Environmental conference participants demand govt reject Myitsone dam
ANGRY villagers, government officials, MPs, experts, and national and international NGOs came together to denounce the troubled Myitsone dam project in Kachin State. Convened by the Myanmar Green Network, last week they spoke out in a bid to influence the commission set up by the state counsellor to report on the dam’s future.
At the October 28-30 meeting in the state capital Myitkyina, speakers complained of the risks posed by the project to the environment, as well as the loss of livelihood inflicted on villagers, many of whom have already been displaced.
Opponents object to the secretive way the former military regime and investors handled the projects, showing no consideration for the public opinion. The Myanmar Ministry of Electric Power, conglomerate Asia World and China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) formed a joint venture – the Upstream Ayeyarwady Confluence Basin Hydropower Company – to build the 4600-megawatt Myitsone dam, registering in 2010.
The project, suspended in 2011 by then-president U Thein Sein, awaits a decision based on a report to be compiled by the 20-member commission of inquiry established in August to review hydropower projects slated for the Ayeyarwady River and to recommend whether they should proceed, weighing costs and benefits along with the potential effects on investors.
The commission is expected to submit a preliminary report to the president on November 11. In the face of strong objections expressed by local residents, some commission members have reportedly already suggested they will recommend against resuming the US$3.6 billion Myitsone venture.
H La Awng, Kachin State minister for natural resources and the environment, said his government placed the highest importance on environmental conservation, and would take into account the wishes of the people.
Myanmar Green Network founder Daw Dawei Thant Sin told participants at last week’s Myitkyina meeting that parliament should act to allow lawsuits against investors who damaged the environment. The damage could extend all along the Ayeyarwady River, she said, adding that all the communities concerned were united in opposing the mega-dam.
Meteorologist U Tun Lwin said the dam would not only take longer to build than expected, but would also certainly come in over budget. Citing an Oxford University research paper, he said hydropower generated by the 250 dams studied over a four-year period was costlier than electricity from renewable solar and wind energy. The dam would also generate methane gas, a major greenhouse gas, said U Tun Lwin.
Another MGN members, lawyer U Kyee Myint, called on the government to publicise the contract with the investors, saying it should be subject to Myanmar law.
Villagers already displaced by the initial preparations for the dam also spoke out, decrying the poor conditions in which they had been forced to live.
They said their children had lost interest in studying. “Two of my kids have already left school, and only the youngest still goes,” said Daw Jer Htel, who had been forced to leave Lapan village and relocate in Aung Myay Thar San village. Many have lost their farms and plantations, and said they had not been adequately compensated.
“They offered only K30,000 for an orange tree, K5000 for a bamboo tree. What good is that? That’s just pocket money. I want my home back,” said Daw Lu Yar, who was forced out of Tanpe village. In all, six villages have already been destroyed and their inhabitants relocated to Aung Myay Thar San San Pya and Myitsone villages.
Kachin activists stage a protest against the Myitsone dam in March.