A view of the town of Katha, in Sagaing Division, Myanmar,from the Ayeyarwady River. Colegot
A view of the town of Katha, in Sagaing Division, Myanmar,from the Ayeyarwady River. Colegota / Wikimedia Commons

The gradual opening-up of Myanmar has attracted considerable interest from many countries eager to get involved in development and other issues. SEI, which has done limited work in Myanmar over the years, has set out to go much deeper, focusing on water resources.

Building on SEI Asia researchers’ past work exploring different development pathways and challenges in critical areas in Southeast Asia, SEI has launched the Ayeyarwady Futures program, which aims to support sustainable development through evidence-based participatory planning processes around the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar’s largest river and most important commercial waterway.

The program is led by SEI in collaboration with partners from Myanmar and other Mekong Region countries, financed by the Blue Moon Fund foundation and SEI core funds. The inception phase began with a national dialogue with concerned ministries and parliamentarians in Nay Pyi Taw last July; implementation began in November.

New institution, new partner

One of the key partners in the program is the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems (DWIR) under the Ministry of Transport, the Secretary of National Water Resources Committee (NWRC), which was formed by the Presidential Decree in July 2013 under a chairmanship of the Vice President of Myanmar. Reorganized from the former Waterways Department, the DWIR has a broad mandate that includes improving navigation channels, protecting against riverbank erosion, enabling year-round water withdrawals for domestic use and irrigation, and addressing and preventing water pollution.

SEI-Asia has already held five meetings and consultations with DWIR and other stakeholders in the past year about collaborating under the Ayeyarwady Futures program framework. On 20 January, a joint committee of DWIR and SEI-Asia held its first meeting, in Yangon, to formalize their collaboration. At the meeting, SEI-Asia Centre Director Eric Kemp-Benedict signed a three-year agreement in form of Agreed Minute with Htun Lwin Oo, the DWIR Director General, to affirm SEI’s commitment to work closely with the Government of the Union of Myanmar on natural resources management.

Enhancing knowledge and capacity on resource management in Myanmar

Ayeyarwady Futures is a long-term program that aims to support sustainable development through evidence-based participatory planning processes. It seeks to support state, private and civil society groups in Myanmar to build awareness of the values and limitations of different tools for integrated, basin-level, analysis, planning and management; strengthen the capacity of state and civil society actors to engage in deliberations on water resources planning and development strategies and decisions; and guide the design of emerging institutional frameworks for water governance in the river basin to increase their commitments to environmental and social sustainability.

Also at the joint committee meeting, DWIR and SEI finalized their work plan for the first year of activities, which will include a plan for diagnostic institutional analysis and decision support evaluation to inform future efforts at improved water resources management.

The key work planned for the first year is training on hydro-dynamic modelling, combined with a pilot assessment of the Chindwin River, the largest tributary of the Ayeyarwady River, on its challenges on river pollution, navigation and sedimentation. The Chindwin originates in the Hukawng Valley of Kachin State of Myanmar.

Learning from Myanmar’s Mekong neighbours

Through regional collaboration, the program is expected to narrow the gap between knowledge and capacity related to water resource management in Myanmar. The experience and lessons from past land- and water-use management elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia, will help Myanmar establish the governance structures necessary to support a national debate on water and development solutions.

“The Ayeyarwady Futures program is important for SEI,” says Kemp-Benedict. “There is a great deal of planning for the Ayeyarwady Basin already under way, with considerable international input. Our intention is to help Myanmar to make that planning more coherent and inclusive. The Myanmar government is pursuing the same goals, and we are very pleased that the DWIR sees value in collaboration with this project.”

SEI Asia Centre Director Eric Kemp-Benedict (left), and DWIR Director General Htun Lwin Oo sign the partnership agreement.
SEI Asia Centre Director Eric Kemp-Benedict (left), and DWIR Director General Htun Lwin Oo sign the partnership agreement.