The Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar is navigable for 1,280 km from the sea, opening a vast highway deep into the dry zone and interior of the basin. Between 261 and 364 million tons of sediment per year are transported through the river during the annual floods leading to erosion and deposition of the navigation channel, bars, islands and riverbanks. This means that some sections have insufficient water depth for inland waterway vessels to operate safely, as well as threatening agriculture along the river bank.

In view of the importance of inland waterway transport to the economic development of Myanmar, the World Bank funded Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management Project (AIRBM), led by the Myanmar Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems (DWIR) aims to support environmentally and socially sustainable improvements to navigability of the river. Stretch 1 (Mandalay to Nyaung U) was identified as a priority. Within this reach, a sub-project area (Subproject 1) was selected between the Mandalay port and Mingun area for construction of river training measures to maintain conditions for transport while avoiding negative environmental consequences.

Figure 1: Project area

From March-June 2018, March-June 2019, and November – February 2020, river training was carried out through bank protection measures (Figure 2: a combination of rip rap armor stones on geotextile, and vetiver grass) and hydraulic roughness measures in the form of concrete porcupines (Figure 3). The porcupines were installed to slow river flow and cause sediment deposition near river banks to prevent further erosion and stabilize and deepen the main navigation channel, also called the ‘Mandalay Channel’.

Figure 2: Bank protection works
Figure 3: Concrete porcupine field

ICEM played a key role in monitoring and reporting on the environmental and social impacts of these measures, conducting an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and preparing and overseeing implementation of an Environmental and Social Management Plan. Measures which were put in place as a result of the plan include:

  • Suppliers of construction materials must ensure rock material is obtained from quarries operating in compliance with applicable environmental standards
  • Bi-weekly water quality checks to monitor impacts on water quality, aquatic ecosystems and fisheries
  • Bi-weekly onsite-project-implementation committee meetings to address any social and environmental issues relating to the construction projects
  • Weekly monitoring and supervising to ensure contactors adhere to environmental and social codes of conduct during construction works
  • Preparation of Abbreviated Resettlement Action Plan (ARAP) and compensation plan specifying the procedures and actions to be taken to resettle and compensate losses for project affected persons (PAPs) such as farmers and fishers
  • Setting up a resettlement implementation committee to mediate any resettlement and compensation issues

These measures ensured that river ecosystems and the livelihoods of riparian communities were protected during the construction phase, and long-term monitoring was established for future sustainability after the completion of the river navigation enhancement works.

Figure 4: A joint-site inspection and assessment by Resettlement Implementation Committee, PMU, villages’ representatives, PAPs and ICEM to Inspect project affected land and crops for monetary compensation
Figure 5: Water quality sampling downstream of the bank protection works