YANGON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – From a boat on the Salween River in southeastern Myanmar, Than Zaw Oo pointed to a brown stretch of water he said was once full of lush paddy fields. “This used to be my land,” said the 51-year-old farmer, frowning at the murky waves.
All but six of the 24 acres where he used to grow rice and vegetables have slipped into the water in recent years, he said. Another farmer, Than Tun, said he had lost 15 acres of his land to erosion. While official records were not available, other villagers backed their accounts.
Farmers and politicians in Chaungzon township, just outside the southern town of Moulmein, worry that erosion in the area is being exacerbated by the ships that dredge its bed for sand each night. The sand is mainly bound for Singapore, the world’s biggest importer, for use in reclamation and construction projects.
Both the Myanmar government and the company whose ships do the dredging in Chaungzon deny the dredging is causing the erosion. But the dispute highlights the fractious issue of sand-mining in Southeast Asia as Singapore is forced to look farther afield to slake its thirst for the mineral following bans on the trade in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia over environmental concerns.
Sand mining has been blamed by scientists for damaging sensitive ecosystems around the world, accelerating coastal and riverine erosion, and exacerbating the frequency and severity of floods and droughts, according to a 2019 report by the U.N Environment Programme.