Myitsone residents demonstrated in Myitkyina, Kachin State on Tuesday against assessment workshops for future hydropower projects financed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC).
More than 50 protesters gathered in front of the Palm Spring Resort Hotel, where representatives from Burma’s government, the state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) and the IFC were holding the workshop.
They said they feared a resumption of the multi-billion dollar Myitsone hydropower dam construction on the confluence of Irrawaddy River in Kachin State, highlighting displacement which could be caused by potential flooding, and environmental and social consequences for residents along Burma’s major waterway nationwide.
“We do not want those dams, therefore we protested,” explained Ja Hkawng, from the local organization Mungthying Rawng Jat, which translates to the Grassroots People’s Development Group.
Demonstrators urged the civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government to honor locals’ desires and called for support from citizens across the country in objecting to dam construction.
In September 2011, former President U Thein Sein postponed the China-backed Myitsone dam project following the public’s widespread call to halt it.
“We have been protesting against mega hydropower dam projects for a long time, and we will continue until it stops,” Ja Hkawng told The Irrawaddy. “But the government has not acted decisively on it yet. It seems more like they are backing the companies.”
A bloc of Kachin political parties—the Kachin Political Parties Coordination Committee (KPCC)—shared their letter with the IFC stating that they want no dam construction in the Myitsone area, as it is a conflict zone.
“We explained that as there is still fighting in the area [between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army], as well as the presence of tens of thousands of internally displaced people, there must be a moratorium on all such large projects,” said Jaw San Naw, the secretary of both the Kachin Democratic Party and the KPCC.
“Therefore, we call on international banks and companies not to promote such projects until there is peace in our country,” read their statement.
Jaw San Naw added that now it is not the right time for companies to sponsor large-scale investment projects, particularly while ignoring the Kachin people’s suffering and their “lack of constitutional rights to make decisions regarding natural resources in their homeland.”
Citing CPI’s visit to Myitkyina in 2016 to discuss a potential restart of the Myitsone dam project, locals said they were worried that the World Bank’s IFC-sponsored workshops in the Kachin State capital, and in other cities, could be pushing for the postponed dam projects to resume.
The NLD government formed the Irrawaddy Myitsone Inquiry Commission last August, tasked with evaluating the hydropower project on the Irrawaddy River. The commission submitted its first assessment to President U Htin Kyaw in November, meeting its projected deadline. Committee members have said they will come up with a full report at a later date, as field studies are ongoing, but no update was available at the time of reporting.