The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has told the Rakhine State government to order a halt on sand mining on a series of popular beaches in the Ngapali area, as a public campaign against the practice continued to gain momentum over the past week.
The announcement came as a truck, apparently owned by a company named “Bravo World”, beached itself in the surf at Zeephyukone on April 6 – just metres from guests at Amazing Ngapali Resort, one of the destination’s premier hotels and a favourite with senior government officials.
Zeephyukone is one of three beaches where sand mining has been permitted for “regional development” purposes, despite beach sand being unsuitable for construction and the excavation of sand from beaches being explicitly forbidden by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
Director U Myo Win Nyunt told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the ministry had already instructed the Rakhine State government to ensure directives banning the mining of beach sand are enforced.
“It will impact on Ngapali beach if the people dig sand from beach areas near the guests. We don’t think the respective authorities should allow this to happen on beach areas,” he said.
“They must take action in line with government directives and also residents need to follow their orders.
“We will report again and again to state government if they won’t follow our directives for beach areas. The beach must be protected for the long term.”
The comments were the strongest yet from the government on the mining, which has been condemned by a number of hoteliers in the area as environmentally damaging and bad for the tourism industry’s image.
Many, however, appear afraid to speak out, with critics of the mining alleging it is being allowed because of “collusion” between local companies and government officials.
A spokesperson for the Rakhine State government, U Win Myaing, said he was unaware that sand was being taken from the beach in violation of government rules.
“We don’t know about the report from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism to control the digging of sand at the beach. You should ask the Thandwe [township] administrator,” he said, before hanging up.
His comments contradict those of the administrator, U Than Zaw Han, who told The Myanmar Times in early March that it was the regional government that had given permission for mining at the three sites – Zeephyukone, Lintha and Gaw – with approval from the Department of Water Resources and the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.
Documents provided to The Myanmar Times show that the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism reaffirmed a 2004 ban on sand mining on January 1, in Order No 2/2015. Meanwhile, the Township General Administration Department, which U Than Zaw Han heads, also issued a local order – No 1/2015 – on January 27 that forbids the “digging of sand at the beach”, adding that anyone “found breaking the above-mentioned rules will face serious action according to the law”.
Despite the order, one of the groups mining the sand said the township administration had issued a tender and granted it a licence to mine sand in mid-March.
U Nyunt Khaing, head of the Funeral and Blood Donation Association, said his group was using money raised from the sand mining to fund its activities. He said it was selling the sand to private and government construction sites, including hotels, for K15,000 a truckload.
“The Thandwe administrator called a tender for mining licences and our civil society organisation … received a licence for one year,” U Nyunt Khaing said.
U Than Zaw Han could not be reached for comment yesterday.
A campaign launched late last month against the sand mining has gathered further momentum, with Max Myanmar, which has previously been investigated for taking beach sand for its hotel project at Ngapali, joining the Alliance against Sand Mining at Ngapali and Myanmar Beaches.
A spokesperson said the company now supports efforts to protect the natural environment in the area. “It strongly condemns the sand digging in the beach front areas and the surroundings of Ngapali beach which will have deep impact on the environment,” he said.
Members of the alliance yesterday began putting up posters in villages around the Ngapali area with the message that sand mining will damage the tourism industry, which is the major employer in the area.
Meanwhile, companies whose names and phone numbers are painted on the side of the trucks taking sand from Zeephyukone insisted they were not involved in the mining.
“We just sold the car with our company brand name and phone numbers as an advertisement. That’s why people think we are taking the sand from the beach. But we are not a construction company,” said a spokesperson from Shwe Htun.
A spokesperson for Myint Mo Oo said the company sold agricultural inputs and was not involved in the sand mining.
However, some taking the sand have defended their actions and called hotels hypocritical for opposing the mining. “The hoteliers also take the sand from the beach,” said U Nyunt Khaing. “Now they will buy it to show how responsible they are but at the times when people can’t see, they will still be there, digging away.”
U Nyunt Khaing said his group just took three or four loads each day from the beach, alternating between the three sites. He was unaware of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism order banning the mining.
“Should I have asked them? Is it our sin for using our region’s natural resources? We are just generating money for our regional development, because we don’t get any government support.”
But critics of the mining say it is endangering the natural and cultural heritage – as well as future income opportunities – of the Rakhine people.
They have called for stronger regulations and transparency over current practices, as well as education campaigns to explain the environmental effects.
“What is needed is laws, perhaps at the regional parliament level, to regulate sand mining in all locations,” said Vicky Bowman from the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business.
“Beaches protect the people who live on the coast against dangerous storm surges, which we will see more of in future with climate change. I think Rakhine State parliamentarians need to mobilise to address this, at local and national level, as do the hoteliers of Ngapali.”
Source: Myanmar Times