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10 Feb 2019

Myanmar: Myitsone dam project faces widespread opposition due to displacement & environment concerns

Myitsone Dam Protest
In 2011, construction of the Myitsone dam was suspended by then-president U Thein Sein. Recently, there has been talk of a possible resumption of the project. Protests have erupted and opposition to the project continues to grow. This story contains links to reports on the development of this project.

The site of the Myitsone Hydropower Dam is located downstream of the confluence of Mali River and N’mai River, approximately 37 kilometres from Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in northern Myanmar. The two tributaries form the Irrawaddy River, officially known as Ayeyarwady River, the largest waterway of Myanmar. Designed with a capacity of 6,000 MW and scheduled for completion in 2019, the dam was supposed to be 139.5 metres high and 1,310 metres wide and would have inundated an area the size of Singapore. Were it not suspended in 2011, the dam would have become not only Myanmar’s largest hydroelectric project, but also the largest among China’s overseas hydroelectric projects at that time.

Project Impacts

  • Environment: It was feared that the dam would disrupt the water flow of the Irrawaddy River, which carries nutrients that are crucial for downstream agriculture, and also hinder the seasonal migration of fish. Concerns were also raised that the dam may suffer catastrophic damage from a possible earthquake as the site was less than 100 kilometres from a fault line.
  • Land: According to KDNG, around 15,000 people from over 60 villages were forced to migrate to Aung Mya Thar village and Mali Yang village without informed consent between 2009 and 2011. A KDNG spokesperson in 2010 alleged that villagers were forced by the authorities to sign compensation agreements. ACHC claimed that by the end of 2012 it had provided adequate funds according to the government’s resettlement plan and invested more than 25 million USD to resettle 2,146 residents from 410 households in five villages in the Myitsone area.
  • Local community: The Chinese government and developer negotiated the project only with Myanmar’s Burmese-dominated central government, which lacked legitimacy in Kachin State, disregarding the fact that the upstream and northern areas of the confluence were controlled by KIO. The KIO and many Kachin people saw the dam as a means to expand the central government’s military presence into their territories and therefore a threat to the Kachin’s ethnic survival.
  • Armed conflicts: The tension between the Myanmar military and the KIA worsened in part as a result of the dam construction. Fighting erupted between the two armies in June 2011, ending the 17-year ceasefire and effectively halting the project.
  • Cultural impact: The confluence area carries enormous cultural symbolism for the Kachins and Myanmar people. Myitsone is commonly referred to as the ancestral homeland of the Kachins, and it is the place where Myanmar’s most important waterway, the Irrawaddy River, officially starts. Campaigners argued that it was unacceptable to inundate such a sacred site.

Full Project Profile by The People’s Map of Global China

This page provides a comprehensive overview of the Myitsone dam project, including its background, key stakeholders, potential impacts on local communities and the environment, and the ongoing concerns and opposition raised by various civil society groups.