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Freshwater fishponds are being excavated around Maungdaw to help resolve fish and prawn scarcity issues as well as create more job opportunities for “ethnic villages”, the local government has announced.
According to Dr. Nyunt Wai, the head of the Department of Fisheries in Arakan State, the new fishponds will be set up in 92 villages in Maungdaw Township, which is predominantly inhabited by Rohingya Muslims.
“There are 92 ‘ethnic’ villages in Maungdaw district,” he said. “And there are also some Bengali [Rohingya] villages. The Arakan state government and the fisheries department will prioritise the ‘ethnic’ villages by digging fish ponds there. We [the fisheries department] have already started digging freshwater breeding ponds in five villages. The ponds are each one acre in size.
“The fisheries department wants to ensure there is no shortage of fish despite the ongoing violence in Maungdaw,” Dr. Nyunt Wai added, referring to not only the recent murder of six ethnic Mro villagers, but last year’s ambushes on police border posts by insurgents and subsequent security operations by the army that led to the loss of dozens of lives.
Tensions have been high in the Maungdaw area since mob violence in 2012 between Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhists left at least a hundred dead and over 100,000 displaced from their homes.
“The Arakan state government and the Union government have already reported the needs to international organisations,” said Dr. Nyunt Wai. “Maungdaw district hosts about 15,000 freshwater fish and prawn breeding sites. We are going to restore the ponds, add more freshwater fish and provide feed. If we receive technical support, both the local fish consumption in Maungdaw district and fish exports will increase.”
He estimated the cost of digging a one-acre fish and prawn breeding pond at 7.5 million kyat (US$5,500).
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that the villages being prioritised were Rohingya. This was incorrect. “Ethnic” villages in this sense refers to Arakanese Buddhist communities and most likely some Kaman and Mro villages.