Fighting Pollution from Tourism at Inle Lake in Myanmar

Inle Lake is one of the four top tourism destinations for Myanmar, next to Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay. However, increasing numbers of tourists threaten the delicate balance of the Inle region, threatening centuries old traditions and way of life for locals. A very disturbing evolution is increasing pollution , particularly coming from the multiplication of boats taking tourists around the lake in southern Shan State.

The Myanmar Times reported this week that the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is now working with Norway-based Partnership for Change (PFC) to reduce exhaust noise from boat engines. According to U Sai Win, who helped negotiate the deal,  the aim is now to cut the noise by 50 percent. “We want Inle to be a better and more beautiful place, where visitors can enjoy the scenery in peace, and guides can describe our culture and history without shouting. We want to avoid the risk of environmental damage,” he highlighted to the newspaper.

Official statistics showed that Inle Lake, during the period from April to December in the previous two years, welcomed 79,678 visitors in 2014 and 141,789 in 2015. More than 200 boats are licensed to operate on the lake, not accounting unlicensed operators.Technical experts are working with local boat owners to test different engine power systems.

Authorities are looking at a boat powered by a quieter engine manufactured by Japan. While noise can be reduced significantly, they are concerns about additional pollution in the lake’s waters as reducing the noise by venting would also increase carbon dioxide and noise levels inside the lake. “It would damage rare aquatic species”, said Inle Lake Wetland Sanctuary administrator U Sein Tun to the newspaper.

Waters protection is a major issue for Lake Inle communities and not only because of noise boats. Hotels’ construction mushroom all around the lake while traditional way of living slowly disappear. The department of irrigation is now controlling water levels to avoid a dry out of the lake while the Ministry of Forestry has prohibited the expansion of floating cultivation plots on the lake as it contributes to affect the fauna and flora living in the waters.

The area can now count on the technical assistance of UNESCO as Lake Inle became the country’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve last December.