The Irrawaddy Delta
The mighty River Irrawaddy rises in the Himalayas and flows down through the centre of Burma. As it approaches the sea it has built up a huge delta region, with several major mouths and criss-crossed by innumerable smaller rivers and streams. The delta is at least 300 km from east to west, and 200 km from north to south. The capital city Yangon (Rangoon) is on the eastern side.
The delta is one of the world’s biggest rice-bowls, and rice production and fishing are the main occupations of the inhabitants. Most of the people are very poor, typically a day labourer may earn about £1.50 (US$2) a day, barely enough to buy rice for a family. The other main source of earnings is through fishing from small canoes, often by women. Their catch has to be sold to approved middlemen. Because of the nature of the terrain there are very few roads, and most villages are only reachable by boat or on foot. The delta can be strikingly beautiful but it is a harsh environment. During the monsoon which peaks in July/August, it is drenchingly wet and often stormy – this is the main time for rice growing, and collecting fresh water to drink during the winter drought.
Where we work
We work mostly in Bogalay district: the regional town Bogalay is 8 hours by fast boat from Rangoon, but our main area of focus in far south of there, a further 5 – 10 hours by smaller boat. There is no electricity, piped water, or health care, and the streams are brackish from being tidal. This means they cannot be used for irrigation in the dry season, so rice can only be grown when the rains come in May. Flax is the dry season cash crop. Everything in this area is noticeably poorer than nearer Bogalay town, indeed it was only populated in the last 20 years through clearance of forest for illegal charcoal burning.