Laying the Foundation for a Governance Structure of Inle Lake

Jun 13, 2014

Inle Lake provides a source of income to fishermen Photo: Shobhna Decloitre/UNDP Myanmar

[Taunggyi] “Everyone wants to make use of the lake, but nobody wants to take care of it” is a statement that may be true for many lakes in the world. But for communities living in and around the Inle Lake in Myanmar’s Shan State as well as national and state government, there is a strong commitment to put in place a proper lake management system that would ensure that the beautiful lake is preserved for future generations.

Such a system would take care of the lake - its water quality, fish and bird populations as well as ensure that the people, whose livelihoods and cultural traditions depend on the lake, continue to earn a living without harming the lake and its resources at the same time meeting other stakeholders’ needs. And what better place to look for possible models than in neighbouring Asian countries.

Over the last three days, experts from Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Philippines and Japan shared their experiences of managing lakes, describing the manner in which lake management bodies were formed   what their functions are, how they are financed as well as the challenges they faced in doing their work. The presentations were delivered after the experts spent a day visiting the Inle Lake and surrounding villages and seeing some of the issues faced by the people living on or near the lake. Their presentations covered the similarities they saw between Inle Lake and the lakes they managed. The presentations also generated a lot of discussions amongst the 80 workshop participants, made up of government officials; representatives of the Innthar, Pa-O, Shan and other ethnic groups; academia and community based groups.

Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar and is a major tourist attraction renowned for its floating gardens, traditional leg-rowed boats and weaving industry. It is home to 400,000 people and has endemic fish and birds. The water surface of the lake reportedly shrunk from 104 square miles in 1934 to 63 square miles in 2007. Tourist numbers have steadily grown over the years with close to 30,000 foreign tourists in 2011, climbing to more than 93,000 in 2013.

Tried and Tested Models

Inle Lake, said, Dr Masahisa Nakammura, the Chairman of the International Lake Environment Committee, was not just a body of water, instead it had a rich culture and tradition and provided people with a means of living.

In this regard, he said that the “heartware” should not be neglected in the formulation of any management plan. By this he referred to the people living in and around the lake and how they connected with it.

He pointed out that an effective and integrated lake basin management depended upon six pillars comprising effective institutions, participation, policies, technology, information and finance.

Each pillar had to be equally strong to avoid a lop-sided or ineffective response to the lake’s challenges.

The first pillar – institution – can be of four types – a customary and self-regulated management; a coordinating committee; a coordinating agency or an executive regulatory authority.

During the three day Knowledge Sharing Workshop on Lake Conservation Management Practices, organized by the United Nations Development Programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Environmental and Forestry and the Shan State Government, with financial support of the Government of Norway, presenters from across Asia shared their experiences of managing lakes using one of these four types of institutions.

Dr Ajit Pattnaik from the Chilika Development Authority in India said that 25 years ago, Chilika Lake was in a similar situation as the Inle Lake now.

“Chilika Lake has a complex ecosystem and many stakeholders. Due to high siltation, the water body was shrinking, and unauthorized shrimp culture was rampant. The livelihoods of local communities were suffering because of a loss of fish yield and diversity,” said Dr Pattnaik.

The Chililka Lake Development Authority was created in 1991 to deal with these issues. Built on a coordinating agency model, the Chilika Lake Development Authority used science and smart communication and outreach activities to transform the inhabitants of the basin from resource users into resource managers.

The Chilika Lake has an ecosystem health report card, which distills environmental data on the health of the eco-system into a simplified info-graphic report that communities and other stakeholders can easily track to understand the status of water quality, fisheries and biodiversity of the lake and how this impacts their interactions with the lake and its resources. 

“When resource users become resource managers, real empowerment is achieved. Such a transformation ensures real sustainability,” he said.

Over the course of the three day workshop, the lack of baseline data on Inle Lake became evident. It was also clear from the presentations on the lakes management experiences in Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Philippines, that these agencies regularly collected and analysed data. During the group discussions on the final day of the workshop, every group identified the need for conducting an inventory of the Inle Lake, establishing base line data and putting in place robust monitoring and evaluation systems.

Dr Tri Retnaningsih Soeprobowati from the University of Diponegoro in Central Java, Indonesia presented the Indonesian experience with the Toba Lake, which like Inle Lake has endemic species of fish, fishing communities and houses and hotels built on its banks.

She said that pollution, floating net culture, boat oil and livestock affected the water quality and that monitoring and evaluation systems were important.

She pointed out that tourism activities began and peaked during the 1970 and 80s. She said that as the water quality decreased, and the fish net culture increased rapidly, tourists number declined.

“Tourists could not swim in the lake, as the water was no longer clear, so they went to other destinations,” she said.

Way Forward for Inle Lake

“The management of a resource cannot be done in a fragmented way. There is a need to manage a resource in a unified way,” said Ms Adeline Santos-Borja, from the Laguna Lake Development Authority in Philippines.

 “Let us act. We can start now and over time the institution that is put in place to manage Inle Lake to evolve to meet the needs of the lake.”

She pointed out that the Laguna Lake Development Authority, when established in 1969, was different from what it has become now. The authority manages the Laguna de Bay lake, which is the biggest lake in the Philippines. Like Inle Lake, it is a shallow lake and the two major environmental concerns facing it relate to siltation and pollution.

“We want to have a lake authority or a coordinating committee for Inle Lake very soon,” said the Shan state Minister for Forestry and Mining, H.E U Sai Aik Paung.

He said the workshop had been very useful in sharing knowledge on the way other lakes were being managed in the region.

“For Inle Lake to be managed as the lakes abroad have been managed, we need to have an integrated lake and basin management structure, built on the six pillars of institutions, participation, policies, technology, information and finance.”

Referring to the different ethnic groups that live on and around the Inle Lake, HR U Sai Aik Paung reminded that all groups needed to work together and help quickly implement a management plan.

The Minister for Innthar Affairs, H. E U Win Myint said the lake was not only of cultural importance to his community, but also provided a source of income.

“We need to teach the young generation of all ethnic groups about the cultural importance of Inle Lake,” he said.

The workshop resulted in a set of draft recommendations which will be shared with the State and Union level governments for their comments and implementation. The recommendations include the establishment of a multi-sectoral body, situated within the Shan State which will be in charge of preserving and protecting the lake and building a data base and putting in place a systemic way of collecting and analyzing data such as water quality, fish and bird population as well as the number of people living on and around the lake. The recommendations also include the participation of all ethnic groups as well as women in the management of the lake and its resources.

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