Government, hotels pressure local officials over sand mining

The government, hoteliers and civil society are stepping up the pressure on Thandwe authorities to curb rampant sand mining at Myanmar’s premier beach destination, Ngapali. Tourism sources close to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism say President U Thein Sein is aware of the issue, and has ordered action to be taken against companies that take sand from Ngapali’s beaches for construction projects.

At a meeting in Yangon on May 6, the Rakhine branch of the Myanmar Hoteliers Association agreed to hire international conservation experts to assess the impact of sand mining at Ngapali and report to the Union government.

Three days later, Minister for Hotels and Tourism U Htay Aung instructed the newly appointed district administrator to halt sand mining in the area, according to sources present at the meeting, and take legal action against those who continue to take sand from the beach with trucks.

As The Myanmar Times reported, earlier this year the Thandwe township General Administration Department granted permission to private companies to take sand from three beaches in the Ngapali area for “regional development”, prompting complaints from hoteliers and environmentalists.

The decision to allow sand mining, which has been an intermittent problem in the area since the 1990s, contravened a Ministry of Hotels and Tourism directive from 2004 on the development of coastal areas – and also a local order that the head of the department, the Thandwe township administrator, issued in January.

Opponents say the mining of this finite resource for short-term financial gain will have long-term effects on the natural environment at Ngapali and drive away tourists.

They also point out that the use of untreated sea sand in construction is potentially dangerous because it can corrode reinforcing. The Myanmar Times understands the sand is being used widely in construction projects in Thandwe that are funded by the government but contracted to private firms, including schools, bridges, roads and health facilities.

U Aung Myo Min Din, head of the Rakhine branch of the hoteliers association, said the decision to hire the foreign environmental team was taken because sand mining for construction sites was “starting to affect the beach area”.

Teams of workers from local construction companies are loading trucks with sand beside hotels, he said, adding that tourists were “surprised” that the trucks were permitted on the beach. Some had taken photos and posted them online, which could potentially harm Ngapali’s image as a destination.

“We need to maintain the natural beauty, environment and ecology of Ngapali beach for people who rely on it. They will suffer if the beach is damaged. That’s why we decided at the meeting to hire an expert team from a foreign country,” he said.

He also noted that some hotels still under construction were also taking sand from the beach.
“We don’t want to blame anyone … but we will get advice from the experts and report it to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism together with photos.”

On May 9, Minister for Hotels and Tourism U Htay Aung visited Ngapali, meeting local officials at Amazing Ngapali Resort. The minister was joined on the trip by the Thai ambassador to Myanmar and Thai businesspeople interested in investing in tourism, air services, entertainment and fisheries in Rakhine State.

U Htay Aung told the new administrator for Thandwe district that only area residents should be allowed to take sand from the beach, and not construction firms, according to U Khin Aung Htun, joint general secretary of the Myanmar Hoteliers Association, who attended the meeting.

He ordered the administrator to take legal action against anybody removing sand from the beach with trucks, as well as those taking sand from unpermitted areas.

U Htay Aung said the beach should essentially be left “untouched” by the sand mining, in line with the ministry’s 2004 Directives for Coastal Beach Areas, which bans sand mining outright.
“The minister said that permission to take sand is only for small projects, such as house construction for villagers,” U Khin Aung Htun said yesterday.

“He said that nobody should be allowed to sell sand by the truckload. This case has already been reported to the president and we want serious action to be taken against those illegally taking sand with trucks.”
Area residents have told The Myanmar Times that local officials are collecting money from private construction firms for every load of sand taken from the beach, but have stopped residents from taking sand for private use.

One of the supporters of the campaign to end sand mining is the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. On April 30, the centre’s director, Vicky Bowman, wrote to Vice President U Nyan Tun, chair of the Tourism Development Central Committee, warning that Ngapali’s beaches “can be destroyed in less than a decade” unless action is taken against sand mining.

Ms Bowman said the problem requires an “urgent and sustained” response involving all stakeholders focusing on strengthening policy and enforcement, research into the impacts of sand mining and economic value of Ngapali’s beaches, and education about the importance of protecting the beaches.
She said the centre was willing to work with the committee to tackle the problem together with local and national stakeholders.

Source: Myanmar Times

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