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Chinese companies have begun a project to build a giant 152-meter-high dam on the Irrawaddy River, the first to block one of Asias great river systems. Damming the Irrawaddy, a new report launched today by the Kachin Development Networking Group, exposes the social and environmental impacts of the dam, including the displacement of an estimated 10,000 people in northern Burmas Kachin State.
The military junta ruling Burma is allowing Chinese partners to manage the project that would transmit electricity to China and potentially generate over US$500 million in revenues per year. After an official opening ceremony in May this year, a permanent worker camp was set up at the site and survey work is ongoing.
The free flowing Irrawaddy River runs through the heartland of Burma and is of vital economic, environmental and culture significance to the Burmese people. The report details the loss of livelihoods, the damage to fisheries and farming, and the release of methyl-mercury downstream that will result if the dam is built. “The dam will not only harm Kachin people but the millions of Burmese who depend on the Irrawaddy,” said Naw La from KDNG.
As part of the recent protests in Burma, Kachin students launched a state-wide poster campaign calling for an end to the dam project in addition to the roll-back of commodity prices, release of political prisoners and reconciliation demanded nation wide. This followed an earlier objection letter from prominent Kachin community leaders to Senior General Than Shwe to stop the dam.
Dams in Burma have a poor safety record and recent breaks in 2006 have led to flood surges which have swept away houses and bridges, causing fatalities and destroying power stations. The Irrawaddy dam site is less than 100 kilometers from Burma’s earthquake-prone Sagaing fault line. Dam breakage would be disastrous for Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State, which lies only 40 kilometers downstream.
The Damming the Irrawaddy report notes that standards such as emergency measures for dam breaks, public participation, and impact assessments that are written into Chinese law are not being followed in the Irrawaddy dam project.
“For all its claims about non-interference, China is about to dam Burmas greatest waterway against the public demands of our people. If that’s not interfering, what is?” said Naw La. “Our report shows that while this dam will provide electricity for China and new income for the regime, Burma’s people will have to pay the price.”
In 2007, Thailand, Bangladesh, India and China have all announced plans for new dams in Burma.