Me­te­o­rol­o­gist ad­vises smaller al­ter­na­tives to My­it­sone megadam

The Myanmar Times - - News - KYI KYI SWAY news­room@mm­times.com

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.

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