Written by Maung Mayu (Buthidaung)
In early September, photos of locals in Hsin Swel Ya village volunteering for road construction work were posted on social media. The damaged road was muddy, washed out and difficult if not impossible to traverse by foot or vehicle.
Hsin Swel Ya is a small village located about 10 miles west of Buthidaung and is home to members of the Thet ethnic group, one of the Arakanese tribes. Hsin Swel Ya is in the foothills of the Mayu Mountain Range. The villagers typically earn a living by farming and live in peace. The villagers are not doing business with vehicles. So why are the wheels of big and small cars messing up the road leading to the village?
The photos on social media show the villagers working together to repair the road damaged by cars and trucks. From the age of 5 to the age of 40, the villagers seen are happily dig the soil, picking up stones and paving the road. When I saw the pictures, I remembered that I had visited the village last summer.
I was visiting as part of a group that included some local writers from Buthidaung and the chief editor of Thazin Pan Khaing Journal in Yangon. There is an old, historical pagoda in Nga Kyi Tauk village near Hsin Swel Ya village. We visited Hsin Swel Ya village after paying homage to that pagoda.
The abbot of the Hsin Swel Ya village monastery also invited us to visit the village. The small road leading to Hsin Swel Ya village near Nga Kyi Taik bazaar is a rough road. The road was narrow and dusty, so we could not see very well. When we reached the village, we lost the road completely, but a temporary road to the Mayu Mountain Range to the west of the village was clearly visible. When we entered along the road, the village of Hsin Swel Ya was engulfed in dust thanks to a strong north wind. Due to the dust, the villagers closed their windows and covered their faces with cloth. We looked at the villagers and felt sorry. Why was this road so bad?
This is largely due to unchecked logging. We learned that the dusty road we’d passed was not a village road but a mountain road. Roads in these parts are being damaged by greedy people who do not care about the destruction of the ecosystem. They do not know how to protect the environment, or they just do not care. The road was damaged and dusty as trucks loaded with charcoal and firewood for making bricks were constantly driving around every day.
Many villagers suffer from pneumonia because of the dust that covers the entire village every time a car passes by. The villagers have to pay for medical treatment for pneumonia due to the dusty road. Even more unfortunate is that the villagers are gradually leaving the village. Although the village is close to Buthidaung town, the village population is declining for reasons such as people suffering from poor transportation every summer.
At the time, I could not imagine what might become of this dusty road in the rainy season. Now social media users can all see the muddy transformation that accompanies the monsoon rains. But the destroyers will not see the damaged road. The greedy people will be busy destroying the road, which has been paved by the villagers all summer long. There are some people in the world who look out for their own interests and do not care about others. The people who are destroying this road are not only destroying one road but also the whole ecosystem.
Such road destroyers can be found all over Arakan State. If we can stop them, we will be able to enjoy the benefits of the natural environment. As trees regenerate, people will feel cooler. The weather will be better and people will be free from water scarcity every summer, which will slightly alleviate global warming. Some villages like Hsin Swel Ya will be teeming with residents once more.
They know they will reap the benefits, one day maybe, but no effective restraint has been found so far. These are the weaknesses of those in authority. These weaknesses need to be addressed for the good of the nation as a whole. I also want to make the detractors aware. Isn’t it sad that the whole village is suffering because of their greed?