Myanmar stands firm on Myitsone dam

Sept. 22, 2011 at 12:22 PM
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YANGON, Myanmar, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Work continues on a $3.6 billion hydropower dam project in Myanmar on the Irrawaddy River despite widespread objections.

The Myitsone Dam, a joint effort by Myanmar's military government and the China Power Investment Corp., is expected to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity, about 90 percent of it to be exported to China. Under an agreement signed by Chinese and Myanmar officials, CPI will receive 70 percent of the project's profits.

CPI is planning to build and operate six additional dams on the Irrawaddy and its tributaries.

Environmentalists have said the dam in Myanmar's northern Kachin state will wreck the ecology of the Irrawaddy and now a growing list of activists, intellectuals, parliamentarians as well as former military officers are voicing opposition to the project, Asia Times Online reports.

The Kachin Development and Networking Group warns that more than 15,000 people in 60 villages are being forced to relocate without proper resettlement plans and millions more downstream would be affected.

Creation of the Myitsone Dam's reservoir will flood an area larger than Singapore KDNG says.

In an open letter last month, Myanmar's noted dissident, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urged that the project be reassessed.

The Irrawaddy River is "the most significant geographical feature of our country," she wrote, and "the grand natural highway, a prolific source of food, the home of varied water flora and fauna" supporting traditional modes of life.

Even an environmental impact assessment of the project, fully funded by CPI, stated: "The fragmentation of the Irrawaddy River by a series of dams will have serious social and environmental problems not only at upstream of dams but also far downstream in the coastal area.

"There is no need for such a big dam to be constructed at the confluence of the Irrawaddy River."

The report also warned that the Myitsone site is less than 62 miles from the earthquake-prone Sagaing fault line.

While environmental activists and political groups have launched campaigns to urge the government to reconsider the project, Myanmar's Minister for Electric Power Zaw Min insists Myitsone will proceed as planned and that it is in the country's national interest.

Construction, which began in 2009, is to be completed in 2018.

"We'll keep working on the Myitsone Project. We'll never back down," Min said. "We won't halt this project in spite of objections from environmental groups."

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