ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Aung San Suu Kyi appeals for review of Irrawaddy damBy David Swartzemtruber
Daw Aung San Sui Kyi released a personal statement yesterday calling for the reassessment of Burma’s 6000 MW Myitsone Dam and urging parties to find a solution that would “protect the Irrawaddy.” She called on environmental experts and conservationists to join her to protect one of Asia's most important rivers.
The Myitsone Dam is being developed by the Chinese state-owned energy company China Power Investment and has been under construction since 2009. The project is estimated to cost US$3.6 billion. Under the current proposal, the dam will displace up to 12,000 people from sixty-three villages and flood critical cultural heritage sites. The project faces violent opposition from the local Kachin population. The project was the focus of recent fighting in Kachin State and the site was hit by a series of bomb blasts in April 2010.
Very few official studies have been done on the environmental and social impacts of the project. An environmental baseline assessment commissioned by the Burmese government and Chinese developer in 2009 recommended that the project be abandoned and alternative sites for smaller dam developments be considered. Burma’s environmental laws do not require that environmental impact assessments be conducted as a condition of project approval.
The dam site is located within the Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin rainforest region, which is recognized as one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots and a global conservation priority. If built, the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam would inundate approximately 766 square kilometers of this pristine rainforest and cause irreversible damage to its river systems. The dam would also disrupt transportation of nutrients to the Irrawaddy’s delta, which provides nearly 60 percent of Burma’s rice.
Local communities oppose the dam not just because of its environmental impacts, displacement, and threats to cultural sites, but also because the dam is located less than 100 kilometers from a major fault line, posing a risk to basin inhabitants should an earthquake weaken the dam structure or cause landslides in the reservoir. If the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam were to break during an earthquake, it would endanger the lives of hundred of thousands of people by flooding Kachin State’s largest city, Myikyina.
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