Thousands of Downstream Villagers Protest Against Myitsone Dam

By The Irrawaddy 22 April 2019

YANGON—Thousands of residents of Waimaw Township in Kachin State staged a protest on Monday calling for the suspension of Myitsone Dam and other dams upstream of the Irrawaddy River.

The protest was staged just days before State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is due to travel to Beijing for the 2nd Belt and Road Forum, where Chinese investment projects, including the proposed dams on the Irrawaddy River, are expected to be discussed. The public has raised concerns that a resumption of the suspended dam project, which is worth US$3.6 billion (5.4 trillion kyats), would destroy the country’s mighty lifeline river and disrupt the water flow downstream.

The organizers of the protest told The Irrawaddy on Monday that they would continue their opposition to the project until the government announced its termination. They also called for an end to all dams on the Irrawaddy River. Waimaw Township, located some 19 km from the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, is one of the most vulnerable areas downstream. The public has been alarmed over reports that the dam, if it broke, could flood an area the size of Singapore, which would destroy livelihoods and displace more than 10,000 people.

Bawm Sau, who led the protest, told The Irrawaddy the protesters shouted “No Myitsone Dam!” and “Completely halt the Myitsone dam and other dams upstream!” during the demonstration.

As they marched, the protesters also held up signs with slogans such as “The people totally reject Myitsone Dam” and “Let the Irrawaddy flow freely forever.”

Some 8,000 to 10,000 local residents joined the march, according to the organizers.

Like people all around the country, local residents are eagerly awaiting the government’s decision on whether the project should be resumed or terminated. A meeting of environmentalists, academics, politicians and artists in Yangon on Saturday also called for a halt to the dams, announcing a campaign to raise money from the public to compensate China for the scrapping of the project.

“There shouldn’t be any dams on the Irrawaddy River and we are waiting for the government’s response. We will keep raising our voices until they announce a permanent halt,” said U Waw Lay, a Waimaw resident who took part in Monday’s protest.