It is to be used as metaphor that the River Irrawaddy is the backbone of Myanmar. The river flows from the northern most down to the Adman Sea, and so is the longest of all rivers in Myanmar. In fact, Myanmar is to be proud of possessing such a river as Irrawaddy. However, the return of benefits that might come out from her entirely depends on her use. In other words, it is the righteous response of the nature.
It is true that almost all the capitals since Bagan Era were built based on the river. Researchers of Myanmar history confirmed that all her capital cities were built, relying on the basis of the river’s strategic importance both in the flow of goods and military affairs.
The river of Myanmar is indeed a great invaluable treasure provided by the nature to her. But, the consequences arising out of her gifted opportunities wholly depend on her practical way of using.
Nevertheless, the currents and watercourse of the river during the last decade distinctly changed. Natural Environment Conservation Associations remarked that the changes happened because of the over-exploitation of her natural resources, both animate and inanimate, and the too much chemical disposals.
Under such circumstances, the Irrawaddy’s watercourses come to change even within a period of one month or two. “And so, the advantages originally provided by the river herself have been rapidly lost, resulting in the effects on the flow of goods,” pointed out a river transport agent, U Zaw Win Swe. He continued, “River shingle pumping operations in her lower reach areas rather than in upper areas are much more undisciplined…, if a vessel sails upstream, and the vessel then come back downstream during a month or so, it will have to find the new watercourse that had already appeared, since the old ones disappeared. It is so hard to sail through such now watercourse.
“Due to the over-production of river shingles by means of pumping, there used to occur hollows at the riverbed, the changes of watercourse even within a month that would cause the vessels’ sailing to be harder as a consequence. The incidents damage the State’s interest,” said U Zaw Win Swe. He continued, “In Shwe Kyin and Kyangin, the lower part of the river, there are many places where the pumping operations can be found. As far as they do it, the changing of watercourse happens accordingly. In the lower part of Kyangin, sand and river shingle pumping operations are made almost lawlessly, resulting in the watercourse changes.” He said that it is his own experience on the case.
Due to such watercourse changings, riverbank erosions occurred more and more, sand and earth deposits getting more, and eventually the river’s bed get higher.
“Because of the riverbed rising, the large vessels’ sailing becomes harder, and as a result of such obstacles as mentioned, the flow of goods is happened,” explained U Moe Khine Soe, whose business is transportation of goods along the river. He said, “What you call the boats, CBs, their draught is 9 feet. But, but the riverbed being deposited with sand and earth very rapidly and as its level getting higher and higher, they can be loaded only up to 4 feet draught with cargo. So it directly lowers the flow of goods, and consequently, badly effects the economy of those who are involved in the trade concerned.”
Last 5 years or so, the CBs owners were happy to have golden opportunity.” U Moe Khine Soe recounted. He continued, “At that true, the large pipes brought from China were carried by the CB, and on the return trips coal were loaded on them. People therefore invested large amount of money in building new CBs or buying old ones…, one CB series worth 3 to 4 billion MMK. Nevertheless, the big and long series of boats had the assignments to carry huge pipes and machineries, and coal from China, and the business was booming. But, now the owners have badly and bitterly lost.”
“A CB can normally carry up to 300,000 gallons of diesel oil in its hull, and other goods can be added on its deck. With all these cargoes, it can be driven at its highest draught level. But, now CBs are to be loaded at much lower than its normal draught level due to the riverbed’s level ascending. It highly effects flows of goods and in consequence, makes the trading lower and lower,” he said.
Similarly, some entrepreneurs involved in different trades relating to the river opined with deep sighs, “We are now to face with great loss because of the cargoes we are buying, selling and transporting cannot reach their destinations in time. And consequently labor charges are to be spent more than normal, and then we’ll lose, no profit because of the river-bed swelling!”
“At present, while large vessels have the very big problem to sail along the river since the change of watercourse resulting in the river’s water depth becoming shallower, there happened another problem of rareness of goods,” U Moe Khine Soe added.
U Zaw Win Swe pointed out that the running of the River Irrawaddy’s natural water flows makes her watercourse ruined, and those ruining in turn create many complex problems of the crew and their families in respect of their living as they have been relying on the cargo vessels.
Besides, the maritime entrepreneurs disappointingly stressed that there very often happen to the large vessels being stranded as well as effected with losing of watercourse.
In respect of stranding of the vessels, U Zaw Win Swe, and old entrepreneur explained to us that, if a vessel loaded with heavy logs stranded, the volume of loss would be heavy as it is much difficult to remove the logs. He added that, if a CB stranded, with loads of beans and rice, and the vessel that towed the CB would be left un-stranded, the cargoes on the CB could be moved to other vessel, and any way, loss is loss, and the thing is the loss how heavy or light.
He also said one strange thing, i.e. those who rely and live on the river are very friendly and helpful among themselves. Since they are of the same trade, the crew and workers of one vessel are ready to help others of the other one that stranded. They do what they have to do to make the stranded vessel free as well as moving the cargoes from the former to the latter. In addition, he said, the others used to provide food and drinking water to the victims.
Another big problem for the vessel crew is the casting of fishing nets. When one enters Yangon through the river and see carefully, one would find lives of net (called ‘Kyar Phaung’ in Myanmar) cast in river. When the cargo vessels enter Yangon, the breath of the river being narrower and so it is much difficult for such large vessels not to tangle with the nets. And, in case of tangling with the nets by the vessels, their owners have to deal with the fishers for compensation amount.
One salin (captain and helmsman of the vessel) laughing by remarked, “The fishers who cast vessels’ water way are, in fact, not the ones who catch fish, but the catchers of vessels.”
The crew of the ships or vessels that are sailing along Irrawaddy to and fro are unavoidably facing the danger of ‘Kyar’ net-casting.
U Zaw Win Swe, in joyous manner added, “There is no problem when a vessel going upstream as it can see nets from a certain distance, and pause to take time to inform the fishers to pave way for the vessel to pass through safely. But, on the return trip, downstream, it is very difficult to see the cast nets from and pause lest it would tangle into them because of its downstream speed, and no sooner the vessel had touched the nets than asked by the fishers for compensation!”
However, the problem between the vessels’ crew and the net-casting fishers are naturally not much a big one, and the disputes are a sort of thing just to be remembered.
However, the most important problem for the vessel’ crew of Irrawaddy is the very critical failure of her health!
Her failures; change of watercourse, the riverbed’s level arising up, banks’ erosion create great harassment of the flow of goods, lump sum loss of entrepreneurs, and the worst, heavy damage to the crew and service men of in-land water vessels.
There occurs a much bad impact on those whose trades are deeply involved in the Mother Irrawaddy’s kind bosom in respect of their livelihood. The impact is created by the all-round deterioration of the Mother caused by the drastic changes of her watercourse, the loss of her natural resources, the total disappointment of alluvial islands, erosion of her banks, etc. It has created the impact of all sorts on those ranging from maritime business entrepreneurs or owners through both engine and deck officers, crew up to the grass-root workers and laborers and their families.
To summing up, We would like to humbly but solemnly suggest that the Rivers and Creeks Development Department, taking careful consideration of the above mentioned findings, should revitalize the River Irrawaddy that has been suffering from stereotype impact made by her users themselves rather than by natural damages by ardently striving to dispose sandbanks with machinery works, cleansing of all sort of the river, encouraging different researchers for further development of Irrawaddy to fulfil the pitiful request for their survival and that of herself!
Report by Magway Post.