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Low water level in Irrawaddy threatens commercial port

Mar 6, 2009 (DVB), One of upper Burma's busiest commercial ports is likely to be abandoned or moved to a new location due to drying up of the Irrawaddy river, leaving ships unable to dock.

A government official from Ministry of Transportation's Inland Water Transport department told DVB that the river section at Mandalay's Gaw-wein port had become too shallow.

Sand dunes are reported to be emerging above the water and ships with a rudder-length of more than four feet were having difficulty docking at the port.

He said authorities were trying to avoid having to relocate the port by fixing the river's condition, using machines to suck out the sand.

"If we don't succeed, we'll have to move the port to Shwe Kyatyat, which is about 10 miles away from the current location," said the official.

"For now, ships can still dock at the port but only a few at a time."

Last month, Bhamo port in Kachin state was relocated to Khannpar-ne, eight miles from its old location, for similar reasons.

Naw Lah, of Thailand-based Kachin Social Development Network, said the changes occurring in the Irrawaddy river were due to deforesting and land-demolitions at gold mines further upriver in Kachin state.

"The gold diggers upriver cut down a lot of trees and changed the shape of the land to find gold," said Naw Lah. "This has caused damage to the river."

"They should calculate the likely results that this will inflict on the environment before they go ahead with their projects," he added.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat