Friday, January 28, 2011

Win Tin, environmentalists alarmed by Myitsone Dam

Friday, 28 January 2011 14:54 Thomas Maung Shwe

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Win Tin, the co-founder of the National League for Democracy, says he and his colleagues are “deeply concerned” by the potentially devastating impact of the 152-meter high Myitsone Dam now under construction on the upper Irrawaddy River in northern Kachin State.

Win Tin told Mizzima that he is worried the project will cause increased ethnic tensions because of the widespread displacement of villagers and the impact on the environment.

The project’s critics also fear that restricting the flow of the river on the upper Irrawaddy will have devastating consequences farther downstream, depleting fish stocks and severely impacting agricultural production in the Irrawaddy delta where 60 percent of Burma’s rice is produced.

Construction and financing on the project is headed by the China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), a state-owned giant electrical company that has partnered with Burma’s state power utility Myanma Electric Power Enterprise (MEPE) and the Burmese conglomerate Asia World, which is controlled by Stephen Law and his family. Law’s father, Lo Sit Han, the chairman of Asia World, has been labeled a ‘narco warlord’ and linked to money laundering by the US government.

The Myitsone Dam will be built at the confluence of the Mali Hka and Nmai Hka rivers and, according to Burmese state media, will generate 6,000MW. Last September in a report on Sino Burmese relations the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, citing Chinese state media, concluded that when completed the Myitsone dam “is expected to send most of the power generated to China.”

Environmental activists with the Burma Rivers Network, a coalition comprised of organizations representing various dam-affected communities in Burma and one of its members, the Kachin Development Networking Group, said that the creation of the dam’s reservoir will flood an area larger than Singapore and will displace scores of villages with an estimated population of around 15,000 people while also destroying ecologically sensitive areas, something Win Tin said is unacceptable.

‘The relocation of thousands of Kachin villagers is a great problem,’ Win Tin said. The veteran politician, who served a lengthy jail sentence as a political prisoner, noted that when the project started a few years ago ‘there was no consultation with the people’.

He called the dam’s development the latest act of ‘land grabbing’ by the Burmese regime, which has routinely confiscated land throughout the country without giving compensation to pursue massive development projects.

Win Tin also said he feared that the Kachin people affected by the project ‘may not be able to discern that this is a project imposed on them by the SPDC and does not represent the will of the majority of Burma’s people’. He added that he feared ramifications of the project would lead to increased ethnic tension in a country wracked by decades of civil war and ethnic conflict.

Win Tin is not alone. Sai Sai, the coordinator of the Burma Rivers Network, said the Myitsone dam will ‘have a major disruptive impact on people living downstream from the project’.

Sai Sai and his fellow activists are particularly concerned that because of the dam, water on Burma’s most important river ‘will be stored and released depending on the electricity needs of the Chinese, leading to unpredictable water shortages and surges’.

Ah Nan, a researcher with the Burma Rivers Network, told Mizzima that several hundred villagers were forced to move already last year and the new living areas the Burmese regime provided are totally inadequate.

Ah Nan said, ‘Most of these villagers are subsistence farmers who have worked the land for generations, but at little notice the Burmese regime orders them to move and making matters worse, they aren’t even allowed to bring their livestock with them.

These people who were self reliant before, will be left with nothing and driven into poverty, this is a major disaster in the making.’

The Myitsone dam will be the first of seven cascading dams on the upper Irrawaddy in Kachin state. An article in the industry journal Power in Asia last September said the massive project will generate a combined capacity of 16,500 MW, slightly less than the present 18,200 MW generating capacity of China’s huge Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest dam.

As the Burma Rivers Network has pointed out, the seven dams on the Irrawaddy’s headwaters will produce five times the total current power production capacity of Burma.

The other six dams, like the Myitsone, will be built and operated by CPI in partnership with MEPE and Asia World. In July of last year, the Burmese regime’s Union of Myanmar Government Gazette reported that in December 2009 the three entities had established the Irrawaddy Myitsone-Myintnya-MyintWan Hydropower Company Limited to build and operate the dams.

‘As we’ve seen with other dam projects of this kind in Burma, the regime’s priority is to enrich itself and make money for the foreign investors while the needs of the people of Burma are ignored’, Sai Sai added.

Power in Asia also revealed that official Chinese figures put the estimated total cost of the 15-year, seven-dam mega project at US $30 billion (200 billion yuan).

According to reports, the Chinese firms will bring in their own work force to build the dams thus creating fewer local jobs, a common practice by Chinese firms operating overseas.

Bomb attacks on dam site

Last year, a series of at least 10 separate bombs exploded on April 17, 2010 at the Myitsone Dam construction site, injuring a Chinese worker and destroying several temporary buildings belonging to Asia World and vehicles owned by the firm.

Within days of the explosions, the Burmese regime detained more than 70 local people, mostly youth affiliated with the Education and Economic Development for Youth, the youth wing of Burma’s second largest cease-fire group, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).

The KIO, which has publicly opposed the dam, denied any responsibility for the explosions and eventually most of the people arrested were released. According to the KIO, its concerns about the dam have been ignored by the regime, which has pressed ahead on the project.

In an interview with Mizzima last November, Lana Gumhpan, a senior figure in the de facto government that administers the territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation, said that the Burmese regime’s reckless pursuit of the dam project was more evidence that the junta was quite willing to ‘ignore the concerns of Burma’s ethnic minorities’.

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