Meteorologist advises smaller alternatives to Myitsone megadam
THE FORMER director general of the meteorology and hydrology department has proposed an alternative solution to the problem of the stalled Myitsone hydropower dam. Instead of building one destructive and publically reviled mega dam, why not build four smaller hydropower projects instead, he suggested on Facebook yesterday night.
U Tun Lwin, who has written several books on the environment and spent 44 years helming the meteorology department, said the expense of the large dam, projected to cost US$3.6 billion, could be divided into three or four small or medium-scale projects spread along the Ayeyarwady River with less of a concentrated impact.
The energy produced by four “ecosmart” dams would not be so different than one big dam, he said.
“The Myitsone dam is bad. Having these small and medium dams is better,” U Tun Lwin told The Myanmar Times.
The China-backed Myitsone dam would be situated at the confluence of the Makha and Malikha rivers, a site of historic importance to the Kachin. The 4600-megawatt hydropower facility on the Ayeyarwady River was the result of a deal between the previous military government and China Power Investment (CPI).
The Myitsone dam was suspended in 2011 by then-president U Thein Sein amid public outcry against the project.
Contributing to the Myitsone’s unpopularity was the widespread displacement of populations in the project area, concerns about the dam’s environmental impacts and the terms of an agreement that would see some 90 percent of the electricity generated sent to China.
But the suspension is now being reconsidered by the commission to scrutinise hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River. Set up by the National League for Democracy-led government, the commission has been tasked with reviewing proposed and existing hydropower projects along the length of Myanmar’s main waterway, and providing recommendations on whether projects should move ahead or not.
In September, the commission members visited Kachin State, where residents, activists and civil society groups made it clear they were against the Myitsone Dam restarting.
The commission is expected to provide the first of its reports to the president on November 11, but has indicated that no conclusion will likely have been reached by the appointed date.
U Tun Lwin advised the commission while it reviews the Myitsone contract to consider the diminished environmental and social effects caused by smaller dam projects.
Such smaller projects also minimise the distribution losses when electricity is transmitted, he added. Small and medium dams can be beneficial by supporting river flood control, reducing natural disasters and diverting irrigation water more effectively for agriculture, he said.
But Daw Jar Hkawn, a veteran opponent of the Myitsone dam and a member of Mung Chying Rawdat of Kachin State, said her group objects to any and all dams along the confluence. “If we are really talking about the needs of the locals, we don’t need big or small dams on the Ayeywardy River,” she said.
She conceded that dams could be helpful on tributaries, so long as they are built with the interests of Kachin State as the focus.