Sinlung /
13 September 2011

Burma Builds Dam, Mizos To Suffer?

Burma: Government challenges the nation on continuation of huge dam on Irrawaddy

By Zin Linn

Myitsone-Dam-project Burma
Myitsone Dam Project in Manipur-Mizoram-Kachin Rainforest Area

Burma’s Electric Power Minister Zaw Min said on Saturday in a meeting with media, the government will continue construction of the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River in the face of grave criticism and ecological and societal risks, the Eleven News Journal highlighted.

Zaw Min also challenged the people that the government will not pull back the project due to any objection, the journal and other media reported.

At a press conference in Naypyidaw on Saturday, Zaw Min said the government is building the dam in order to generate enough electricity for the national interest. It is Burma’s domestic issue and the government intends to complete its construction neglecting whoever objects, he said.

“Within eight years, we have to complete this hydropower project. There is one question of the environmental groups whether the project may be stopped, and the answer is clearly no,”said Zaw Min.

According to Zaw Min, the previous junta hired Biodiversity And Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), a third party for the impact assessment paying US $1.25 million for this survey. As it has done well with the impact assessment, the project will not be stopped before implementation. In addition, Zaw Min said that after carrying out the construction the country will receive 10 percent of the electricity it generates.

Dam construction at Myitsone began December 21, 2009, led by China’s state owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) in cooperation with Burma’s Asia World Company (AWC) and the Burmese junta’s No. 1 Ministry of Electric Power. Remarkably, AWC owner is former drug lord Lo Hsing Han.

The dam site is to be found within the Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin rainforest area, which is known as one of the world’s top biodiversity hot spots and is a global conservation priority. Environmental activists and researchers say the project will force Kachin villagers to abandon their homes and could face inundation of an area, the size of Singapore. All the damages caused by the Burmese government’s eagerness to satisfy China as it needs more power for its growing industrial zones.

As a result, the KIO warned CPI employees not to enter its area in the dam construction sites north of the Mali-N’mai Rivers. The reason was that KIO has stopped cooperating with the Burmese government when the government discontinued the 1994 truce on September 1, 2010.

Burma’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi released a letter on 11 August calling on promoters of the Myitsone dam project to reassess the plan, pointing out concerns that dams on the Irrawaddy River damage the environment, decrease rice production, dislodge ethnic peoples. Besides, it would hurt livelihoods of local communities and there is a risk of possible destructive earthquakes.

“We believe that, taking into account the interests of both countries, both governments would hope to avoid consequences which might jeopardize lives and homes,” Suu Kyi emphasized. “To safeguard the Irrawaddy is to save from harm our economy and our environment, as well as to protect our cultural heritage,” she added.

In reaction to the minister Zaw Min’s remarks, Aung San Suu Kyi on 12 September repeats her appeal to Burma and China to re-examine the plan, calling the Irrawaddy “the most significant geographical feature of our country.”

Several complaint letters concerning construction of the Myitsone dam have been sent to the Burmese and Chinese governments by local people, the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). However, no action has been taken to tackle the worries expressed by the Kachin community.

KIO have waged revolutionary warfare for self-determination, including having more power over the natural resources in their state. Since 9 June, skirmishing spread out between the KIA and the government’s troops. The warfare was interrelated to the outsized developmental projects being built by China.

The Chairman of the KIO, Lanyaw Zawng Hra sent an official letter to Hu Jintao, the President of the People’s Republic of China on May 16 urging China to stop the controversial Myitsone dam construction on Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. In the open letter the KIO warned Myitsone and six other hydroelectric power plant projects could lead to civil war between the KIA and the Burmese military because Burmese troops will be deployed to the KIO control areas to provide security for the dam construction.

Although Rangoon, Mandalay and other big cities suffers power shortages, Burmese government is still cheerful to export energy to neighboring China and Thailand. Zaw Min said that country is currently using 1,500 megawatts of electricity. If the dam produced 6,000 megawatts, the country needn’t use all power and surplus energy will be sold out to neighbors. The minister has no idea of supplying enough electricity to domestic industries competing in the ASEAN market.

Foreign Direct Investments, mainly in oil, natural gas and hydro power dams, are designed providing finances for the function of the strong military power to oppress the citizens rather than doing anything to get better social standard of the people.

As a result, number of local social groups, as well as exile watchdog groups, are now campaigning to prevent the Myitsone hydropower dam venture. On the contrary to government daydream, the dam projects are generating widespread political criticism countrywide for the significant national vigilance.



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