More than 40 square kilometres of farmland in Pegu Division’s Thegon Township have been inundated by overflow from a nearby reservoir following heavy rain, according to locals.
Residents said that while some flooding is normal in the area, which lies near the Irrawaddy River about 200km north of Rangoon, abnormally high waters and long-lasting floods have been frequent since development projects built by the former military regime altered irrigation flows.
An irrigation dam and several industrial fishing ponds were built by the military on farmlands confiscated in 1999, according to locals, who have registered land claims with Burma’s Land Investigation Commission, which was established in 2012.
“Before, it would take about ten days at most for the water level to go down, leaving little damage to the paddy,” said Khin Htun, a local farmer. “But nowadays the flooding lasts for up to a month, killing the plants and leaving us empty-handed for the rest of the crop season.”
Aye Cho, a resident from Aungon village, said that although farmers were able to work for some time after the dam was built, it caused inconvenient changes to water distribution. Those inconveniences led many farmers to turn to fisheries, as the fish-farming industry was already being developed by the government on destroyed farmlands.
“The situation was made worse after some locals decided to switch to the fishery business because the lands were no longer suitable for farming,” said Aye Cho. “People started building ponds without proper land surveys, and now all of our farms are beyond repair.”
Representatives of Pegu’s divisional parliament recently visited villages affected by the flooding to assess damages and provide assistance. One representative, Ohmar Moe Moe Zaw, told DVB that, “local ponds and wells have been restored and chlorinated as a health measure.”
The flooding was most severe in seven villages: Aungon, Minhla, Oakpho, Hnawgon, Kyargon, Myinni and Yaenanthar.
The area in central Burma has become a hotbed of land rights claims in recent years. Villagers from many parts of Pegu, who had long subsisted off of farming, have registered numerous complaints that the former military junta had unjustly confiscated lands for development projects in the late 1990’s. Some of those projects never materialised, while others turned out to be environmentally devastating.
Upon the start of Burma’s political turnaround and the subsequent amendment of both land policy and laws governing freedom of expression, many of those claims crept into public view. One of the villages most severely impacted by the recent floods, Aungon, has been the centre of a heated land dispute over which several protests have been brutally dispersed and at least five activists are facing charges.