Tang Hpre near the Myitsone construction site

Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam

In a huge success for civil society groups in Burma, China and internationally, the Burmese government on September 30, 2011, decided to suspend the Myitsone Dam until 2015. This suspension then prompted a reassessment of the Chinese overseas dam industry in a shift towards more inclusive governance.

China Power Investment had hoped to build a second Three Gorges Project for China – this time in Burma. The Myitsone mega-dam project on the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River, once completed, would have exported 90% of its electricity to China. The Myitsone project is part of a seven-dam cascade that represents a USD$20 billion investment by China, with project funding from China Export Import Bank. However, there are serious doubts about the quality and independence of the Environmental Impact Assessment for this mega-dam project, as well as concerns regarding the resettlement process and the role of the project in exacerbating the long-standing conflict between the ethnic Kachin people and the military government.

At the time of project planning, Burma did not have any environmental protection laws and much less study and planning has been conducted for the Myitsone project compared to the Three Gorges Project. While the developers have committed to studying the downstream impacts on the rich and vital Irrawaddy River delta during the project construction period, it may not be enough to save the communities and ecosystems that depend on this critical river system.

Chinese dam building on Burma's national heritage

The Myitsone Dam is located a mile below the confluence of the Mali and N'Mai rivers in Kachin State, the source of the Irrawaddy River. The dam's reservoir will submerge important historical and cultural sites at the Mali and N'mai Hka rivers, as well as what is widely recognized as the birthplace of Burma. The dam is also located in a region that is recognized as one of the world's top biodiversity hotspots and a global conservation priority. If built, the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam would inundate approximately 766 square kilometers of forested area and cause irreversible damage to Burma's key river system, as well as to downstream rice paddy communities.

Groups within Burma, including Aung San Suu Kyi, oppose the dam not only because of its environmental impacts, displacement, and threats to cultural sites, but also because the dam is located less than 100 kilometers from a major fault line, posing a risk to basin inhabitants should an earthquake weaken the dam structure or cause landslides in the reservoir. If the Myitsone Dam were to break during an earthquake, it would endanger the lives of hundred of thousands of people by flooding Kachin State's largest city, Myikyina.

Environmental Impact Assessment below standard

In 2013, twelve expert opinions were sought on the validity of the conclusions of the Environmental Impact Assessment completed by the Chinese developer, China Power Investment. Experts found serious flaws in the report including in the methdology and structure of the report, total neglect of the temporal and spatial scale of the social and environmental impacts of the dams, superficial analysis of the dams' impacts on freshwater biodiversity and inadequate public participation. The full report published by Burma's environmental NGO ALARM and International Rivers can be found here.

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