Protecting shady old trees in commemoration of the ravages of Cyclone Nargis in a decade

  • By Khin Saing
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    File Photo: A girl helped by a child salvage wood from a destroyed house to be used for the construction of a new one in Denongho near Pyapon on May 20, 2008. 
    Photo: AFP

Extremely severe cyclonic Storm Nargis hit Myanmar exactly a decade ago today. The towns and villages in the southern Ayeyawady Delta and the commercial city of Yangon suffered severe and widespread damage by the Cyclone Nargis, rendering the punishing effects on the majority of the people as well as leading to deforestation in the regions. I would like to urge authorities concerned to take prompt actions on deforestation caused by the Nargis, by creating and then conserving the forested areas.

Basic reasons for deforestation
Perennial trees have planted on either side of roads for extension of roads across the country. Due to humble request from villagers some trees are protected from felling; shady old trees disappear gradually from many areas because of road extensions. Trees that grow naturally on either side of roads as well as trees cultivated near the roads with a purpose of shady spots and a shield against the wind are felled because of extension of roads across the country. Trees are usually cut down in Yangon and other big cities: when roads are repaired by means of extension; overhead power cables and many telephone lines are connected between lampposts, clearing of tall trees; and the trees
standing tall shading the business areas are also felled. The rows of trees that grow naturally in the middle or on the sides of streets or roads are sometimes crushed by passing cars; few trees are substituted in the places.
In a heavily forested country like Myanmar, businessmen happen to engage in lucrative purposes for the timber extraction; the fallen trees are cleared and substituted by oil-palm trees and rubber plantations. Illegal timber extractions lead to environmental issues of deforestation and desertification.

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File Photo: Overturned trees litter a street in Yangon on 4 May, 2008 after tropical cyclone Nargis tore through swathes of the country, battering buildings, sinking boats and causing unknown casualties. Photo: AFP

Toddy-palm trees in Upper Myanmar
Palm trees become fewer and fewer in number when villagers earn to make fermented drink from toddy sap and jaggery. More and more toddy trees are felled and substituted in place of expensive hardwood for building houses, huts and fences. It is said that a toddy tree with a lifespan of twenty years starts to produce toddy sap. Climbers keep working on rows of perennial palm trees for business purposes. Young villagers have shown little interest in jaggery business as the price has decreased gradually since 2015; perennial palm trees are felled and sold for higher prices and used in place of hardwood. A non-governed organization group has been in place now to protect and conserve tall palm trees which have been cut down for sales since 2015.

No substitute for tall palm trees
When biennial trees or trees with a short lifespan are felled, normalization of re-cultivations is seen visibly. But when old and perennial shady trees are cut down, it will be very difficult to seek a return to normality. Therefore, the authorities concerned are urgently urged to take great care not to cut down old trees easily when streets, roads or highways are fixed. When a new 5-mile road was concreted over along the Strand Road, old and shady trees on the way had disappeared. Four years have passed with few shady trees in sight up until now, with pedestrians walking on the pavement in the sun between the old and new cement roads.
Due to climate change the heat is getting higher and higher across the country. According to a report, some big towns in our country had a temperature of 42 degree centigrade on 18 April. Although efforts have been made for greening Dry Zones of our country for almost 20 years, they are of little avail as shady trees and perennial palm trees are felled for firewood as well as for business purposes, with these trees disappearing in a short time. Even if cultivated by substitution, it will take a long time to see them grow in lush greenery.

Tidelands from Delta Region will almost disappear as the trees including the roots are cut down to use as firewood; the land is prepared for farmland to cultivate some crops, letting the tidelands disappear gradually. When there are no heavily forested areas in Delta Region, forces of water and wind from the sea might create a storm like the Nargis on 2 May, 2008, killing thousands of people and destroying many buildings and businesses. Some groups engaged in social welfare and services are trying to cultivate nipa palms in tidelands of the Delta, by putting a lot of money in a new venture.

In need of protection
In the past, big and tall trees such as banyan and rain trees were found in most villages or towns; but now they are cut down for various reasons and rarely seen beside the roads or near villages. Actions are being taken in Upper Myanmar to prevent the felling of palm trees. At the same time, it is an encouraging sign that different sizes of toddy palm trees are grown in rows on either side of the roads near Dedaye Township, Ayeyarwady Region. As a scenic beauty, people become more and more worried about disappearance of these tall and graceful trees because of extension of roads. If villagers are face with a difficult decision on felling of these trees, they should do something not to disappear them from the land. Authorities should fix roads without felling these graceful trees. Tree lovers would like to advise authorities concerned not to fell the trees easily without giving a reason as the heat is getting higher and higher at this time of the year across the country. These trees will give shady spots for passers-by and create more opportunities to protect the environment.

Translated by Arakan Sein

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