ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Is dam rejection a milestone for Myanmar?By David Swartzemtruber
It came suddenly without warning. No, I am not talking about another flash flood in Asean but the decision of Myanmar’s new government to stop work on the Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River.
The announcement came last week in the Myanmar Parliament from the lips of President Thein Sein.
The Chinese are of course, upset. The plan was for the Chinese to build the dam with an investment of US$3.6 billion and then have 90 percent of the electricity go to China. This is just another case of China’s desire to colonize its Asean neighbors for its economic benefit. In Myanmar, electricity is a luxury in some areas of the impoverished country, so the dam would be of little benefit to is host country.
The Myanmar president said the dam would threaten the natural beauty of Myitsone as a landmark not only for Kachin State but for the whole country; it would lead to possible loss of livelihoods in inundated villages upstream; it might destroy rubber and teak plantations under private ownership; it would threaten lives and property downstream if destroyed by torrential rains, earthquake, or runoff from snow-capped northern mountains under climate change and it might have a devastating effect on the Irrawaddy River.
The key factor apparently was the leaking of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the dam to the general public. Many were shocked over the impact the dam would have on the Myitsone region.
The suspension of the dam continues during the present government’s term that ends in 2015.
The fallout from suspending the dam may even reach Laos, where the controversial Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos is opposed by many for the same reasons that are cited in the Myitsone dam case.
The Xayaburi dam is supposed to help Laos become the “battery of Asia” but most of the electrical power is to go to Thailand, as that Asean member state is financing and building the project through its private banks and construction companies. The proposed Xayaburi is close to a fault line and the impact on the Greater Mekong Subregion socially or economically was not properly assessed in the EIA.
Dams to generate power are commonplace all around the globe, but they do change the environment.
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