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Accepted Paper:

When Floods Become a Political Resource: Claiming Back Land in the Nyaungdone Island, Myanmar  


Benoit Ivars (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the way in which "flooding" is tactically used by local fishermen and smallholder farmers across the Nyaungdone Island (Ayeyarwady Delta) to prove that land areas, which had been confiscated from them in the past, are "unused" and hence liable to redistribution by the state.

Paper long abstract:

In the 1990-2000s, the military government of Myanmar embarked in far-reaching land reclamation works across the Nyaungdone Island (Ayeyarwady Delta) to drain the so-called deepwater lands and wetlands. These lands classified as "virgin", "vacant" or "fallow" (VFV) would be allocated to private entities regardless of any prior uses and even if these areas covered capture fisheries and/or small-scale rice farming. The resource horizon envisioned by the central state authorities was that of land and rice, rather than water and fish. But land reclamation and large-scale rice cultivation did not take off, mainly due to the lack of labour and persisting drainage issues. Most land was finally converted into fish ponds by private companies or individuals who had received VFV land concessions. Since 2011 and the transition to civilian governments, local inhabitants have been trying to regain access to these land areas previously confiscated from them. One central tenet of such claiming strategies consists in proving that part of the concession land remained flooded and is hence "unused", something aligned with the new government will to redistribute "unused" land to landless and smallholder farmers. Local claimants notably build on the distinction between fish ponds (nga kan) which embankments are built high enough to prevent flooding and flooded ponds (yay myote kan) which are still liable to be overflowed by the rising water levels in adjacent streams. Interpreted as a lack or absence of use, flooding I argue, can turn into a political resource to reclaim areas seized in the past.

Panel P162
Wet horizons: hydrosocial re-articulations in the Anthropocene [EnviroAnt]