Inle Lake joins UN list of biosphere sites
In a first for Myanmar, Inle Lake has been selected as one of 20 new sites added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Forestry department officials are hoping that the decision will result in both improvements to the environment and a fresh influx of visitors to the site, one of the country’s prime tourist destinations.
The long-awaited decision was taken by the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) in Paris on June 9.
Man and the Biosphere is an intergovernmental scientific program set up by UNESCO in the early 1970s to improve the interaction between people and their natural environment, on a global scale. Biosphere reserves are places for learning about sustainable development that reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources. New reserves are designated each year.
There are now 651 such sites in 120 countries, of which Inle Lake is the first to be designated in Myanmar.
U Win Naing Thaw, director of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry’s Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, attended the Paris meeting as part of a five-member delegation. He said 26 proposals had been submitted by 19 countries.
“The meeting announced its congratulations to Myanmar for having its first biosphere reserve,” he said by email yesterday.
UNESCO said the Inle Lake biosphere reserve covered a total of 489,721 hectares. The wetland ecosystem of the freshwater lake is home to 267 species of birds – of which 82 are wetland birds – 43 species of freshwater fishes, otters and turtles. Diverse flora and fauna species are recorded and the lake is reported to be the nesting place for the globally endangered Sarus crane (Grus antigone).
In addition to its ecological importance, Inle Lake is also unique for the way the local inhabitants have adapted their lifestyle to their environment. Farmers from one of the dominant ethnic groups in the region, the Intha, practice floating island agriculture, locally called ye chan. Inle Lake and its watershed provide several ecosystem services on which local people depend, including clean air, clean water, a cooler climate, fish stocks and other resources.
UNESCO’s Myanmar office said yesterday that the nomination of the Inle Lake region had received wide support from the Union government, the Shan State government, local communities, NGOs, university representatives, youth groups and the private sector.
It also said UNESCO had been providing technical support to the government, in close collaboration with the UNDP and the environment ministry, with generous support from the government of Norway, to designate the Inle lake region as the first biosphere reserve of Myanmar.
Ministry director general U Nyi Nyi Kyaw told a press conference last month that designation in the Man and Biosphere project would help long-term development, conserve varieties of species and cultures, and aid research into the connections between humans and the environment.
Now it is hoped that Myanmar will receive assistance in conservation techniques as well as possible financial support, said U Naing Zaw Tun of the Forest Department. “If the lake is identified as a world-standard heritage site, it will also stimulate tourism,” he added.
The coveted designation comes amid expert warnings that the lake could disappear, as climate change and pollution take their toll. The lake now covers only half its previous extent, as deforestation and silting have shrunk its surface from 134 square miles to 63.
Senior program adviser Igor Bosc of the UNDP, which is working with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry on an Inle Lake conservation and rehabilitation project, told The Myanmar Times in an interview last June that a major program of public awareness-raising was required.
“The water level has decreased a lot over the past 70 years, while the amount of silt has risen higher and higher. If the lake community continues as usual, the lake could disappear within a century. We need to do more,” he said.
Source : MMTime