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December 31, 2013

Who will save the mother-river of Myanmar?

By Zin Linn

Suu Kyi has been 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.

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People of Burma or Myanmar are seriously concerned about the hydropower-dam project on the River Irrawaddy which is the essential lifeline of the country. Along the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River, a total of seven major cascade Hydro Power Plants are designed to be constructed at Myitsone, Chipwe, Wutsok, Hpizaw, Kaunglanhpu, Laza and Renam. The total capacity of the project is estimated at 16,500 MW with an annual power generation of 100 billion kilowatt, most of which would go to China.

With a ceasefire process in Kachin state on the go, China hopes the postponed hydropower project will reopen sometime after elections in 2015. Myitsone Hydro Electric Project is one of the largest of hydropower-dam project on the River Irrawaddy. The aim is to generate 90 percent of Yunnan province's electricity in exchange for $17 billion over 50 years. The general population has shown antipathy towards the project, yet the former military junta as well as the current quasi-civilian government is keen to supply electricity to China.

On 26 December, Mr Li Guanghua , president of Upstream Ayeyar-wady Confluence Basin Hydro Power Com-pany (ACHC), highlighted the Myitsone Dam Project by saying  "President U Thein Sein's government should honor the Myit-sone Dam contract' made between the previous military regime of Myanmar and the Chinese government, according to the MM Freedom Daily (English).

Mr Li Guanghua made the remarks during a press conference at Yangon's Sedona Hotel for the ACHC's 2010-2012 Social Responsibility Report. ACHC is a subsidiary of China Power Investment Corporation (CPI). ACHC is the joint venture between Myanmar Ministry of Electric Power, CPI Yunnan International Power Investment and Asia World Co.

"In actual fact, the former Myanmar government invited the Chinese government to imple-ment Myitsone Dam Project during its visit to China in 2006. I think the government of that time represents the entire country. Suc-cessive governments should not renege on agreements made by their predecessors," said Mr Li.

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

KIO's official letter to Hu Jintao says, "Except the Dam Project in Mali-N'mai Confluence (Myitsone dam), we have no objections against the other six Hydro Power Plant Projects. However, we have also informed the Asia World Co Ltd to make a decision only after assessing the consequences of the Dam Construction".

The Kachin Development and Networking Group (KDNG) has warned publicly that the Myitsone dam construction is going to displace 15,000 neighboring Kachin natives and millions of people living downstream of the dam construction location because of inundation.

According to the environmentalist group, thousands of people have been forced to move from their home villages near the mega dam construction project site. The displaced villagers have to struggle finding new livelihoods, adequate healthcare services and education for their children at new villages, the watchdog group said.

In the past, Kachin people had made an official plea to the former junta's boss Senior-General Than Shwe to stop the project due to environmental damage. But he always turned a deaf ear to the call. The junta boss regularly obeys the rules of the Chinese authorities over the dam projects.

According to Burma River Network, the Irrawaddy River provides vital nutrients to wetlands and floodplain areas downstream including the delta region which provides nearly 60% of Burma's rice. Changes to the river's flow and the blocking of crucial sediments will affect millions farmers throughout Burma and decrease rice production.

The watchdog network also pointed out that the dams will forever change Burma's main river ecosystem. Eighty-four percent of the Irrawaddy River's water originates above the dam sites and will be affected by these dams. The network said that the dam is located 100 kilometers from a major fault line in an earthquake-prone area. If the dam breaks, it will flood Kachin State's capital city of 150,000 that lies just 40 kilometers downstream.

A 945-page "environmental impact assessment," fully funded by China's CPI Corporation and conducted by a team of Burmese and Chinese scientists, recommends not proceeding with the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam. "There is no need for such a big dam to be constructed at the confluence of the Irrawaddy River," says the assessment.

Burma Rivers Network (BRN) released a press statement on 30 September 2011 highlighting that China Power Investment must cancel not only the Myitsone Dam project, but all seven dam projects on the Irrawaddy River.

The watchdog network also pointed out that the dams will forever change Burma's main river ecosystem and an important Asian river. Eighty-four percent of the Irrawaddy River's water originates above the dam sites and will be affected by these dams. The network said that the dam is located 100 kilometers from a major fault line in an earthquake-prone area; if the dam breaks, it will flood Kachin State's capital city of 150,000 that lies just 40 kilometers downstream of the dam.

In a statement issued on 11 August 2011, Burma's Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the dam endangers the flow of the Irrawaddy River, which she described as "the most significant geographical feature of the country." She warned that 12,000 people from 63 villages have been relocated, although an article in the government-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that 2,146 people had been ordered to leave their homes and relocated.

Suu Kyi has been 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.

The Burmese government state media has continued saying that the Myitsone dam project will not produce negative impact on the watercourse of the Irrawaddy or on the livelihoods of the native inhabitants.

But, local ethnic populace has been displaced from their homes to make way for dams and reservoirs. Nevertheless, construction companies close to the authorities benefit from those dams. They receive millions of dollars for designing and building dams. The government officials also gain black earnings in many ways -- illegal taxes, kickbacks and inducement -- during building of a dam.

If President U Thein Sein neglected this critical issue, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's most influential opposition figure, ought to heighten internal and external criticism on the Myitsone dam project which seriously disapprove by environmental and human rights groups. The dam projects are, however, creating widespread political criticism countrywide as they are threatening the national security along with public interests.



Submitters Bio:

Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976.

He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. He then took on a role as an active member in the Rangoon Division Students' Union. He Participated in a poster-and-pamphlet campaign on the 4th anniversary of 7 July movement and went into hiding to keep away from the military police. He was still able to carry out underground pamphlet campaigns against the Burmese Socialist Programme Party ( BSPP). However, in 1982, he fell into the hands of MI and served two years imprisonment in the notorious Insein prison.

In 1988 he took part, together with his old students' union members, in the People's Democracy Uprising. In November of that year, he became an NLD Executive Committee Member for the Thingangyun Township and later became superintendent of the NLD Rangoon Division Office.

In 1991, he was arrested because of his connections with the exiled government, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in the notorious Insein Prison. In last week of December 1997 he was released.

Zin Linn was an editor and columnist and contributed articles to various publications, especially on international affairs, while in Burma.

He fled Burma in 2001 to escape from military intelligence and worked as information director for the NCGUB from 2001 to 2012. He is also vice president of the Burma Media Association which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers. Zin Linn is still writing articles and commentaries in Burmese and English in various periodicals and online journals on a regular basis.


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