Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar

10 Sep

Special Guest Bloggers:

Sheridan Hyland, Program Associate, blue moon fund and Priscilla Clapp, Retired Minister Counselor, U.S. Foreign Service

Former Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Burma, for the blue moon fund


 Within the past few years, we have seen the Union of Myanmar, formerly Burma, open itself to the international community and begin a promising reform process.  These new changes provide both opportunities and challenges for Myanmar’s development, and one of the most important components for development is water.  A significant portion of Myanmar’s population still resides in rural areas, and as a result agriculture accounts for the dominant share of the country’s water usage.[1]  The energy sector, however, specifically the hydropower, has been steadily increasing its water usage as Myanmar seeks to expand economic productivity, raise incomes, and alleviate the acute poverty of the majority of the population.  With four key rivers as identified by the Government of Myanmar– the Ayeyarwady, Sittoung, Thanlwin, and Bago – as well as numerous important tributaries[2], Myanmar’s water resources are significant and offer potential solutions to many of the development challenges the country faces, if they are employed wisely and efficiently.

As greater emphasis on environmental challenges has become global, it is clear that careless use of natural resources cannot continue indefinitely, and Myanmar’s government, civil society, and population have recognized that water resources management systems must be put in place to ensure sustainable development of the country’s economy and resources.  Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), in particular, has gained significant traction in Myanmar.  IWRM is a practical and goal-oriented process for water use that “promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.”[3]  Participation of key stakeholders – in water and other sectors, as well as the politically influential and the politically disadvantaged – in the process is crucial.  In Myanmar in particular, it is also important to assemble existing and new information from the different ministries and civil society organizations to put into conceptual models for policy planning purposes and to make this information easily accessible to all.[4]  These tactics allow stakeholders to identify positive and negative consequences of proposed actions and make informed decisions on the most feasible policy solution.

By utilizing IWRM as a tool for water and land use in Myanmar, the government not only has a means for conserving waterresources, but it can help prevent further social tensions fromescalating.  Many of the country’s most disadvantaged peoples will be negatively affected by poorly designed water use and development policies, so it will be crucial to develop a participatory process offered by IWRM to allow these groups to lend their voice to the identification of key problems and the search for a solution that will not disadvantage them further.  Because Myanmar’s government and population recognize that their country is unique in terms of its natural wealth and beauty, key stakeholders recognize that as development progresses, they have the opportunity to ensure that the process is done in a sustainable manner from the beginning.  While nearly everyone in Myanmar can agree on the need for economic development, many also agree that the country must not squander its resources as so many others have done.

The missing ingredient at this stage is the IWRM framework for organizing the stakeholders in government, industry, agriculture, transport, and civil society to approach this task together. In January 2013, the blue moon fund in cooperation with the Dutch NGO Deltares and several local and international NGOs[5] engaged in a scoping mission of the Ayeyarwady River to identify key water resources management problems, as well as possible solutions through IWRM.  In July 2013, the blue moon fund, in partnership with the Stockholm Environmental Institute, held a forum on conservation of the Ayeyarwady in Naypyitaw with concerned parliamentarians and ministries. Deltares has recently signed an MOU with the Myanmar government to begin compiling an IWRM data base and conduct some initial studies.  It is also time to begin organizing civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders to participate in these efforts. With continued cooperation at a policy level and on the ground, Myanmar has the opportunity to pursue development, address critical social issues, and preserve the natural resources that make it unique.

[1] “Strategic Plan on Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar,” Inter-Ministry Task Force on Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Global Water Partnership, 2000.

[4] “Report of the Scoping Mission for the Ayeyarwady River Basin: Final Report,” February 2013.


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