The River Irrawaddy, because her own abundant natural resources, has now to struggle hard against the cursed of those resources, both organic and inorganic, for her survival. It has been for some decades that men have exploited the river’s natural resources nearing to the point of her total destruction.

In such exploitations mentioned above, one of the main factors is the unlawful act of Sand and River Shingle Pumping-up businesses. The persons relating to the business are too greedy to consider her survival.

On the other hand, the trade of the river shingle and sand is a booming business since the general construction works are being done with rapid speed for urban development.

“Since the business is booming, more applicants are applying for river shingle pumping plots, and the worse is that happens pimping beyond one’s own plots, breaking the law and regulations relating to the business…,” said one river shingle entrepreneur.

The permission for doing the river shingle pumping business is given by the District General Administration Department with the recommendation of their higher level organization, the State or Regional General Administration Department. For such permissions to be given to the entrepreneurs the River, Creeks and Water Resources Development Department is responsible to provide recommendations after it had surveyed and measured the waterway and erosion of banks. However, the department has to make remarks only on its findings.

River Shingle Production And Lives In The Bosom Of Irrawaddy (2)

“The river shingle pumping-up business is for that of construction, it’s okay, but it badly effected our fishery business,” said U San Aung, the retired Principle of the Fishery Training School. He continued to explain that since the pumping were operated, the riverbed’s original forms started to be deformed, it is called ‘fish’s style of living deformed’. Again, as the pumping operations done, the natural forms of aquatic food are shaken and moved, resulting in the fish’s natural home ruined, and they have to leave the operated places, then they can no longer have food and lay their eggs, that’s the very big impact on fishery works.

He even gave a comment that the river shingle pumping creates the deformation of the normal living style of many fish species, impact on their food chain and ecology. He also said, “Due to the said business, the riverbed is disfigured, and consequently, the water course becomes abnormal. The speed of the water currents being abnormal, the fish’s normal moves with the currents and their egg-laying natural are hampered, resulting in the obstacles to the fishery works.”

The local fishers by profession told us that, in giving permission for river shingle pumping business, the Fishery Department and the Environmental Conversation Department are among the Departments that have to provide remarks, and the remarks of the local folks are also collected. But, they said that when the departments’ forecast relating to the possible damage to the natural environment and natural resources, their practical examination and assessment are much weak.

The work-plots for river shingle pumping operation permitted by the departments and the fishery work-plots are very often overlapped, and so when river shingle pumping operations are done driving the operation vehicles across the fishery plots and re-depositing the earth that were pumped together with shingles, make fish frightened, and often mingled with fishing nets cast in the river.

The local people said, “There often happened quarrels and dispute between the river shingle pumping operators and the fishers of the area. Sometimes those led to dangerous fights.”

U Thein Soe, a fishing work owner of Padaung, said, “When casting the nets, though the nets might be free from being tangled with the pumping boats, they might be hooked with CBs, and sometimes the pumping was made in the cast nets, occurring big problems when the nets were pulled back.  We want them not to be mingled especially when we cast nets for catching Nga-Dan (River Catfish).”

It is learnt that the local folks made records of the acts done by the pumpers who penetrated beyond their license’s limits, and sometimes they even seized those who entered other fishing plots. At the same times, the pumping boat drivers and workers abused the fishers, and sometimes they even hit the fishers with their pumping boats while driving. In occasions, they even tried to fight the authorities who came to take action on them.

“We carefully examined the places and the plots before giving permissions to pumpers. We then allowed them to operate pumping where there is no bank erosion. If they have to dig shoal of sand or sandbank, it would cost them much. Yet 90 percent of the pumping business entrepreneurs used not to abide by the laws and regulations.” explained the Pyay District Natural Environment Conservation Department Chief.

Some local folks complained, “Most of the farmers who cultivate on the alluvial lands and the fishers are so simple and ignorant that they are often taken legal action by the river shingle pumping entrepreneurs accusing them of invading into their permitted plots.

A group of political activists who assisted 15 farmers against whom the river shingle pumpers opened five kinds of criminal cases said there was a record concerning the farmers taken legal actions in Padaung Township, Pago Region, being accused of threat to them.

Meanwhile, the natural environment conservation associations remarked that the lawless high excess production of sand and river shingle by the pumpers would lead to drastic charge of watercourse and bank erosion, disappearance of alluvial islands, and in addition, the fish and other aquatic creatures would become rare.

