Kayah State lo­cals protest dam project

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­times.com

About 500 res­i­dents of Bawlakhe township yes­ter­day protested a dam project on a nearby stream, which they say has pro­ceeded with a com­plete lack of trans­parency.

ABOUT 500 res­i­dents of Bawlakhe township, Kayah State, yes­ter­day protested plans to build a dam on Pwun­chaung Stream, as wa­ter and soil ex­am­i­na­tion con­tin­ues.

Trans­parency and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact are the ma­jor con­cerns for the pro­tes­tors, who al­ready sent letters to the pres­i­dent and state coun­sel­lor with their sig­na­tures at­tached in August.

U Win Oo, a protest or­gan­iser, said the project is so se­cre­tive that they have only re­cently learned of its ex­is­tence.

“We were told that the project’s pre­lim­i­nary tasks started in 2014,” he said. “At that time, we did not hear any­thing. This is very bad. How can such a hy­dropower project be started with­out let­ting the pub­lic know first?”

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal civil so­ci­ety groups, the pro­posed 139-megawatt dam project, known as Up­per Hawkham, is backed by three com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing one in Myan­mar and one in Sin­ga­pore. The state min­is­ter for elec­tric­ity was un­reach­able for con­fir­ma­tion yes­ter­day.

The site is lo­cated about 5 miles (8 kilo­me­tres) north of Bawlakhe town, said U Win Oo.

“It is sur­rounded by farm­lands, mostly cul­ti­vated with sesame,” he said. “The to­tal area, I think, would be more than 7000 acres.”

Daw Mi Mi Maw, an­other protest or­gan­iser, said the gov­ern­ment must be hon­est with lo­cals about the project.

“The com­pa­nies in­vest­ing in the project have never done any pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion,” she said. “This is ugly.”

Lo­cals were un­aware of the project un­til large ma­chin­ery and ve­hi­cles showed up in March, she said. She could not tell whether or not the project had ac­tu­ally started.

Last week, the Kayah State min­is­ter for elec­tric­ity met with res­i­dents in Bawlakhe township and spoke about the project pub­licly for the first time.

The min­is­ter calmed the res­i­dents, stress­ing that elec­tric­ity is essential to the de­vel­op­ment of the re­gion, Daw Mi Mi Maw said.

“We replied that the gov­ern­ment should find al­ter­na­tives to hy­dropower, like wind or so­lar en­ergy,” she said.

Daw Mi Mi Maw said the pub­lic be­lieves that the elec­tric­ity would be sold to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, rather than used do­mes­ti­cally.

The mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing for the project, ac­cord­ing to Daw Mi Mi Maw, was signed be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the com­pa­nies last Oc­to­ber.

While meet­ing with the leg­isla­tive head of Kayah State, U Hla Htwe, on Oc­to­ber 9, the Bawlakhe township res­i­dents pre­sented their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the project. The state par­lia­ment’s chief pledged that he would try to push the is­sue with the will of the res­i­dents in mind.

Kayah State’s Chief Min­is­ter Al­fon­shio was un­reach­able for com­ments yes­ter­day.

The head of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy’s Kayah State branch, Daw Khin Si Thu, said the project should not be con­tin­ued if lo­cal peo­ple do not like it.

“In my per­sonal view, this project is not trans­par­ent,” she said. “They have never clearly told peo­ple about the im­pacts the dam will have on res­i­dents and on the en­vi­ron­ment. Hy­dropower projects should be han­dled by those who are real ex­perts on this sub­ject.”

She said her party’s pol­icy was clear: If the peo­ple do not agree with the pro­posed project, then it should not go on.

At the end of August, about 1500 lo­cal res­i­dents signed a pe­ti­tion that was sent to Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw and State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, ask­ing the lead­ers to abol­ish the plan to build a dam on the stream. The lead­ers have not re­sponded yet.

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