River Shingle Production and Lives In The Bosom Of Irrawaddy

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There is an alluvial land called Sin-gyan-thaung-kyun very close to the fourth defile of the River Irrawaddy. It is situated in Pa-daung Township, Pago Region (West) and also adjacent to Kamma Township of Magwe Region. After its long existence, it has now to struggle hard for its further existence between natural disaster and resource-terrorists.

Much near to the land anchored are river shingle finding boats and CBs. Those who have to see every day the scene of such boats and CB eithers they want to or not are the local folks depending on traditional farming on the land.

In every October annually, shingle pumping is prohibited, and so no one is allowed to operate the work. The month is only for the authorities concerned to make measuring of the work sites to be distributed to the river shingle producer licensees. It is indeed the line to fill the case for the purpose and to go on field trips for the government servants to consider the plots for farming.

U Hla Ko, the supervisor in charge for Sin-gyan-thaung-kyun Alluvial Land Administration said, “Shingle-pumping boats were still operating up to October 7, then we saw the large boats moving downstream, and, when the boats perch at the bank, waves hit it, its earth eroding heavily.”

The farmers of the land proved with photo evidence that there happened illegal pumping-up of shingles even in the mouth of non-operation as well as water vessel drives and travelers said that they saw the illegal operations.

The incidents are, in fact, not the strange ones to say of. There were a number of illegal operation cases in the previous years too. First Information Reports and objections relating to such illegal operations, excess penetrating into other licenses’ plots, and excess pumping up than allotted volume of shingles.

The similar alluvial lands as above said Sin-gyan-thaung-kyun that are going to disappear soon exist around there. Some such lands had already disappeared. Those who had left the land are not yet able to relate about the time when they were forced to abandon it because their wounds of all-round hardship they faced do not heal yet.

The Path Irrawaddy’s descendants trod

No one would deny that the River Irrawaddy is as important as Myanmar’s main artery. World Wide Fund for Nature (Myanmar), in its issue, said that there are 34 million inhabiting the Irrawaddy Valley, and it is about two-third of its populace. Of course, he River Irrawaddy, overwhelming 61% of Myanmar’s whole land, is the most important treasure for the country’s economy. The issue said that the value of the annual service volume of the river to the country is 2 billion to 7 billion USD.

In fact, the all-round contribution of the river to its nation is more than that. However, there are many people who have professed naturally and traditionally with the river’s contribution to them. At the same time, there happens a considerable number of greedies cruelly and foolishly exploiting the river, their great factor! It is much regrettable that such ones are, for their own interest, terrorizing by illegal means of the river, in their exploitation of natural resources of many kinds along it.

Among the greedies are the entrepreneurs of river shingles extraction. Their operations, as pointed not only natural resources and environmental protection associations, dangerously make the river’s watercourse change, ruin its natural beauty and normal flow, bank’s landslide, and disappearing of alluvial lands.

U Aung Myint Kyi, Pyay District Meteorology and Hydrology Department stressed, “Irrawaddy, flowing downwards and carrying sand and shingles, used to silt the materials around the adjacent area of Magwe, Aye-ya-waddy and Pago Regions.” He added, “It being that fact, river shingles and sand of high quality are abundantly available at that junction.”

“Having been eroded gradually and place after place, shingles become optimum in size when they reach the place near Gyangin, Myan-aung, Hintada adjacent to the tripartite regions- Magwe, Pago and Aye-ya-wady. At places a little bit up the river, shingles cannot be found much, nor can be operated commercially. Again, a little bit down, Za-lun, the water becomes murky with high silt. When it goes farther down, there come tides. That’s why shingle pumping up operations are made around here,” said U Aung Myint Kyi.

Previously, there existed a considerable number of alluvial islands in the River Irrawaddy. On some of them, people set up villages and lived there all seasons. Some islands, when the river tide drops, reappear with fertile, alluvial land where agriculture is boomed. Tomato, beans, sesame, gourd, cucumber, melon, corn, flowers, carrot, onion, chili, and other fruits were successfully grown, and their products were sent to different directions of the country. The farmers depending on those islands were doing fine.

U Thein Tun, an ex-member of Min-dae-kyun Administration related, “We were doing fine with our traditional economy, agriculture… our dwelling houses were grand… charity and endowment great… at our charitable ceremonies even Sein Satin Traditional Music Troupe was hired.” He continued, “But now, almost all the people on the land have impoverished… its inhabitants have to work as laborers in rice-mills or oil-mills.”

