Dam construction clears a million acres of forest, says retiree

A million acres of forest have been wiped out to make way for 300 dams in Myanmar since the same projects began, and over 18 million acres of catchment area near the dams need to be preserved, according to Tin Aye, a retired director of the Forest Department in the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

Catchment areas, where rain flows into a rivers or lakes, are important for the dams to operate properly. Efforts to preserve catchment areas are still in their initial stages.

"It's crucial to recover the catchment areas in order to recover the forests," said Tin Aye. 

The deforestations primarily occurred in central Myanmar, in the Bago Range and in the Shan Hills. Go rested areas have become sparse in some of these places. 

The forested area of Myanmar decreased from 70 per cent in 1856 to 52.7 per cent in 1975.

Myanmar is listed among the countries experiencing the most rapid deforestation due to the rise in the illegal trade of forest products, according to the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute.

According to Global Witness's estimations, the amount of smuggled woods from Myanmar to Yunnan Province in China was about one million tonnes per year before 2006. 

Seizures of border contraband seemed to fall after a bilateral agreement against illicit trade was reached. But the Yangon Port continued to serve as an alternative hub for wood smugglings.

Illegal wood trading rose again after 2011. The ruling government permitted exports of about 5.7 million tonnes of teak and hardwood in four years, according to the Myanmar Timber Enterprise.

A report on Myanmar's forests is due to be published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2015. The report estimates the remaining area of closed forest in the country to likely be less than 20 per cent of the total land area.