Activists fear Myitsone restart
ACTIVISTS are prepared to resume protests against the Myitsone megadam development in Kachin State, amid concerns that Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to China could result in the revival of the suspended project.
“I will protest against the project resuming because [it would] affect the environment along the [Ayeyarwady] River,” said U Sa Gi, general secretary of the Kachin Social Development Network Team. Some 2500 residents displaced from the dam’s prospective impact zone prior to the suspension say their relocation to Aung Myin Thar and Maliyan camps has left them facing critical food security issues, as well as major concerns over access to healthcare and education. Kachin civil society groups are demanding the new commission tasked last week with scrutinising hydropower developments in the state take into consideration international best practice, weighing long-term economic benefits against potential negative environmental impacts.
The commission’s first report is slated to be passed to President U Htin Kyaw in November. Activists say they hope the commission will take a thorough and consultative approach in making its assessment.
A chief bugbear of those opposed to the dam is that just 10 percent of electricity generated will go to Myanmar. The remainder will go directly to China.
“The electric power from this Myitsone project is 3600 megawatts and just 10pc, or 360 megawatts, will go to Myanmar,” said environmental activist Saw Moe Myint, who firmly believes that when it comes to Myitsone, the negatives decisively outweigh the positives.
“The amount of electricity produced is large but the amount we get is very small, and [it is a loss] for the environment. It is not worth it,” he said.
Smaller-scale projects from rivers and tributaries other than the Ayeyarwady ought to be considered as they could harness as much as 200 megawatts – all of which would go to Myanmar – Saw Moe Myint said. He pointed to a loan from the World Bank as a potential means of financing such a venture. Presidential economic adviser Sean Turnell told The Myanmar Times there were many factors to be considered, and that it was crucial for any major development like Myitsone to be effective in terms of cost. However, he urged pragmatism on the matter of bilateral relations and energy requirements.
“[There needs to be a] good relationship between China and Myanmar. There are many problems at Myitsone. Myanmar needs electric power. The Myitsone project is mainly for electricity, and we should think about these facts in this situation,” he said. – Translation by Khine Thazin Han and San Layy
A Kachin man pans for gold near the site of the suspended Myitsone dam in Kachin State.