Min-dae-kyun was an old alluvial island in the River Irrawaddy situated in Shwe-taung Township, Pago Region, and totally drowned by 2000. Adjacent to the drowned were Sagaing Kyun and Ywa-thit-kone Kyun, and the two had sank by 2999. Three hundred households, two primary schools and some Buddhist monasteries had to move to safe land while a stupa that could not be shifted fell into the river. U Thein Tun recounted, “At that moment of ill-fate, we were homeless, landless and penniless, and we had to work in the river or oil-mills… up to the date.” “An alluvial land came to exist but there were disputes on the sharing of its plots among people, the sharing was to be made among not only us Min-dae, but also among other villagers, and so five or six household had to cultivate one acre or so, resulting in impoverishment.” “When the land-drowning happened, those who had no place to move were allocated near the pagodas or rest-houses to build temporary huts,” he added.

It is much regrettable that the similar incidents occurred at the precinct adjoining Magwe, Pago and Aye-ya-waddy Regions, where shingle pumping up operations were done. The people who settled in the alluvial lands that had sunk became homeless and landless, and some of them had to find hard-labor jobs whereas others had to work as tenants for farmland owners. In fact, they had lost all their farmlands with trees that they had systematically formed and grown, almost all their animals, and religious structures, cemeteries where their fore-parents were entombed or cremated. It might, therefore, be beyond their expression of their dreadful calamity and incurable psycho-effect.

Tow decade long shifting not yet halt

The local folks said that riverbank erosion happened annually, due to the changing of the river’s watercourse. They, with anxiety, said that come alluvial lands disappearing which in some watercourse deposited with sandbank. Some alluvial lands get covered with sandbank, and they become hard of growing plants. Because of the riverbank erosion, the jeopardy of the local inhabitants, shifting after shifting, is going on.

The natural riverbank erosions used to happen in the past, but their effect was not much. However, there occurred the incidents of alluvial lands’ total disappearance, resulting in their inhabitants’ settlement shifting from place to place, due to the development projects including over-bridge constructions and river shingle pumping business. The jeopardy started round about 2000.

“Since 2000 and thereafter, erosions and watercourse changes getting harder, the impact on the local folks got heavier, and their settlement shifting intervals became narrowed up to the date,” said the Regional parliamentarians as well as the local folks and the assistance providing associations.

Ko Khin Maung Than, a villager of Bu-kyun village, Yay-nan-gyaung Township told us, “The erosions are too much, may be more than four or five hundred acres effected. Farmers had grown three crops per year of onions, chilies, corn etc. When two-third of their land lost, they have to grow only on the remaining one-third, and so they have to enjoy only one crop per year. And for those who became landless, they were to work at the mills or as tenants for the farmland owners and dome as random carpenters or masons.”

It is learnt that over 400 acres of cultivable land were eroded at Bu-kyunn Village, Ye-nan-gyaung Township, Magwe Region during the period between 2009 and 2013. Ko Khin Maung Than said, “Besides, the dwelling homes in Kan-tha Village and on Mein-ma-hla Kyun wer gradually moved since 2015.”

Yon-seik, Kyun-lay, Hton-ma-gyee villages in Magwe Township had already been shifted, and the alluvial islands of Min Hla, Tha Yet and Kanma Twonships are under consideration for their shifting due to river-bank erosion up to 2020. In 2017, over 90 village residents of Wae-gyee Village of Kanma Township informed to the authorities concerned that they object river-shingle pumping in their area.

“There were operations of river-shingle pumping done at the upper sector of Yay-lae-kyun and when it was reported to the authorities the operators were chased and seized. Anyway, the action taken is so weak that the illegal operation was not yet confirmed if it were going either in Kanma or in Aung-lan area,” commented U Zaw Win, a regional parliamentarian of Kanma Township.

On that alluvial land do dwell 57 households with altogether 200 population and exist one primary school. The dwellers and the school are to be moved together soon, and their move is under discussion that started early October this year.

Compared with other places, the highest number of riverbank erosion and loss of alluvial islands occurred in Pyay District, Pago Region. The big islands namely Mindae Kyun, Sagaing Kyun and Ywathit Kyun, wer effected. Mindae-kyun started to be eroded in 1997, Sagaing Kyun in 1999, and Ywathit Kyun in 2000, and the three finally disappeared by 2000.

During the time between 2012 and 2020, over 500 dwelling houses were shifted, and the allotted land area of 5000 acres totally sank into the river and were lost, according to the survey made by some political activists who assisted the people there.

Local folks of Kyangin Township in Aye-ya-waddy Region revealed that about 160 houses were moved to safety places from Yay-lae-kyun in the township, and also moved were some other houses of Tae-dan and Kyaung-kon villages.

One Yay-lae-kyun native said, “As soon as land erosion began, it is much fearful, the water is still when there is no erosion, but, once it began eroding does flows with high rapidity that causes nearly 50 yards per strike. And that’s why the whole island disappeared only within 3 years, floating even the big and tall cotton trees (Let-pan) away.”

The descending families of the River Irrawaddy that they have traditionally depended on for centuries and their lives, profession and culture are now under the threat of both natural and man-made environmental destruction. They now have fatal wounds. If the very wounds were not cured, and instead, provided new wounds, their future would be dim, and they have to face more and more hardship.

Report by Magway Post