Illegal Sand Dredging Goes Unchecked on Rapidly Vanishing Island in Karen State

Illegal sand dredging has continued unabated on an island in Hpa-an township, despite locals’ complaints that the activity is causing massive erosion.

The dredging on Ta Yoke Hla Island was first noticed by the residents in July, and they reported to the local police at the start of August. But they say no action has been taken.

“Their investigation is slow,” said Ko Tin Zaw, a resident who was among the group that submitted the complaint. “We reported to them once. Nothing happened. Now, we can’t do anything while the sandbank is collapsing every day – about 30 to 40 feet each day.”

Local residents reported the illegal activity to the Bar Kat Police Station on August 1. When that failed to stop the mining, the residents submitted their complaint letter to the Karen State Chief Minister on August 14. In the complaint, they claimed that they were threatened at gunpoint when they tried to interfere with the workers dredging on the island.

“After we submitted the complaint letter, they stopped extracting the sand during the daytime. They only do it at night now. We don’t dare to stop them because they are backed by an armed group,” said Ko Tin Zaw.

Around 14 boats are involved in the sand dredging, the local residents said. They added that the rapid bank erosion is leading to problems with farmland along the river, including corn plantations and peanut farms.

“Around two-third of this island has collapsed. If these people continue to do this, we can’t work on this island anymore. The public is suffering so we reported to the authorities but they just kept saying that they were coming, meanwhile half of the riverbank has already collapsed,” said Daw Tin Win, a landowner on the island.

Sand dredging is allowed only in specific locations in Karen State, including Moke Ka Di, Mee Zan, and Wal Gyi.

U Thein Linn, from the state’s Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems, advised the residents to help the government investigate by providing more specific information.

“Our department can’t do it alone,” he said. “We have received their complaints but we didn’t see any boats when we went to investigate. How can we take action without evidence? They [the residents] need to cooperate with us and report to us in time so that we can take effective action.”

The Ta Yoke Hla Island is home to two villages with over 70 households. Most of the island’s residents make a living in agriculture.

The island land owners say they plan to stage a protest if the government fails to stop the dredging.

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