The fear that haunts Ko Than Htoo, who is the main breadwinner for his five-member family, is that Inle Lake will one day dry up. He has been a boatman for over 25 years. Only two years ago he had to leave nearby Pekon Lake after the water level went down to the point of his boat running aground.
Enlisted as a Ramsar site and a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve, Inle Lake is the second largest in Myanmar. It has long hosted a rich diversity of bird and fish species. However that is under threat by deforestation, pollution, unsustainable agriculture and tourism.
“My livelihood is attached to this lake. I am concerned about its future because I have witnessed the impact of decreased water level in the other lake. The people never stopped cutting down trees up in the hills and every time there was rain, all the mud and silt from upstream would flow down to the lake,” says Ko Than Htoo. “We should do something to keep this lake alive so that it keeps us alive.”
There are thousands of people like Ko Than Htoo and the Intha community who depend on the wetland resources for their livelihoods.
There are several Intha villages on the lake and their floating gardens draw tourists. However, in the recent years, the haphazard use of chemical pesticides has contaminated the water. “We have no option but to use pesticide. If we don’t use it, the tomato plants hardly survive, as you can see there are several pests here,” says Daw Khin Htwe, 42, a tomato farmer.
An equally important environmental concern contaminated water from farms upstream, which has led to the rise of invasive species, such as water hyacinth and snails.
U Myint Soe, a paddy farmer, says he and his fellow farmers have long been using chemical fertilizers. “Rice is our main crop. We use chemical fertilizers for better production.”
In 2010 the region experienced one of the most severe droughts in its history bringing the lake to a record low. This badly affected the floating gardens, and tourism.