Burmese Activist Wins ‘Green Nobel’ for Campaign Against Irrawaddy Dam

By Yen Saning 21 April 2015

RANGOON — Burmese activist Myint Zaw was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. The American organization said it was honoring him for his successful efforts to stop the Myitsone Dam from being built on the Irrawaddy River in 2011.

“Facing heavy government scrutiny and restricted use of tools like email or social media, Myint Zaw launched a national movement that successfully stopped construction of the Myitsone Dam on Myanmar’s treasured Irrawaddy River,” the organization said about its decision to grant the award for environmental activism in Asia to Myint Zaw.

The annual prize is also called the Green Nobel and comes with a US$175,000 cash reward.

It honors grassroots environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America, for efforts to protect the natural environment. The prize was established in 1989 by San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman and winners are selected by an international jury.

Devi Thant Cin, a Burmese environmentalist who also campaigned against the dam, said in a reaction, “This is an honor, not only for the environmentalist, but for all people from Burma.”

The 6,000-megawatt Myitsone Dam is a megaproject planned by state-owned China Power International at the confluence of the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. The $3.6-billion dam would have significant downstream environmental impacts and forcibly displace 18,000 local villagers.

The project led to massive opposition after a nationwide campaign got under way, with much of the public virulently opposed to the decision by the former military regime to let Chinese investors dam the country’s major river.

After the regime appointed President Thein Sein’s nominally-civilian government in 2011 he decided to suspend the project for the duration his five-year presidential term.

Myint Zaw was a leading activist in the “Save the Irrawaddy” campaign and one of its most visible advocates; he held public talks, organized rallies and exhibitions on the importance of the river. He was joined by dozens of prominent Burmese leaders, activists, intellectuals and artists.

Myint Zaw, 40, studied development studies in Thailand and journalism in the United States, and after his studies abroad he came back to Burma in 2008 and joined the humanitarian relief effort after Cyclone Nargis hit. He is currently pursuing a PhD in resource management at the Australia National University College of Asia and the Pacific’s Crawford School of Public Policy.