas for developing new fishponds while also monitoring water quality to understand where poor conditions may constrain development. Additionally, as sustainability of aquaculture development is a priority before building new ponds and other infrastructure, it is crucial that an assessment is made of the possible impacts on future water resources from climate change.

The findings of an IWMI analysis of historical weather-station data show that Myanmar's climate is already changing. Data recorded at 13 weather stations, located in various hydro-ecological zones, revealed a temperature rise of between 0.1°C and 0.3°C at 11 of the stations between 1986 and 2015. Extreme rainfall (more than 30mm a day) increased at three inland stations: Mandalay, Nyaung Oo and Pyay. Further analysis using regional climate model (RCM) projections (from the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Project for South-East Asia) also showed that the number of days with temperatures above 30°C is forecast to increase in the future.

The IWMI project team is also researching the various types of ponds that exist in Myanmar. Pond typologies are differentiated by water source and include: springs; groundwater seepage from shallow aquifers; groundwater extracted from boreholes by pumping; surface water directed through dams or streams; surface water diverted from streams or rivers; and rainwater harvesting. So far, the team has mapped the different pond typologies, and assessed their quality and availability using remote sensing images and GIS.

Preliminary results show that Sagaing region (north-western part of Myanmar) has the largest area with potential for expanding aquaculture due to availability of diverse water sources. However, Kachin State (northernmost part of Myanmar), which has the smallest suitable area, has more diverse water sources, encompassing both surface and groundwater supplies. Having diversity of water sources reduces risks related to water availability and increases resilience to climatic shocks. So, it may be that expanding aquaculture in moderate-sized areas with greater diversity of water sources is the best option.

IWMI's work will help to ensure that future investments in aquaculture in Myanmar will be sustainable, and able to boost rural livelihoods and nutrition as climate change takes hold.

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