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Friday, July 1, 2011

Environment and Ecosystems of Arakan

Across Arakan State there are many different types of terrain and diverse ecosystems. From the mountainous forests of the Arakan Roma to the estuaries of the Kaladan and Laymro rivers, a wealth of flora and fauna unique to the region can be found. Sadly, in recent years many species have been threatened by the government’s commercial exploitation of Arakan’s valuable natural resources.

The most significant damage has been inflicted on Arakan’s rivers, especially the Laymro and Kaladan. These rivers are home to thousands of species of fish, many of which have never been studied. The point at which the estuaries of the Kaladan and Laymro converge is surrounded by one of the world’s most fertile plains; this area covers approximately 3,640 square kilometres from upper Kyauktaw Township to Site-tway, and is ideal for rice production. Over 85 % of Arakan State’s cultivated farmland is located along the valleys of these rivers.

In recent years, a number of projects have been planned to commercially exploit Arakan’s waterways. These projects will bring in revenue for the military junta, while devastating the environment and directly precipitating major human rights violations. The most notable of these projects are the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility and the Laymro hydropower dam.

If these projects go ahead, extreme environmental damage will almost certainly occur, as the military government has historically practiced a policy of complete disregard for ecosystems, biodiversity and the migratory paths of important species. Even the smallest change to delicate ecosystems such as these can cause a long series of unpredictable changes, forcing villagers to adapt their lifestyles impossibly quickly, causing starvation and disease among those unable to adapt. We expect to see the following:

Impact of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transportation Facility

* Destruction of mangrove forests and shrimp farms along the Arakan coast and in the river estuary
* Extermination of numerous marine species, many of which are essential sources of food for locals, throughout the Kaladan River system
* Widespread deforestation to make way for river modification and the Setpyitpyin – Mizoram highway

Impact of Hydropower Projects on the Laymro River

* Blocking the access of fish species to the ocean and to spawning grounds, leading to the depletion of fish stocks and eventually extinction
* Degrading natural habitats by altering river currents and decreasing oxygen levels, encouraging superfluous weed and algae growth
* Causing trees and plant life to rot in the newly-made reservoir, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases
* Flooding – Due to bad planning, similar projects in the past have led to the destruction of thousands of homes during the rainy season

Less famously, Arakan is home to a number of ancient hardwood forests, most of which are located in the Arakan Roma mountain range. These forests are home to many endangered species such as elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, hornbills and various species of giant turtle – the latter two of which are close to extinction.

Over the years, the Burmese military regime has sold logging concessions for these areas to foreign countries and businesses, which has had a series of environmental impacts on the region. Encroachment on forests has disrupted the habitats, and thus the lives, of many wild animals, a number of which are considered to be endangered species internationally. The rapid change of terrain has triggered damaging knock-on effects in rural areas. In the absence of forests floods have occurred more frequently, destroying crops and possessions, and in the worst cases forcing people to leave their farms and homes. In other areas logging has had the opposite effect, provoking long droughts.

Arakan’s coastline in the Bay of Bengal is famed for having Burma’s most beautiful beaches, the most famous of which is Ngapali, said to have been named by a visiting Italian who was reminded of a beach at his home in Naples. The various species of fish, crab and shrimp that live along and near Ngapali have been disrupted in recent years due to the development of tourist infrastructure.
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