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Asean Affairs    14  September  2011

Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam Project to continue

By  Reinhard Hohler

AseanAffairs     14  September 2011

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According to an article in the Irrawaddy Newsletter, Myanmar’s Minister of Electric Power-1, Mr. Zaw Min, has said the government will continue construction of the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River despite heavy criticism and environmental and social concerns.

At a press briefing in Naypyidaw on Saturday Mr. Zaw Min said the government is building the dam in the national interest and intends to complete its construction.

“We will finish this project within eight years, and I will answer ‘No’ to the question of the environmental groups who asked, ‘Will the project be stopped?’ We hired a third party for the impact assessments and we paid US $1.25 million for this. As we have done well with the impact assessment, I will say that we will never stop the project before finishing,” Mr. Zaw Min said.

The construction was started in 2009 and the dam, which will be Myanmar's largest, will produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity. The dam site is located within the Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin rainforest region, which is recognized as one of the world’s top biodiversity hot spots and is a global conservation priority. If completed, the project is expected to flood an area the size of Singapore and inundate approximately 766 square kilometers of the pristine rain forest.

State officials claimed in early August that there will be no negative environmental or social impact because only seven percent of the water flow will be utilized, according to the state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power-1 has contracted with Asia World, a private company owned by Stephen Law, and China's Power Investment Corporation (CPI) to construct the dam. The dam's reservoir is expected to be completed by 2019, but thousands of people in Kachin State have already been forced to relocate.

Mr. Zaw Min said that the government had already constructed several dams and hydro-power projects on the rivers in Myanmar, and the rivers are still flowing with no sign they will be destroyed.

“There are a few bad things, such as there will be no place for the biodiversity and the people will be displaced because of the reservoirs, etc. But we have to compare this with the national benefits which we will get from the project. After we reduce those bad things, the project will definitely affect positively the 50-60 million people of the country,” Mr. Zaw Min said.

The country is currently using 1,500 megawatts of electricity, and if the dam produces megawatts the country can't use then they will be sold.

Environmental groups say the project will not only disrupt transportation of nutrients to the Irrawaddy delta, the provider of nearly 60 percent of Myanmar’s rice, but will also submerge historical churches, temples and cultural heritage sites that are central to Kachin identity and history.

Maung Sein Win (Patee Kone), a famous Burmese writer, said that while building the dam is the wish of the government, the people are also speaking out about their wish. The people love the Irrawaddy River, he said, and don’t want the river and the forest to be destroyed.

Several local groups, as well as exile groups, are now campaigning to stop the Myitsone Dam Project.

Myat Thu, one of the organizers of the campaign to save the Irrawaddy River, said, “They [the government] said that they represent the people. That’s why they have to respect the voice of the people. If the voice of the people is different from theirs, they have to change.”

Dr. Tun Lwin, former Director-General of Myanmar's Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, Maung Sein Win (Patee Kone) and other concerned people held a talk in Yangon on Saturday under the name “Save the Irrawaddy” that was attended by around 400 people.

Dr. Tun Lwin said the possible consequences of the dam project include a change in the country's climate, cyclones and water level fluctuations.

According to Burma Rivers Network (BRN), CPI has ignored its own environmental assessment, conducted in 2009 by Burmese and Chinese scientists and never made public. BRN warned that a majority of local people oppose construction of the dam and called for the consultation with and consent of the affected people.


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