The Myitsone Dam: A Cause for Unity or an Uprising in the Making?
By MIN ZIN Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Whenever two existential threats—economic deprivation and violation of dignity—merge and hurt  society, the people of Burma revolt. Thus the construction of a massive hydro-power dam at Myitsone, where the Maykha and Malikha rivers meet to become the mighty Irrawaddy, mainly to serve China’s energy needs, has spawned a “Save the Irrawaddy” campaign that has become an unprecedented rallying ground for the people of Burma to take contentious action against a new regime.

Within the “civilian” government of President Thein Sein, however, this issue has become a source of division. Ministers and parliamentary leaders have taken conflicting views over how to resolve this crisis. That some moderate members of the regime have publicly called for an overall review of the project in transparent manner is a welcome sign. Unless the regime manages an acceptable resolution to this issue, however, the “Save the Irrawaddy” discourse could gradually grow into something else: an “Irrawaddy Uprising”. This issue is so close to home for the people of Burma because it involves not only national development but also national dignity. More importantly, the public’s rising outrage will put three key policy players—Thein Sein, opposition activist Aung San Suu Kyi and the Chinese government—in a serious political dilemma.

Let’s start with the facts. The project to fragment the Irrawaddy by building dams began in December 2006, and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between China and Burma on the development, operation and delivery of electricity from the hydro-power project was signed in 2009. Along with Burma’s privately owned, military-backed Asia World Company, China’s state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) will dam the Irrawaddy at eight locations. The largest of these dams, and the one causing the greatest outcry, is being built just below the confluence. The reservoir area is 766 km, which is bigger than Singapore. Moreover, the Myitsone dam is located less than 100 km from a major tectonic fault line. Experts warn that an earthquake could cause the collapse of the dam, with devastating consequences.

Local Kachin communities have been calling on the Burmese and Chinese governments to stop the dam project since 2007. A few Burman civil society members and writers have also called attention to the deteriorating condition of the Irrawaddy River. However, the mainstream media and the general public remained largely silent on these issues until a confidential Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was leaked to social activists and the media in June-July of 2011.

The EIA report, which was fully funded by CPI and conducted by a team of Burmese and Chinese scientists, was produced in October 2009 but never made public. The report clearly recommends that the Myitsone dam project be abandoned.

“If Myanmar [Burmese] and Chinese sides were really concerned about environmental issues and aimed at sustainable development of the country, there is no need for such a big dam to be constructed at the confluence of the Ayeyawady [Irrawaddy] River. Instead, two smaller dams could be built above Myitsone to produce nearly the same amount of electricity,” the reports states. It also notes the lack of a Social Impact Assessment and strongly recommends that one be carried out by competent social scientists before approval of the project.

Aside from the environmental, economic and social damage the construction of the dams is causing, another thorny issue is the fact that the chief beneficiary of the project, both in terms of power consumption and profits from the sale of the generated energy, is China, which will buy up to 90 percent of the electricity and keep some 70 percent of the profits.

When researchers, campaigners and independent media organizations started ringing alarm bells by citing the Chinese-funded EIA report, the issue captured the national imagination and prompted a sense of public urgency to protect the river. Calls to save the Irrawaddy are now expressed through every conceivable medium: articles, cartoons, songs, petitions, public statements, religious sermons and interviews with experts.

In August, the government finally got around to defending the construction of the Myitsone dam in state-run newspapers, claiming that the project would have no negative impact on the flow of the Irrawaddy River or on the lives and livelihoods of local people. However, the private weeklies—most notably the popular Eleven Media journal—and foreign broadcasters pushed back, calling for more transparency regarding the EIA, details of the MoU and dam construction-related information.

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Kyaw Wrote:
The go ahead approval of the construction of the Myitsone Dam by the former Military Regime is one indicator of to How far such regime can be stupid and can damage to the country. The National Pride, the Priceless God blessing Natural Beauty will be lost for forever, The God Blessing the Irrawaddy Delta will be degraded, all the Bio-diversities hosted by Irrawaddy and Its tributaries will be degraded, diminished and many will disappear for forever. How could the mad and stupid Military Generals can afford to sacrifice all those things for 10% of the electric power produced by poor quality and enormous trouble making Chinese Companies. My brain can not cope with the stupidity of those Generals and extremely worried as most of those Generals are still in Power in the civilian cloths.

Aung Aung Wrote:
So long as thugs like Zaw Min, slaughter of innocence in the Christie Island and War Crime Than Shwe who rewarded the killers are still able to buying time, civil society in Burma including files and ranks of Tat-ma-taw continue to live in hell-like situation definitely.

Also, it is very unfortunate the current govt. handover the Foreign Minister post to soul-less guy like Mg Lwin who repeatedly saying there are no political prisoners, is now meeting Chinese official at UN and backing Myitsone project.

Unless you can show real Stick like COI or Financial Sanctions these killers know well how to maneuver escaping. They don’t care whatever the Carrot offered because they pick-pocketed billion dollars state revenue. The reason they don’t feel shy to show consecutive 5 years deficits because multi-billion are in their pockets.

While let China know we are unhappy with them, ugly faces of home-grown War Crimes be exposed. The Irrawaddy is the best witness and hope of Burmese people.

A.M.O Wrote:
Good article, but shall we get down to work as; all across the world's Chinese Embassies, we BURMESE go on strikes with posters listed as:





Venus Wrote:
Don't equate Irrawaddy Issue with your favourite terms imported from the textbooks such as human rights bla bla bla. Irrawaddy is more than that and it is above all.

Irrawaddy Issue is the most important thing for entire Myanmar; Bamnar thway, Bamar Bloods. It is more important than any political issues. It is worse than being a Chinese Colony, British Colony and Fascist Colony. Irrawaddy Issue is driving all living creatures who stand on the mother river Irrawady to the death. Please. Please don't equate with shallow textbook vocabularies.

H Lin Wrote:
Even the international community is responding fast against Myitsone Dam project. Check it out this petition site at Within a week, more than 18,000 people have joined this petition drive against "Myanmar Proceeding with Controversial Dam".

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