Minister Warns Many More Dams at Risk of Bursting

By Htet Naing Zaw 6 September 2018

NAYPYITAW—Union Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, U Aung Thu, has warned the public of possible dam breaks.

Speaking to reporters in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, the minister said that currently, the spillways of 57 dams across the country are submerged, warning of the likelihood of incidents similar to the bursting of the spillway of the dam on Swar Creek in Bago Region which resulted in the flooding of dozens of villages in Taungoo District in late August.

The burst of the Swar Dam spillway was totally unexpected, said the minister.

“The dam was on the ‘to-inspect’ list. We were about to inspect it. We were not worried about it, but it happened and so I’d like to warn that it can happen again in unexpected places,” he told reporters.

At that time, the ministry was in fact worried about Kyi Ohn Kyi Wa Dam, he said. The water level was around 35 feet above the danger level in that dam, while the water level in Swar Dam was less than 10 feet above its danger level, he added.

The ministry spends over 50 million kyats yearly on conducting regular maintenance works on all the dams across the country, he said, but the climate is unpredictable. The ministry’s deputy permanent secretary U Myo Tint Tun told The Irrawaddy that the burst was due to unusual rainfall.

“No new dam has been built under the new government,” said the minister.

A local of Swar Township, who had to flee for his life after the dam break, told The Irrawaddy that many now have concerns about the dam breaking in future rainy seasons, and have planned to move away from there.

“I had no time to bring along my belongings and fled empty-handed. In case we will have to flee again, it would be better to move to another place away from the dam,” he told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.

The Lower House Agriculture, Irrigation and Rural Development Committee has not summoned the Irrigation Department to explain the breach of Swar Dam, said Lower House lawmaker U Tin Tun Naing who grilled the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation about the dam burst during Monday’s session of the Union Parliament.

Myanmar lacks X-ray technology for inspecting the inner parts of the dams to assess their strength. Moreover, the country experienced 36 earthquakes and tremors this year, which might have an impact on the dams, said U Aung Thu.

The agriculture ministry has now assigned staff members at each dam across the country with the responsibility of directly and immediately phoning the locals of villages around the dam areas in case of possible dam breach in the future.

The Swar Creek dam was built in 1999 under the military regime and came into service in 2001.

While there have been criticisms about the structure of the dam which burst, U Aung Thu said, “nobody should be blamed for this.”

Myanmar is lacking in technology and can only build two types of dam systems, he said.

“It is important to maintain and repair the dams as necessary in order to prevent [future disasters]. It is also important that people have awareness,” said the minister.

According to statistics issued by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement on Aug. 31, seven people were killed, three are still missing and more than 5,000 residents of Yedashe, Taunggu, Oktwin and Kyauk Gyi townships in Taungoo District were affected by flooding of the Sittaung River after the bursting of the dam.

The minister said that his ministry will also help farmers to re-plant paddy on 609 acres of paddy fields inundated by the flooding.