What’s next for the Irrawaddy River?

At the end of last week, to everyone’s surprise, President Thein Sen announced that he has decided to suspend the construction of the controversial Myitsone dam projects during this term as President.

The past few months, the “Save the Irrawaddy River” campaign has swelled, with activists, artists, musicians, politicians, scientists, and people from all ethnic groups demanding an end to this potentially disastrous project.

In an article also published Friday, Aung Din, USCB’s Executive Director, wrote “Growing numbers of people are speaking out against a massive dam being built at Myitsone, the origin of the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. The Irrawaddy River is the lifeblood of the country, and this dam – being constructed by China, for China – will cause irreparable damage to the country. This is a turning point for Burma’s officials. Which will they put first: China’s ready money, or the interests of the people? Chinese and Burmese officials have responded to the outcry with a campaign of life, when what is really needed is a truthful assessment of the impact of this megaproject” Read more here

That same day Thein Sein came out with his decision, and it was met with excitement all over the country. It sent a strong signal to Burma’s civil society, that if they work together, they can achieve some degree of success. Moreover, this campaign as also shown people all over the country, that development projects such as dams and pipelines, are not just minor projects, but major issues that affect everyone.

Nevertheless, despite this small victory, there is still room for concern.

Burma Rivers Network came out with a statement demanding an official cancellation by China Power Investment of not only Myitsone but all seven Irrawaddy dams.

Because without an official cancellation, this dam can always continue. China is not happy about the announcement and have stated that they will not give up the project. They have invested a lot into the project, and they want to have further negotiations with Naypyitaw to discuss the project. This will surely be a test of the power of Thein Sein in the government. How does he stand against those in power who support these deals with China?

Here are some more reactions about the decision:

“But one thing we have to bear in mind is that his term lasts only five years. I think the president should urge the next president not to continue this project when his current term expires. In this way, successive presidents might do the same thing and the dam project will be stopped permanently.”

– U Win Tin (central executive committee member, National League for Democracy)

“It’s too early to comment. The demand from all of us was not just to halt the project in this government’s tenure. We don’t want any dams to be built in that area. The government decided it would not continue the project during its term.  It’s like giving the next government a chance to continue the project if they want. The current government is just trying to avoid a possible mass uprising. It is just trying to avoid a confrontation. I think people can see that. In fact, no dams should be built in the area forever. That what the people demand.”

– La Nang, secretary-general of the Kachin Independence Organization

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