The Value of the Ayeyarwady River: Update on WWF ‘River in the Economy’ Project.


Photo- @WWFMyanmar (Twitter) 


Recently, I met Hannah Baleta from WWF Myanmar. She kindly explained about her work in Myanmar, in particular the current project, 'River in the Economy' along the length of the Ayeyarwady River.

Hannah has readily built up her local knowledge and experience through engaging with different local stakeholders and government organizations, exploring the interactions between human activities and the environment. And importantly, how a healthy river if necessary for a sustainably growing economy.

What does "Rivers in the Economy" mean?

The "Ayeyarwady River in the Economy" project is funded by WWF Germany in support of the WWF Myanmar team. It is about understanding:

  • how different sectors of society and the economy use the river,
  • how these activities impact upon the river
  • how the river impacts upon the various sectors and,
  • how they are all interconnected directly and indirectly around in the Ayeyarwady River.

This work is based on a view that the social and economic development decisions taking place in the basin could be improved by better understanding the role a healthy Ayeyarwady River plays in supporting the country's growth.

Hannah mentioned the history of RitE thinking, including how the initial concept was used by WWF in Lake, Naivasha (Kenya) in 2010. This approach and stakeholder engagement process has also enabled a way for engaging stakeholders including businesses and civil society in collective action around water stewardship.

Future Outcomes of the RitE process in Myanmar

There will be continuing stakeholder engagement consultations in the basin, as stakeholder undertake a process of co-creating stories of future development pathways in the basin. WWF Myanmar hopes that this process will empower local and national leaders in the country to make informed decisions by establishing the connections between different development needs and their dependence on the natural capital and ecosystem services provided by a healthy Ayeyarwady River. In addition, this will provide evidence to argue the value of good water resources management for economic development in the Ayeyarwady Basin.

Engaging Local Main Stakeholders and Organization

Supported by DWIR, the Ayeyarwady River in the Economy stakeholder consultations have been undertaken by the WWF Freshwater Team. They have travelled extensively the past two weeks, meeting approximately 120 stakeholders in Mandalay, Monywa, Pathein and Pyay, representing four different sub-basins of the Ayeyarwady Basin.

Consultations were held with a diversity of stakeholders including representatives from the government sector (in particular Ministries and Departments that are part of the National Water Resources Committee), private sector, academia and civil society. This is to ensure a broad spectrum of perspectives regarding the risks and opportunities that different sectors face with regards to the river.


WWF believe that since Myanmar is developing so fast, an upcoming challenge for the country is putting safeguards in place before growth has destroyed the natural systems upon which that very growth depends. This was echoed through the consultations, where local participants mentioned limited government capacity to do their job as a major concern. Although the rules and regulation exist, ministries cannot deal with monitoring and enforcement of damaging practices including illegal sand mining, over fishing and water pollution.

About WWF Myanmar

WWF Myanmar has been active in Myanmar since 2014 working on areas such as renewable energy, green economy policy, sustainable business and ending illegal wild life trade. The freshwater program has been active since 2016, exploring ways to support economic and social growth in Myanmar without jeopardizing the unique free-flowing and ecologically intact rivers of Myanmar. The WWF Freshwater Team believe that the Ayeyarwady River in the Economy Project is an important starting point to help identify where further research and support is needed in Myanmar to ensure that people continue to grow and develop in harmony with nature. 

  Figure 1: Participants in Pyay discussing interactions of navigation and sand mining with the Ayeyarwady River

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