From the way I understand it, the purpose of observing a landscape is not merely to study the geographical characteristics of a place but also to understand the interaction between nature and its inhabitants that have been coexisting and evolving together. It has always been fascinating for me to explore the historical aspects of a place - how its features were formed or what its role is in the ecological balance of the surrounding community. Hence, for this analysis, I chose a place I have a personal connection with and want to explore in-depth; the Pyukan wetland.
Located right behind my house, the Pyukan wetland area is neither the biggest nor the most well-known one out of all the wetland areas in the Sagaing town of the Sagaing division.
Yet, it is like a beating heart for locals, with hundreds of farmers depending on it - as agriculture is the backbone of the town's economy. Centering the wetland, the big villages were built. Ever since, the farmers from those villages have been sharing the valuable ecosystem services the wetland provides, such as its fertile soil and clean water.
According to the legends loosely passed down among the locals, the origin of the Pyukan wetland dates back to the Bagan dynasty when it was considered a lake and Pyu people resided around it; hence, the name Pyu Kan [Pyu + Kan (lake)]. There is not enough evidence to clearly state whether the Pyukan wetland is formed naturally or completely artificial caused by the paddy fields covering up most of the area, as seen in Fig.1 above. However, hugged by the Irrawaddy river, it is likely that the town's wetlands are formed by the seasonal flooding of the Irrawaddy river. My theory is that flooded water flows through the small branches and streams and eventually into the wetland areas.
Except during the summer, the whole area is inundated with water. Hence, the farmers pump the water out to grow their crops during the planting season. The unusual hydrological alterations and excessive usage of pesticides combined with agricultural expansion are affecting the water-storing ability of the Pyukan wetland. Moreover, every rainy season, the water level rises to the point it covers up my family farm, as seen in Fig. 2. In the past, it took months for the water level to go down, so there used to be a massive fishing business during the flooding season. I grew up with the stories of my father and uncles fishing in the field for fun and rowing across it with a boat. I am told that fish from the Pyukan wetland was widely
popular among the surrounding villages and neighboring townships. Now, the flooding period only lasts around a couple of weeks which I assume is the devastating impact of constructing large dams on the Irrawaddy River. Consequently, it disrupted fisheries in the area and caused a significant drawback to the local economy.
Although wetlands are simultaneously supporting the livelihoods of thousands of species and local communities worldwide, they are often taken for granted and overlooked - around 2/3rds of wetlands have been lost in the previous century(WWF, 2018). The changes at Phyukan wetland may still not seem significant, but they are there, and I believe we, even with our individual initiatives, need to start acting to preserve it before it’s too late.
Two Mandalay lakes to get wetland protection. (2019, September 30). The Myanmar Times. https://www.mmtimes.com/news/two-mandalay-lakes-get-wetland-protection.html
Coordinator, O. W. N. (2017, October 10). Dams on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy river could fuel more conflicts in the country - OWN. Www.water.ox.ac.uk.
Wetlands and agriculture - DAWE. (n.d.). Www.awe.gov.au. Retrieved March 19, 2022, from https://www.awe.gov.au/water/wetlands/publications/factsheet-wetlands-agriculture
[Explainer] What are wetlands and why do we need to protect them? (2021, January 27). Mongabay-India.
WWF. (2018, February 2). Here’s a challenge: let’s stop the world’s greatest wetland from drying up. WWF -Together Possible.
This essay is written by Pyae Phyo Aung, inspired by the memory of his late grandma, Khin Thein, who enriched him with the history of their homeland. He has been joining the modular courses at Parami since the 2021 fall semester - Global Environmental History is his third course at Parami. Currently, he is doing a research internship at Proximity Designs.