Public opposition pushes Myanmar to suspend giant Chinese dam

Jeremy Hance
October 04, 2011

Large-scale opposition has pushed the Myanmar government to suspend construction of a massive Chinese dam. Being built on the confluence of the Mayhka amd Malihka rivers at the head of Irrawaddy River, the Myitsone Dam would have created a reservoir the size of Singapore and has already pushed 12,000 people off their land. China Power Investment Corporation, which is building the dam, has fired back at the Myanmar government saying their decision will lead to 'a series of legal issue'.

President of Myanmar, also known as Burma, Thein Sein, said the suspension on the dam was needed because it was clear the $3.6 billion hydroelectric project was 'contrary to the will of the people'. Although Myanmar has long been ruled by a military regime known for its crackdowns on political speech and dissension, outside observers say a new government, that held what were considered by most outside observers fraudulent elections last year, appears to be trying to change tactics.

The Kachin people, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, would have been among the most impacted by the dam. The political and military Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had also warned the Myanmar government that if the projects proceeds it could lead to armed conflict.

Numerous Myanmar NGOs worked on the issue. According to International Rivers, a global NGO, local environmental NGOs were key in pressing the government to drop the project.

"In Rangoon, a brave and strong group of environmental NGOs—aware of the irreversible damage that the Myitsone project would cause—spent months organizing and persuading the highest levels of Burma's new government that the people could not be ignored and that not enough was known about the project," according to a blog by Grace Mang, China Global Program Coordinator with International Rivers.

Environmental groups were concerned about the impact on fish populations and the economic impact on local communities, as well as flooding and soil enrichment all down the river.

Renowned Myanmar democracy activist and international figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, also came out against the project, calling on 'concerned projects to reassess the scheme'. After the government's decision, Suu Kyi, the US, and the EU praised the Myanmar government's change of heart.

To date seven dams are planned on the Irrawaddy River by China in order to feed its growing depend for energy. Ninety percent of the power generated by the Myitsone Dam would have gone to China.

The Irrawaddy River is Myanmar's largest.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (October 04, 2011).

Public opposition pushes Myanmar to suspend giant Chinese dam .