The Ayeyarwady is Myanmar’s largest river system. Measuring the length of the country, it is both a crucial source of livelihoods and a vital commercial waterway. Along the river, many are dependent on the fertile riverbank fields and gardens, its fisheries, water for crop irrigation and for transportation. The river is also a source of culture with countless religious and historical monuments lining its banks and a historic channel that takes goods across the country.
The development of inland waterway transport (IWT) along this river is seen as integral to the economic development of Myanmar. To improve IWT along priority stretches of the river, and to design a cost-effective, environmentally and socially acceptable strategy for managing the full length of the navigation channel the Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management Project (AIRBMP) was launched.
An Environmental and Social Assessment (ESA) of development of a 160 km stretch of river between Mandalay and Nyaung Oo has now been completed. The purpose of the development is to improve future navigation, allowing for 1,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT) barges to navigate up the river from Yangon to Mandalay during the dry season. Civil works may include closing subsidiary low-water channels with bunds and placement of flow-guiding structures such as groynes and embankments. Other activities include dredging, elimination of obstacles, bank and bed protection.
The objective of the ESA was to provide information to inform the design and detailed Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of future navigation enhancement interventions for this area, as such interventions may cause adverse environmental and social impacts from changes to aquatic and riparian habitats in response to changes in river morphology, flow, depth, sediment flux, water quality and turbidity. Transport and disposal of dredged materials may also have impacts and, the people who depend on the ecosystem services of the Ayeyarwady River and riverbanks for their livelihoods and food security may be vulnerable to these changes.
The ESA provides a comprehensive baseline and proposes zones of social and environmental sensitivities. The assessment yielded a number of strategic conclusions that are important to consider in future planning of IWT developments and associated environmental and social assessments. Furthermore, the report provides guidance on the use of GIS planning layers developed as part of the project; how these can be used in the application of the environmental and social safeguards framework for planning; and for implementation of future IWT-related projects (i.e. subprojects under the AIRBMP).
The ESA shows the locations of key biodiversity areas (KBAs), fish migration routes, fish spawning grounds and are that are dynamic or stable in terms of geomorphology. This information can help in the siting and design of projects, which can avoid or significantly reduce the impact of civil works or dredging.
The ESA adopted a participatory approach which included a series of Township and village tract level consultations along the banks of the Ayeyarwady River. Local communities provided critical insights to on seasonal calendars for fishing and farming, flood and riverbank erosion risks. This information can assist in the design of socio-economic surveys for future civil works planned along the river.