River Guardian Myint Zaw

Sarah Bardeen
Social activist Myint Zaw
Social activist Myint Zaw
Goldman Environmental Prize

To celebrate our 30th anniversary, we're profiling one inspiring International Rivers partner each month.

In April of this year, a man named Myint Zaw traveled to San Francisco to accept a 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. It had been a long journey for this journalist and social activist from Myanmar. 

Zaw was being recognized for a creative and dangerous campaign he waged under Myanmar’s repressive military government to save the Irrawaddy River from a massive, destructive dam.

The 6,000 MW Myitsone Dam would have had devastating impacts on the region. Backed by Chinese funders, the dam was set to displace over 18,000 people from 50 villages. It would also have destroyed a biodiversity hotspot and had major impacts downstream...and most of the power would have been sent back to China.

Motoring across the Irrawaddy.
Motoring across the Irrawaddy.
Pianporn Deetes | International Rivers

Zaw had grown up in the river’s delta, and he loved it passionately. But Myanmar, at that time, had no room for political discourse: groups couldn’t gather for any political reason. Zaw, however, found a way around that.

By the end of his campaign, artists and singers were making music about the river and a vast underground network of people were making and sharing DVDs about the river and the proposed dam. Much of the country had been educated, and together they fought back.

The popular opposition proved too much, even for a non-democratic government; in 2011, Myanmar’s president canceled the project.

When Myint Zaw was in town in April, he visited our offices to talk to us about his experiences. We caught the visit on film.

Find out how he outwitted Myanmar's culture of censorship, and how he used the resources available to him – including many from International Rivers – to turn the tide against the Myitsone Dam.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015