River Shingle Production And Lives In The Bosom Of Irrawaddy (2)

U Myo Myint Tun of Magwe Township, who have lived on fishery work for thirty years said, “When I started my fisher’s life, various kind of fish were abundant, and the days were for us, joyous ones.”

“Last ten years ago, one leaseholder of a fishing lake could got 1500 viss per day. But now, it drops up to 1000 viss a day.” He continued sadly.

“If it continue to happen for another decade or so, and people continue to ignore Irrawaddy, the river would get dry, and all fish in her would also disappear,” painfully sighed the veteran fisher.

Daw Hla kyi, a grandma of Magwe area recounted that the natives along the Irrawaddy valley could have the fresh fish of the river.

In the Yan-pae Ward Market, there are about 20 fishes sellers. Yet, most of them are selling farmed fish, frozen and sent from Yangon. “There are one or two fresh water fish sellers, but they don’t come everyday. They sell off and on,” said Daw Myint Myint Htay of the market.

U Myo Myint Tun gave us another important information in connection with the present situation of fishery work owners, fishing lake leaseholders and fishery workers. He revealed, “Such losing of fishery resources has directly affected the traditional fishery workers and their families, their living and their social status.” He continued, “Fishing lake leaseholders could no longer provide financial assistance to their workers, and they are now considering whether they have to go along other different ways of life.”

Ma EI Ei Tun, a fisher’s spouse of Magwe area murmured, “Sometimes my husband went to alluvial lands and worked there when fishing work was not so good, and it’s okay for us. Now, the alluvial islands, due to erosion, disappear one after another, and at the same time the fishery work is also getting worse because of fish rareness, people are in great anxiety for their living.”

River Shingle Production And Lives In The Bosom Of Irrawaddy (2)

The high excess exploitation of the River Irrawaddy’s natural resources as well as her living creatures including fish species highly effects the long time inhabitants of the river and their peaceful lives.

The River Irrawaddy, to live her life, is following, and the same her inhabitants, to continue to live their lives, have to sail from their native land to other places as migrant workers.

Ma Ei Ei Tun, with tears welling in her eyes, whispered, “Fishing becomes worse, and even to have enough is difficult, though we think of going to towns to get any work we can find, we cannot go there as covid-19 is spreading. So it has been a long time we have to be satisfied with what we get.”

“Next three years will fish extinct,” challenged U San Win, a fisher for more than 40 years, and a long time successive winner of fishery work auction to operative in Irrawaddy.

U Thant Zin, the manager in charge of Ayeyarwady West Development Organization (AWDO) pointed out that the reason for gradual ruining of the River Irrawaddy’s nature is the all-round challenges including river shingle pumping business.

“One of the major causes that led to fish rarity and their extinct of species is the failure of ecological system and badly piling of chemical disposals in rivers and creeks,” said U Thant Zin.

It is widely known that the earth and the disposed chemicals used in purifying matters in the process of gold mining in Hom-lin, Upper Chindwin, flowed into Chindwin River. The similar incidents happened in Irrawaddy, i.e. the disposed materials being thrown into the river of the Oil Field, the river is highly polluted, and because of those reasons, fish species extinct.

It might be said that the disposed materials that were thrown into the river is much small in volume. However, the time span of disposing such materials into the river being longer and longer, more and more has been the river polluted, and other similar incidents which happened and effected the river are gold mining, copper extraction. The disposed materials of the said mining are driven into the river, making her greatly polluted. The pollution finally caused the extinction of fish species.

River Shingle Production And Lives In The Bosom Of Irrawaddy (2)

He argued, “May be said it’s not much painful for an elephant being struck with a small needle, but when the big animal is struck with thousands of needles from all sides and on all spots, it would finally harm it.”

However, construction works being developed with very high velocity, the river shingle pumping business, one of the attacking and challenging business to the river, would continue to boom.

The River Irrawaddy will surely go on flowing, and providing what natural resources still remaining in her womb to her children, the dwellers of her valleys far and near.

Meanwhile, other children of Irrawaddy, different species of fish, are nearly completely losing their path to live on!

Together with the path losing of the fish, the lives of the traditional fishers of Irrawaddy are now on the verge of sinking into the river.

River Shingle Production And Lives In The Bosom Of Irrawaddy (2)

Report by Magway Post