Rivers are an integral part of Burmese life. Much of their culture is tied to the larger rivers used for sourcing their livelihoods and as means of transport. Most of the communities living along the rivers have a thriving boat business and navigate hundreds of kilometers while transporting goods or fishing. Some parts of these rivers are considered sacred by these communities and can only be approached in certain ways. The rivers in Burma also support a diversity of plants and animals including fish, reptiles, and large mammals. Some of the longest rivers in Burma are looked at below.
Longest Rivers in Myanmar
The Mekong River flows through six Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Laos, and Myanmar. It is the region’s longest river, Asia’s seventh longest, and the twelfth longest in the world with a total length of 2,703 miles. The Mekong drains an area of 795,000 square kilometers. The river has its source in the Tibetan Plateau and flows to the delta of Vietnam discharging 457,000 cubic kilometers annually. The name of the river originates from Thai and Lao which translates to “Mother of Water.” over 60 million people depend on the Mekong for their livelihood. The river is an important source of food, a means of transportation and a source of water. Mekong constitutes the second highest aquatic biodiversity in the world after Amazon. The river also holds a cultural significance for the communities living along its banks, including those of Akha, Shan, and En.
The Salween is a 1,491 mile-long river that flows from the Tibetan Plateau. It flows through three countries and into the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia. It drains a watershed area of 320,000 square kilometers that is located in China, Burma, and Thailand. The Salween is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the world and is home to over 7 million people divided into 13 different ethnic groups. The river also supports 140 species of fish, 7000 species of plants, and 25% of world’s animal species. The upper region of the river, which is in China, is considered the world’s most bio-diverse temperate ecosystem by the UNESCO. The soil along the Salween is considered very fertile for cultivation and also supports the Teak forest in Burma and Thailand.
The Irrawaddy River flows from north to south through Burma. It is the largest river in the country at a length of 1,348 miles, and it is also the most important commercial water body. Irrawaddy originates from the confluence of Rivers N’mal and Mali and flows straight south before emptying through the Irrawaddy Delta into Andean Sea. The river drains an area of around 255,000 square kilometers. Irrawaddy River is home to a diversity of animals including 43 fish species. The river is an important means of export and import transportation and also a source of water for irrigation of rice. Construction of seven hydroelectric dams is ongoing along the river despite the alarm raised by the environmentalist.
The Chindwin River is the largest tributary of the Irrawaddy River. It flows entirely within Burma and covers a distance of 750 miles. It originates from Hukawng Valley where four rivers meet, these being the Turong, Tawan, Tanai, and Tabye. Much of the course of Chindwin River lies within mountain ranges and forests with much of the area covered by the river remaining unspoilt due to the difficulty of access. Chindwin is used to transport goods to the town of Homalin, and it is also an important source of Jade and fish.
Threats to the Rivers of Myanmar
Burmese rivers are no exception to the effects of pollution, suffering similarly to many other rivers in Asia. Industrial wastes are the major source of pollution for most of these rivers. Climate change has affected the level of waters and the volumes discharged by most rivers. The water levels are receding due to lack of sufficient rainfall. Construction of dams along the rivers, especially Irrawaddy, is dangerous for the biodiversity which depends on the rivers for their survival.