Killing the Irrawaddy River

USCB Executive Director Aung Din published an article on the importance of protecting the Irrawaddy River, the lifeblood of Burma. The planned Myitsone Dam will bring irreparable damage to the country. 

Chinese thirst for power drains Burma’s rivers

Being neighbors with China is not something the people of Burma chose for themselves, but they have to heavily bear the repercussions. For many decades, China’s influence has intruded on their daily lives politically, economically, socially and culturally.

However, the relationship has now reached a tipping point, as this dominant neighbor is not only supporting the country’s ruling dictators and stealing the country’s vast natural resources, but also directly destroying the lives of the people of Burma.

In this land of pagodas, paddy fields and smiles, for centuries the people of Burma have proudly owned seven natural treasures gifted by Mother Nature. They are the three parallel chains of mountain ranges, called the Western Yoma (Rakhine Yoma), the Bago Yoma and the Eastern Yoma (the Shan Yoma), and the four major rivers, called the Irrawaddy (Ayeyawady), the Chindwin, the Sittaung and the Thanlwin. All are national landmarks of the country, and they have grown together with its people for countless generations. The Irrawaddy is the most important river among the four, and it is now under attack by the greedy autocrats, the Burmese regime and the Chinese government. If no efforts are made right now, the Irrawaddy will disappear from the map of Burma in coming decades. It will become a tragic memory of history for future generations in Burma.

The Irrawaddy was born at the confluence of the N’mai (Mayhka) and Mali (Malihka) rivers in Kachin State, northern Burma, where snow-capped mountains stand high guarding the country’s border with China. According to Kachin legend, the confluence is where the Father Dragon and his two sons Hkrai Nawng and Hkrai Gam were born and are settled.

Traditionally, the Kachin people believe that if the waterway is broken and the dragons are disturbed, they will be angry and create a natural disaster. A famous present-day author created another symbolic metaphor, writing that a young man (N’mai River with strong current) and a young woman (Mali River with steady flow of water) met here secretly, made love, and as a consequence a girl was born. This girl became the mother river of Burma.

Her finest waterways, and long journey of 1,348 miles (2,170 Km) from the mountains in the north to the Andaman Sea in the south, effectively and consistently help the livelihoods of millions of people in Burma. Many cities, townships, villages and ports are situated on the riverbanks of the Irrawaddy. It is an essential and vital factor in the nation’s transportation, fishing, weather and, importantly, agriculture, especially rice production.

In May 2007, the Burmese military regime and China’s state-owned “Chinese Power Investment Corporation” (CPI) signed an agreement to build seven large dams in Kachin State within 10 years, with the expected date of completion in 2017. One dam will be built on the Mali River, five dams on the N’Mai River and one at the confluence of the Mali and N’Mai, called “Myitsone” (junction of two rivers in Burmese). After completion of the seven dams, about 13,360 Megawatts (MW) of electricity will be produced annually and transported to Yunnan Province to feed China’s expanding energy need.

The Myitsone Dam at the confluence of the Mali and N’Mai is the largest among the seven dams, and is expected to produce 3,600 to 6,000 MW of electricity annually. It will become the fifteenth largest hydroelectric power station in the world.

The Myitsone Dam site is located just 2 miles below the confluence and about 24 miles away from Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. The length of the dam is about 499 ft (152 m) and the height is about 499 ft, equivalent to the height of a 50-story building. The surface area of the reservoir is about 295.8 sq mi (766 sq km), about the size of New York City (301 sq mi). A maximum water depth of the reservoir will be about 950 ft (290 m), approximately the height of a 66-story building.

The estimated cost of the Myitsone Dam construction project is about US $3.6 billion. The total cost for construction of the seven dams and hydroelectric development projects is about US $20 billion. The major construction contractor from the Chinese side is the China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CCGC), and from the Burmese regime side is Asia World Company. Asia World Company is run by the notorious drug-lord Lo Hsing Han and his son, Tun Myint Naing (aka Steven Law), who are under the targeted sanctions imposed by the US and very close to the regime’s powerful Vice-President Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo.

From the beginning, the people in Kachin State have known that the building of such a mega dam at the origin of the Irrawaddy River will effectively kill the river itself and drastically affect the lives of millions of people. The Kachin people and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), an ethnic armed group representing the Kachin people, have appealed several times to both the Chinese and Burmese authorities to abandon the dam project at Myitsone.

Also, a team of scientists from China and Burma, hired and funded by CPI, submitted its “Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Special Investigation)” to both Chinese and Burmese authorities in October 2009, in which they recommended the abandonment of the Myitsone Project. However, the appeals of the Kachin people and suggestion of scientists fell on the deaf ears of greedy and inhumane regimes. As such, construction of the Myitsone Dam has been active and ongoing.

Read more here.

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