Inle Lake is drying up, and could disappear within the next century if stronger measures are not taken to preserve it, experts warn.

One of the country’s premier tourist attractions, the lake now covers less than half the area it once did, and is threatened by silting and deforestation.

Existing plans are not enough to save the lake, a senior program adviser Igor Bosc of UNDP, which is working with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry on an Inle Lake conservation and rehabilitation project, told The Myanmar Times on June 10. He said 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.

A management workshop on Inle Lake conservation held from June 10 to 12 in nearby Taunggyi discussed the root causes of the problem, including the need to improve collaboration among the various groups involved, promoting the involvement of local residents and taking into account their social, economic and environmental situation.

“We could make progress by establishing a lake authority, as has been done in some countries,” said Mr Bosc.

UNDP country representative Mr Toily Kurbanov said the drastic reduction in the area of the lake, from 134 square miles to just 63 square miles, highlighted the need for action.

“If we carry on like this, the beauties of the lake will vanish,” he said.

In 2010, severe drought sent water levels to a record low, and the ground around the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda was dry and cracked.

The local economy is linked to the problem.

“Inle residents use firewood for fuel, causing deforestation, which has helped dry up the lake,” Shan State Minister for Forestry and Mining U Sai Aik Paung told the workshop on June 10.

The changing climate and socio-economic conditions have contributed to the deterioration of the lake, he said, despite the efforts of the government and conservation organisations. High silt levels mean that some parts of the lake will dry up once the rainy season is over.

“Population levels and the area under cultivation are greater than ever before. This produces more silt, making the lake shallower, and smaller in area,” U Aung Kyi Win, a Shan State Hluttaw representative from Nyaungshwe, told The Myanmar Times on June 11.

International support has been forthcoming, however, with the UNDP and the Norwegian government providing US$2.6 million to the Inle Lake Conservation and Rehabilitation Project, a five-year program covering 71 villages in three townships, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

The Institute of International Development (IID) and UN-Habitat have also drawn up long-term plans to make the lake sustainable.

These have already had some impact, according to U Aung Kyi Win.

“During the past five years, there have been improvements in conservation. Local teams have been formed to collect rubbish from the lake, and sanitation and burial systems have improved. Trees have been planted near the lake, and terrace cultivation is being practised,” he said.

Inle Lake is located in Nyaungshwe township in southern Shan State. More than 400,000 people live on and in the vicinity of the lake, with around 25 percent of households below the poverty line. The area is also a popular tourist site for both locals and foreigners. – Translation by Thiri Min Htun