Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is optimistic in the outlook of Inle Lake, which was last week designated as the country's first biosphere reserve at the Unesco's 27th Man and the Biosphere (MAB) International Coordinating Council (ICC) meeting.
In an interview, Hlaing Oo, deputy director general of the ministry, believed that this would preserve the environment, which should maintain the lake’s attractiveness in the long term.
The designation was made at a council meeting in Paris where Unesco added 20 new sites to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, bringing their total number to 651 sites, including 15 transboundary sites, in 120 countries.
Located in Shan State, Inle is one of Myanmar’s top tourist destinations. It is the second-largest fresh-water lake in Myanmar, with an estimated surface area of 489,721 hectares. Its wetland ecosystem is home to 267 species of birds, out of which 82 are wetland birds, 43 species of freshwater fishes, otters and turtles. Diverse flora and fauna species are recorded and the lake is reported to be the nesting place for the globally endangered Sarus crane.
At present, the length of the lake from north to south is 38.6 kilometres; its original length was 60 miles. The average water depth is 2.1 metres, with the deepest point being 3.7 metres deep. During rainy season, the lake’s depth can increase by up to 1.5 metres.
In its statement, MAB said the lake “combines the natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits, and to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable.”
Ten watershed areas in southern Shan State will be included in the Inle Lake biosphere reserve.
Daywei Thant Zin from the Myanma Green Network said that the designation should help conserve the watershed areas that provide water to the lake.
“Educational programmes for residents of Inle Lake should discourage them from putting fertilisers into the lake. More importantly, hotel zones should not be expanded. Now, hotel development around the Inle Lake region has been paused. But hotels are still permitted on the hills. These issues must be considered not that Unesco has designated Inle Lake as a natural World Heritage Site. Another point is that we need to conserve our traditional customs,” said the environmentalist.
The Unesco MAB programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environment.