CPI Falls Short on Environmental Impact Assessment of Myitsone: Experts

By San Yamin Aung 1 October 2013

RANGOON — A Chinese corporation’s environmental impact assessment of the controversial Myitsone dam project in north Burma is not complete, international experts say.

The assessment by China Power Investment Corp. (CPI) fails to clarify the social and environmental consequences of the Kachin State dam project, as well as its potential effects on fresh water species, according to experts from several countries around the world.

International Rivers, a US-based NGO that works with groups in Burma and elsewhere in the region to stop destructive dam projects, has joined the Burma-based Advancing Life and Regenerating Motherland (Alarm) Group in urging CPI to conduct a wider environmental impact assessment over the course of many years.

Both groups solicited opinions on the CPI report from a number of international experts, including from the University of Oxford, the University of California, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Yangon, Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand, Aalto University in Finland, Tribhuvan University in Nepal, Fernando Leao’s Institute of Environment and Development in Brazil, the California Institute of Technology, an NGO coalition known as Rivers Without Boundaries, the Climate Change Science Institute in the United States, and the Myanmar Environment Institute.

These experts studied the CPI report, which was issued in 2011. Two researchers from the University of Yangon and the Myanmar Environment Institute also assessed the situation on the ground at the dam site, as part of independent research initiatives.

China’s state-owned CPI plans to build the Myitsone hydropower dam in collaboration with Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power as well as Asia World Co., owned by a Burmese business tycoon. The project is expected to supply up to 4,600 megawatts of electricity when it is completed, but most of that power would be exported to China.

“The report should state the advantages and disadvantages, for both the presence of the dam and the absence of the dam,” Win Myo Thu, managing director of the Burma-based Alarm Group, told reporters at a press conference in Rangoon on Monday, exactly two years after President Thein Sein suspended the dam project, in the face of mounting public anger over widespread flooding and deforestation that would result from the project, as well as the forcible resettlement of 10,000 ethnic Kachin villagers..

Win Myo Thu said the report lacked data on the dam’s possible effects on public health and climate change. He said CPI took just one week to conduct research for a report, leading to an insufficient compilation of data.

“If CPI wants to restart the dam, they first need to take about 10 years for more observation on environmental and other impacts, and they need to collect public recommendations. After that, they should act according to the will of the people,” he said.

The Myitsone hydropower dam is located on the Irrawaddy River, the most important commercial waterway in Burma, as it supports the livelihoods of millions of people.

China has pushed for a resumption of construction on the dam, which may be possible in the future, depending on the leadership elected in Burma’s 2015 election.