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September 17, 2019

Long-term restoration and sustainability of Inle Lake

  • By Dr. Khin Aung Than
  • An Intha rowing his boat with legs in Inle Lake. Photo: Aye Min Soe

Inle Lake is renowned for its unique floating villages, gardens and the Intha people, whose communities, culture and livelihoods rely almost entirely on the water.
Leg-rowers of the lake, with their unique way of propelling an oar through the water, are one of the chief attractions of the lake. The watershed area for the lake accounts for an extensive area of the lake’s freshwater, which drains through the Balu Chaung on its southern end.

Location
Inle Lake is located in Nyaungshwe Township, Taungyi District in Shan State.The Inle Lake wetlands ecosystem is home to 267 species of birds, of which 82 are wetland birds, 43 species of freshwater fish, otters and turtles. It is the second largest lake in Myanmar and is located in the heart of the Shan Plateau, 2,915 feet above sea level.

A boat runs at Inle Lake in Nyaungshwe Township, Shan State. Photo: Thwe Thwe Tun

Socio-economic characteristics
Inle Lake is situated in the Nyaung Shwe Township, which covers 36 village tracts comprising 446 villages and many ethnic races including Inthas, Shans, Pa-O and Da-nu.
The majority of the local people earn their income from traditional methods of floating island agriculture, a form of hydroponic farming and fishing.

Geographical facts
Inle Lake is a shallow lake located in an elongated, flat-bottomed valley bordered by parallel mountains that range up to 1,500 metres covered by hilly forest. It is estimated that the lake was formed more than 1.5 million years ago and constitutes a remnant of a much more extensive series of lakes. These lakes formed as water dissolved limestone in the landscape, resulting in many limestone features such as caves, sinkholes, springs, spurs and intermittent streams.
The watershed flowing into the Lake receives most of its run-off from four major sub-catchments containing 12 streams: Nanlet, Negya , Kalaw and Balu. The area consists of a network of freshwater wetlands and rivers including 527 species of medicinal plants, 11 species of bamboo, 184 species of orchids and 1,320 species of Angiosperms (Dicot).
Fauna species are diverse and, the lake is a nesting place of the sarus crane (Grus antigone). Among the 16 endemic fish species, the Inle carp (Cyprinus carpio intha) is culturally symbolic and important as a source of food and income. Among the species recorded are 267 bird species, 43 fish species, 10 reptile species, nine mammal species, three species of turtle, 75 species of butterfly and 20 species of snails.

Popular tourist destinations
Inle Lake is popular among visitors who can travel leisurely around the lake and its scenic surroundings. There are many handicraft workshops which sell many kinds of items in the villages.
With Inle Lake being one of major tourist attractions in Myanmar, a number of festivals are celebrated from August to October at the lake and its surrounding areas. The ceremonial Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda lasts for 18 days, closely followed by the Thadingyut Lighting festival. During the festival, Inthas and Shan wear their best clothes to take part in traditional boat races. These boat races are held at the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda annually.

The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
The Phaung Daw Oo Padoda is a place of religious significance, visited by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike from all around Myanmar. The shrine itself is huge and features five ancient golden Buddhas donated by King Alaung Sithu of the Bagan Dynasty during his travels around the country.
The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival is held in October and features the ceremonial passage of four revered Buddha images around the villages of Inle Lake on a barge, taking 18 days to complete their journey. There are also rowing competitions between the villages, using the renowned local leg rowing style.

The weaving industry and lotus robes
The Inle lake area is well-known for its weaving industry, especially its silk-weaving, which produces high-quality, hand-woven silk fabrics of distinctive design called Inle longyi. Moreover, Inle Lake is the only place in the country that produces lotus robes. The local residents rely on eco-tourism, floating island agriculture and fisheries.

Preservation of Inle Lake
The Government is drawing up long-term action plans in order to preserve Inle Lake. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation has laid down plans to conserve Inle Lake because it is the main water supplier for the Lawpita hydropower dam.
Moreover, the decrease in the lake’s size is not only due to low rainfall but also because of a buildup of sediment, with an estimated 310,000 metric tons of silt entering the lake each year from 29 creeks flowing through the watershed area.
The conservation and management of Inle Lake are long-term and ongoing processes, which are crucially needed to practice an integrated approach focusing on biodiversity conservation, integrity of the lake environment and improvement of the livelihoods of local communities.
The Inle Lake Conservation plans aim at ensuring a balanced approach between conservation and development of Inle Lake through the active participation of local communities and key stakeholders. The plan will also include monitoring and management systems to evaluate progress of conservation efforts. Efforts are being made to improve socio-economic conditions and protect livelihoods of local communities in the Inle Lake watershed.
It is of paramount importance to address the environmental issues as early as possible and a systematic, holistic and long-term approach is needed. This will require strong leadership and coordinated efforts of all stakeholders involved – government, non-governmental organisations and local communities.
It is vital to strengthen the governance of Inle Lake conservation efforts on the basis of a clear action plan that rallies private, civil and government actors at various levels and defines various roles. It is also equally important to develop local capacities to monitor the health of the lake’s ecosystem and establish a baseline to measure water quality.

Translated by Win Ko Ko Aung

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