Civil Society Groups Continue to Boycott Myitsone Dam

By Nyein Nyein 31 October 2016

Less than two weeks prior to submitting a government commission’s evaluation of the proposed Myitsone Dam, civil society groups continue to call for an end to mega hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River.

Myanmar Green Network, an environmental nongovernmental organization that coordinates with civil society groups across the country, pressed for the immediate end of the Myitsone Dam project and encouraged the public to participate in the cause during its fifth annual meeting.

More than 100 participants met from Oct. 28-30 in Kachin State’s capital Myitkyina, sharing their environmental concerns and voicing their support for halting the Myitsone Dam. If the project were to continue as planned, about 90 percent of the electricity generated would be sent to neighboring China while local residents could face possible flooding and environmental degradation.

“We want voices from across the nation to be considered by the government’s Myitsone commission [formed in August],” said Daw Davi Thant Sin, a prominent environmentalist and leader of the Myanmar Green Network.

“We call for the stop of all mega dams, including the ones on the May Kha and Ma Li Kha tributaries,” she told The Irrawaddy.

All of the civil society members who were present—including  environmentalists, lawyers, energy experts and artists—endorsed their commitment to protect the Irrawaddy River.

“We joined the annual gathering to show our support in calling for the end of the Myitsone dam,” said Saw Tha Phoe, member of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), the environmental group campaigning for the halt of mega dams on the Salween River.

Over the weekend, an online petition to stop the Myitsone Dam was launched. The petition aims to garner 1 million signatures from online users, both from inside the country and abroad. So far, the petition has received about 3,500 signatures.

Public concern has risen over the mega hydropower project, which was suspended five years ago in September 2011 under former President Thein Sein’s administration following public outcry. The project’s memorandum of understanding was signed in 2006 by former military dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the China Power Investment Corporation, forcing nearby villagers to relocate in 2010.

But there is public optimism regarding the commission’s report, which was tasked with considering public concerns and incorporating those consultations in their findings.

Led by the deputy speaker of the Lower House and made up of experts and local state leaders, the commission is being carefully watched and assessed by the people. A month after its formation, commission members visited the Myitkyina and Myitsone areas to meet with locals and assess the situation.

“We hope the commission will reflect our concerns,” said Ja Seng Hkawn Maran, a Kachin State lawmaker who represents the Injanyang Township constituency which includes the Myitsone village tract.

“The project is not transparent so we do not yet know what the obstacles are,” added the state lawmaker, referring to State Counselor and foreign minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement in April after meeting her Chinese counterpart that she had not read the Myitsone contract.

The government has not shared the memorandum of understanding or details of the project with the public despite calls for them to do so.