Tuesday, 19 November 2019

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Opinions differ on drought roots

New Delhi (Mizzima) – As weather bureau scientists blame environmental damage for the drought and water shortages plaguing lower and central Burma, some Burmese are holding the ruling junta responsible for failing to abide by traditional precepts set for the nation’s kings of yesteryear. 

Since the end of last month, wells and ponds have dried up and people have been suffering severe shortages of water for drinking and hygiene in Rangoon, Pegu, Sagaing, Magwe, Irrawaddy divisions and Arakan (Rakhine), Mon and Shan states.

Earlier reports said a late monsoon and very high daytime temperatures were at the heart of the problem that had left at least 180 villages in urgent need of water supplies.

Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association (Freda) vice-chairman U Ohn said excess and uncontrolled extraction of timber had curbed  groundwater conservation. This was causing the severe drought in Burma.

“If you fell one tree, you must replant 10 trees. Now they are felling 10 trees and replanting only one tree so that the depletion rate is far surpassing the replenishment rate, all of which damages our environment,” U Ohn said. “Forests conserve the mountains. Forests harvest rainwater. Environmental damage destroys the ecosystem of rainwater harvesting.” 

But Meteorology and Hydrology Department (Met office) scientist Dr. Tun Lwin suggested rising daytime temperatures, low rainfall and unfavourable climate conditions in Philippines, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia that fall within the trajectory of the monsoon were reasons for the drought.

A Water Resources Department officer in Naypyidaw yesterday estimated that
the number of people facing drinking-water shortages was more than 500,000.

But the current drought situation lacked the severity of the situation Burma had experienced in 1998, Dr. Tun Lwin claimed.

“In that year, daytime temperatures rose to record highs at about 30 Met office weather stations across Burma. We are currently seeing record high day temperatures at only 10 stations. So we’ll have to wait and see if there will be more”, he said.  
According to the Met office readings, the highest day temperature recorded at Myingyan City, which was 47 Celsius yesterday. It was 46.5C in Mandalay, more than 45C in Monywa and Magwe and 44.8C in Nyaung Oo.

Science aside, others had spiritual, superstitious or traditional takes as to the cause  of one of country’s worst heatwaves in living memory.

“Let alone the 10 precepts for kings, the rulers of Burma are insulting religion and even killing monks,” an abbot of a monastery in Thingangyun Township, Rangoon Division, said. “Then they [the ruling junta] say white elephants can ward off drought in a country but in Burma these white elephants can’t deter drought and they can’t do much about poverty either. The people are in trouble because of these rulers.”

A well-wisher who donated water to villages in Pegu Township said: “In Buddhist teachings, famine is disaster. The people face such a disaster when rulers do not follow the 10 precepts prescribed for kings. We are in trouble because they are ruling us unfairly. I have the feeling … we will face something bad [even worse than the current crises] in our country soon.”

While a noted astrologer, also in Thingangyun Township, Rangoon, offered that planetary position had nothing to do with the drought and that people living on earth were directly responsible.

“The cause is a disorder of the four primary elements, which was caused by greed, anger and ignorance,” the astrologer told Mizzima. “We see moral decay … and the excessive extraction of natural resources, which have irrevocably altered and damaged the world’s ecosystem.”

Meanwhile, seven died in a Taungdwingyi city hospital in Magwe Division after being admitted with the classics symptoms of heat stroke – fever and dizziness – from high daytime temperatures. Fourteen patients were being treated for heat stroke at Nyaung Oo hospital in Mandalay Division, state-run daily newspapers reported.

“The government came later than the common people to render a helping hand to the people suffering in the water crisis,” a resident of Bahan Township in Rangoon said. “Donating water to these people is a short-term solution. They [officials] must appropriate and allot funds from the government budget to resolve this crisis in the long term, but they don’t know how to do it.”

“They build dams and irrigation systems but they fell trees excessively rather than running awareness campaigns on forest conservation for the people”, the resident said.


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