Sunday, August 20, 2017

Inle report highlights tourism impact

A fisherman nets his catch at Inle Lake in March 2008. (Douglas Long / The Myanmar Times)A fisherman nets his catch at Inle Lake in March 2008. (Douglas Long / The Myanmar Times)

A conservation plan for Inle Lake has been given new urgency by the sharp increase in foreign tourists to Myanmar, a leading member of the project team said last week.

Mr Joern Kristensen was commenting on one of the key issues covered in a 118-page report, Inlay Lake Conservation Project: A Plan for the Future, which was released last week after more than six months’ work by a 20-member team, 11 members of which are Myanmar.

The project’s recommendations include the establishment of a Lake Conservation Authority, which would coordinate all conservation activities as well as managing a conservation fund.

The Norwegian government-funded project was coordinated by an Australian-based experts’ network, the Institute for International Development (IID), through IID-Myanmar.

The recommendations in the report are aimed at assisting the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry to develop its Action Plan for Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Management of Inle Lake 2010-2025.

Mr Kristensen, the Institute for International Development’s Myanmar director and representative, told The Myanmar Times there was “certainly” a greater urgency for the conservation project because the ministry’s action plan had not considered the impact of tourism on the lake and surrounding environment, probably because in 2010 the number of visitors was still very limited.

“While Bagan can accommodate many more tourists, it is very obvious that unlimited numbers of visitors can damage the lake; it is certainly something to be aware of for the future,” said Mr Kristensen, referring to the number of travellers who visit Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s premier tourist destinations.

A letter accompanying the report said that while the increase in tourism would generate new income, there was a serious threat that the net benefits to the regional communities may be offset by environmental costs to the lake, which is already under stress.

“This would have a negative impact on the livelihoods of ethnic communities making up the population of the lake region, endanger the health of the lake ecosystem and degrade the natural and cultural resources which form the attraction to tourists,” the letter says.

“However, there is an equal potential for positive outcomes by managing new income for investment in maintenance of the health of the lake. This requires a permanent Inle Lake governance structure to be established. It also requires assistance to enable local youth from the lake region to shift from unsustainable farming to employment in the rapidly growing tourism industry,” it says.