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Cablegate: The Changing Environment of Inle Lake

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DE RUEHGO #0133/01 0511010
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201010Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7206
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1734
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0921
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RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0223
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000133

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS, OES:ACOVINGTON
BANGKOK FOR REO:JWALLER
PACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON EAGR PREL BM
SUBJECT: THE CHANGING ENVIRONMENT OF INLE LAKE

Ref: Rangoon 35

RANGOON 00000133 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. Inle Lake, Burma's second largest lake, has
shrunk by one-third over the past fifty years. Silt and plants
slide down the deforested mountainside into the lake during monsoon
season, creating floating islands responsible for much of the water
displacement. Inle farmers exacerbate the problem, expanding the
islands into gardens where they grow crops for profit. The use of
fertilizers and chemicals for on-lake farming, coupled by increasing
pollution from industrial zones in nearby cities and the lack of
sanitation in on-lake villages, pollutes the lake. Although
scientists have yet to conduct studies on the effects of pollution
on the lake, they believe that several species of fish have been
lost. Government policies of introducing new species of fish into
the lake to improve fishing conditions and encouraging increased
tourism further destroy the lake's natural environment and threaten
its future. End Summary.

Burma's Second Largest Lake
---------------------------

2. (U) Located in southwestern Shan State, Inle Lake is Burma's
second largest lake. Eighteen miles long and seven miles wide with
an average depth of five feet, Inle Lake is home to numerous species
of flora and fauna, including 23 types of fish, eels, tortoises,
frogs, and snakes. Inle Lake is also one of Burma's most popular
tourist destinations, with an estimated 200,000 tourists visiting
each year.

3. (SBU) Although Inle is Burma's second largest lake, it has
shrunk by almost one-third in the past fifty years, U Uga, Chairman
of local NGO BANCA, told us. According to a 2007 study published by
the University of Tokyo, Inle Lake once measured thirty-six miles
long and eight miles wide, with an average depth of seven feet.
Scientists blame Inle's water loss on the abundance of floating
islands, which form from silt and plants that enter into the water
shed annually. Several decades ago, the mountains surrounding the
lake were covered with teak forests, which held the soil and plants
in place. The mountainsides are now bare due to deforestation,
which allows silt and plants to slide down the mountains into the
water during monsoon season, U Uga noted. Local farmers exacerbate
the problem by using floating islands as arable land. Each day,
farmers collect mud and clay to add to the top of the floating
islands, creating a place to grow crops. In some cases, these
floating islands have become attached to the bottom of the lake,
displacing water. As farmers expand these floating gardens to grow
crops, the lake will grow smaller, U Uga predicted.

Increasing Pollution Levels
---------------------------

4. (SBU) Although scientists have yet to conduct official studies
on the lake's environment, local environmentalists are concerned
about the rising levels of pollution in Inle lake. According to U
Uga, the pollution in Inle comes from multiple sources. Twenty-nine
rivers flow into the lake, several of which run through industrial
zones in Taunggyi and Heho, located approximately 18 miles from Inle
Lake. Some factories dump waste into these rivers, environmental
analysts assert, which ultimately ends up in the lake. Additionally,
farmers on the lake increasingly use chemicals and pesticides to
grow more abundant crops, which leech into the water and poison
marine species, U Uga noted. Pollution also comes from lake
residents, some of whom dump trash into the lake on the outskirts of
villages. None of the houses located on the lake have indoor
plumbing systems, and waste directly enters the lake. The farmers
and other residents lack knowledge about how agricultural and
village activities affect the delicate ecosystem around the lake.

RANGOON 00000133 002.2 OF 002


While the effects of the pollution on the lake are not clear,
scientists believe that several species of fish have been lost due
to pollution.

Non-Native Species Taking Over
------------------------------

5. (SBU) Inle Lake was once the home to several species not found
anywhere else in the world, including twenty-nine species of snail
and nine species of fish. However, scientists believe that several
of these species have become extinct due to pollution and the
introduction of new species to the lake habitat. According to U
Uga, the Burmese Government in 2000 introduced a new species of carp
to the lake in an effort to improve fishing conditions. This plan
backfired, he declared, as the new species killed off many of the
native fish and greatly reduced the number of nga hpein, the
traditional fish of the lake. While the new species of carp is
bigger than other fish and thus fetches a higher price on the local
market, fishermen consider themselves lucky when they catch nga
hpein.

6. (SBU) Water hyacinths are abundant on Inle Lake, although they
are not native to the lake. Scientists do not know how the plant
entered the lake habitat, but agree that it is destroying the
natural environment of the lake. Water hyacinth grows quickly and
covers the top of the lake, robbing plants and animals of sunlight.
According to Inle Lake residents, local authorities several years
ago asked residents to help destroy the plants but abandoned its
efforts in 2006.

Negative Impact of Tourism
--------------------------

7. (SBU) The increasing number of tourists also destroys the
environment of Inle Lake, U Uga told us. Currently, there are six
hotels located on the lake, with more than a dozen located on the
shore. The Burmese Government has plans to build new hotels on the
lake to meet future demand. Visitors can only access on-lake hotels
by motorboat, which translates into additional boats on the lake.
While the boats themselves do not actually pollute the lake, they
pump diesel fumes into the air, ruining air quality. Additionally,
the loud motors contribute to noise pollution, ruining the tranquil
nature of the lake.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) The Burmese Government does little to protect the
environment (Reftel) and instead establishes polices - such as
introducing new fish species or encouraging tourism - with little
thought about the long term environmental impacts.
Environmentalists, concerned about the future of Inle Lake, want to
conduct studies on the changing nature of Inle's environment but
lack the funds and knowledge to do so. Inle's environmental
problems will only become worse as long as the military rules.
Until the Burmese Government recognizes that it must protect natural
resources rather than exploit them for profit, the future of Burma's
environment looks bleak.

VILLAROSA

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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