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Locals in the Irrawaddy Delta’s Bogalay township have expressed concerns about the environment and their livelihoods due to an alleged increase in deforestation in the region.
Retired school teacher Hla Myint, 70, and resident of Bogalay said the growing population in the region had led to a significant deforestation of large trees, leaving locals to cut down smaller palm-type trees for firewood which he said was “not a good sign.”
“[Bogalay] township once flourished with trees but now most forests have turned into farmlands,” said Hla Myint.
“I don’t want to point a finger at this or that person but we are likely to face a serious shortage of firewood – there are so many people cutting down all kinds of trees for firewood including mangrove trees that inhabit the shore areas,” he told DVB.
“Now mangrove is also becoming rare so people are turning to coconut and Areca palm trees. This is not a good sign and is in fact a very dire [situation].”
Hla Myint said the deforestation is triggered by a growing need for firewood, expansion of farmlands due to increased population and rapacious use of timber in the fishing industry.
A local resident, under condition of anonymity claimed the government’s Forestry Department was also contributing to the deforestation by selling permits to cut down trees.
“Now there is no more forest on Mainmahla Island – all trees were cut down for foreign export. Locals have to pay money to the forestry department to cut down trees; from 3000 up to tens of thousands Kyat depending on size of the boat [carrying the load],” said the local.
The government had similarly been accused of profitting from the illegal timber trade from northern forests, whilst rebel armies are also said to fund their war efforts through relentless logging of their remaining jungles.
“There are no more trees decent enough to make firewood so they are turning to palm trees now. If we continue like this, we will run out of trees in the next five years”, said the Bogolay local.
Deforestation of the delta’s mangroves was blamed by some as an exacerbating factor for the scale of damage caused by 2008’s devastating cyclone Nargis.
Bogalay, like many other parts in Burma relies on wood as the main source of energy despite being near to Burma’s lare reserves of natural gas. The area is well-known for being a large distributor of charcoal to across the country.
Burma’s agricultural sector has been accused of being inefficient with its use of land, using more land to meet growing demand instead of intensifying inputs to already used land to increase yields.
Low levels of electrification and poverty mean that roughly 2/3rds of Burma’s population still rely on wood as their main source of energy, according to the NGO Altsean, such a reliance contributes to the rapid rate of deforestation in the country.