It is a magical place, East of Myanmar (formerly Burma), 700 kilometers (434 miles) north of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in the Shan mountains, close to China and Laos: Inle Lake. Its rescue is urgent, and it symbolizes the rescue of our planet.
Situated at over 800 meters (0,5 mile) in altitude, very shallow, with a total surface area of more than 12 000 hectares (29652 acres). With about twenty lacustrian villages consisting of 80 000 people coming from countless ethnic groups: mainly the Shan but also a dozen more, including the Kachin, Mon and Bamar, the country’s dominant ethnic group and a tiny minority here.
These villagers live in houses of wood and bamboo, established on artificial islands, made of roots gathered and pegged out on the lake bottom with bamboo.
Farmers grow, on artificial gardens, tomatoes and other vegetables. Fishermen cast their nets from their very long boats, sailing in a very particular way, standing on one foot in the front of the boat, the other leg wrapped around a long paddle. Still others are foundrymen of gold or silver, wood carvers, weavers of cotton, silk or strand of lotus.
Beautiful pagodas, they are also on stilts, teak wood, covered with gold and frescoes, including those of Phaung Daw Oo, sacred temple to the Shan, and a magnificent monastery, the Nga Phe Kyaung, sanctuary with a sacred character for the Shan, where beautiful carved wooden Buddhas are hidden.
During the decades of dictatorship, tourism was extremely limited, less than 200 000 people came last September. But this number will explode, either by occupying the few lacustrian hotels, fortunately there is a « cap » on the number of hotels, or by staying in the coastal villages and by spending the day traveling across the lake on motorboats, noisy and polluting.
If this continues, Inle Lake is sentenced to acute death.
Humanly, because it is the meeting point of all violence: rebel groups exchange there, with traffickers, weapons for drugs and precious stones.
Ecologically, because the lake is filled with water only through rain water and by the runoff from surrounding mountains. It is polluted by wastewater of a growing population, by deforestation of the surrounding hills, by the use of fertilizer of very poor quality and by the diesel engines of boats, without exhaust, which add noise pollution to that of water.
Already, seaweed proliferate; a water hyacinth, which came from Brazil in some mysterious way, is covering the lake more and more and blocking the canals. Also the hotels and the restaurants are no longer serving fish, or tomatoes coming from the lake.
And yet, almost nothing is done, except two or three signs asking residents to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers.
It is urgent to ban the use of pollutants; organize proper disposal of wastewater; limit the number of motor boats and work to classify the area as UNESCO heritage site.
It is also urgent to think about this country not only as a place of victory for democracy, and fight against poverty, but also to protect some of the greatest treasures of humanity.
Another place, like Bhutan, the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia or Easter Island, a measure of our folly, a call to a newfound sense of wisdom.
Let’s hope that such topics will be tackled during the Rio Summit, next week.