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Myanmar villagers protest Chinese firm's plan to restart dam

Publication Date : 30-07-2012

 

Despite the project’s suspension, a Chinese state-owned company is discreetly planning to restart buillding a dam in the Ayeyawady (Irrawady) River, triggering protests in Myanmar’s restive state Kachin. 

A Kachin villager, who for security reasons cannot be identified, said representatives of the Myitsone dam builder China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) visited one of the villages early July to gather support for its comeback.

“Representatives from CPI are luring villagers. They are organising (support) not only from the model village but also from refugee camps,” he said. “Kachin locals strongly oppose the project. Despite the suspension of the project, we are worried (because) activities are still ongoing in the area.”

The villager said the community in Aung Myin Thar San village in the northeastern town of Myitkyina fears that the 6,000 MW project, one of the largest of seven dams planned along the Ayeyawady delta, will push through.

People from three villages have already been relocated to the model village, Aung Myin Thar San. In total, 2,146 people from all five villages will be directly affected—with their houses to go under water in an instant once operations start.

The multibillion project was suspended in September 2011 following President Thein Sein’s order to halt the construction, assuring the public that the dam will not be built during his tenure.

The president reportedly gave in following widespread protests. Kachin is considered as one of the world’s eight hotspots of biodiversity, according to International Rivers. Once built, the dam will also be  submerging historical and cultural sites in Mali and N'mai Hka rivers, an area known to be the birthplace of Ayeyawady.

Villagers worse off

“Chinese newspapers reported that the locals near Myitsone area are happy to (to accommodate the terms of) CPI. The newspaper mentioned relations with the local people are fine,” the villager added.

But villagers from the start had strongly opposed the dam. Those that had been relocated said they had wanted to go back since last year’s suspension, but they could not as the “government is watching them”.

Interviews with Eleven Media Group revealed that the relocated villagers are far off worse than they used to, as they now struggle to survive in deplorable living conditions and with no means for income, and no farms to till. “Our entire lives have been changed,” they said.

Violence has also erupted due to the dam. The ethnic Kachin has long been in conflict with the military, and tensions between the two have worsened since the construction.

China forges ahead

The Chinese company has continued with the project even after its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) had been found to be questionable.

CPI reportedly started constructing the dam even without the EIA finalised. Experts hired to do the EIA had also recommended two smaller dams to replace Myitsone, following the unknown scale of damage it may cause to the river’s ecology and to forests.

CPI is investing US$3.6 billion for the project, according to reports. Once electricity is transported to China (90 per cent of the dam’s output), the Myanmar government will be receiving 20 per cent of the revenue or at least $500 million a year.

Other hydropower projects in Irrawady River are being undertaken by the Ministry of Electric Power in cooperation with CPI include Chephwe, Chephwenge, Wusauk, Khaunglanphu, Yinan, Phizaw and Laizar. They are expected to generate 18,499 MW of electricity.

 

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