Articles | Volume 20, issue 12
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 4913–4928, 2016
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 4913–4928, 2016

Review article 15 Dec 2016

Review article | 15 Dec 2016

A review of current and possible future human–water dynamics in Myanmar's river basins

Linda Taft and Mariele Evers Linda Taft and Mariele Evers
  • Department of Geography, University of Bonn, Meckenheimer Allee 166, 53315 Bonn, Germany

Abstract. Rivers provide a large number of ecosystem services and riparian people depend directly and indirectly on water availability and quality and quantity of the river waters. The country's economy and the people's well-being and income, particularly in agriculturally dominated countries, are strongly determined by the availability of sufficient water. This is particularly true for the country of Myanmar in South-east Asia, where more than 65 % of the population live in rural areas, working in the agricultural sector. Only a few studies exist on river basins in Myanmar at all and detailed knowledge providing the basis for human–water research is very limited. A deeper understanding of human–water system dynamics in the country is required because Myanmar's society, economy, ecosystems and water resources are facing major challenges due to political and economic reforms and massive and rapid investments from neighbouring countries. However, not only policy and economy modify the need for water. Climate variability and change are other essential drivers within human–water systems. Myanmar's climate is influenced by the Indian Monsoon circulation which is subject to interannual and also regional variability. Particularly the central dry zone and the Ayeyarwady delta are prone to extreme events such as serious drought periods and extreme floods. On the one hand, the farmers depend on the natural fertiliser brought by regular river inundations and high groundwater levels for irrigation; on the other hand, they suffer from these water-related extreme events. It is expected that theses climatic extreme events will likely increase in frequency and magnitude in the future as a result of global climate change. Different national and international interests in the abundant water resources may provide opportunities and risks at the same time for Myanmar. Several dam projects along the main courses of the rivers are currently in the planning phase. Dams will most likely modify the river flows, the sediment loads and also the still rich biodiversity in the river basins, to an unknown extent. Probably, these natural and anthropogenically induced developments will also impact a special type of farming; we call it alluvial farming in the river floodplains and on sandbars in the Ayeyarwady River basin in Myanmar, which is called Kaing and Kyun, respectively.

Relevant aspects for future development of Myanmar's river basins combine environment-water-related factors, climate, economic and social development, water management and land use changes. Research on these interplays needs to capture the spatial and temporal dynamics of these drivers. However, it is only possible to gain a full understanding of all these complex interrelationships if multi-scale spatiotemporal information is analysed in an inter- and trans-disciplinary approach. This paper gives a structured overview of the current scientific knowledge available and reveals the relevance of this information with regard to human–environment and particularly to human–water interactions in Myanmar's river basins. By applying the eDPSIR framework, it identifies key indicators in the Myanmar human–water system, which has been shown to be exemplary by giving an example of use related to alluvial farming in the central dry zone.

Short summary
The country of Myanmar and its abundant water resources are facing major challenges due to political and economic reforms, massive investments from neighbouring countries and climate change impacts. Publications on current and future impacts from human activities and climate change on Myanmar's river basins have been reviewed in order to gain an overview of the key drivers in these human–water dynamics. The review reveals the relevance of this information with regard to human–water interactions.