By Ye Mon
Kachin, Myanmar, September 30, 2016
Residents of Chipwe and Hsawlaw townships in Kachin State have joined growing calls for the government to scrap seven hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River, including the controversial Myitsone megadam in neighbouring Myitkyina township.
The residents sent an open letter laying out their demands to President U Htin Kyaw. Copies of the missive were also sent to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the chair of the commission responsible for reviewing and scrutinising hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River, lower house deputy Speaker U T Khun Myat.
U Lwan Zau, a member of the Kachin State-based NGO Mungchying Rawt Jat and veteran opponent of the Myitsone project, told The Myanmar Times that the government should not proceed with projects opposed by local populations.
“We don’t want any of these [hydropower] projects on the Ayeyarwady River. That’s why we decided to send a letter to the president. We hope that he responds,” he said.
According to the letter, residents are demanding that the projects be cancelled because they were negotiated by the previous military government, which failed to consult or gain support from people living near the proposed project areas.
The Myanmar Times was unable to reach the President’s Office for comment on the letter.
The commission for reviewing and scrutinising hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River has been tasked with recommending whether the proposed projects should be continued, factoring in the public interest as well as previously agreed contractual obligations with developers.
An initial report from the commission is due to be delivered to the president on November 11, though its members have downplayed the submission as unlikely to yet contain much substantive policy advice.
The commission held a regularly scheduled meeting on September 26, during which the letter from the Chipwe and Hsawlaw residents was not discussed.
Following the meeting, one commission member who spoke to The Myanmar Times on condition of anonymity said the review body is currently compiling data for its November 11 report and is unsure whether a previously proposed interim report would be given to the president ahead of that date.
“I think our first report and any interim report wouldn’t be that different,” the commission member said.
Last week, the commission released a statement saying their assessment would consult not only with local experts and affected residents, but also with foreign experts as necessary.
The Myitsone dam is likely to pose the thorniest of dilemmas for the commission. The Chinese-backed US$3.6 billion project was suspended by then-president U Thein Sein amid widespread public opposition in 2011. Beijing has been pressuring the successor National League for Democracy government to resume construction, but local opposition has not diminished in the years since U Thein Sein ordered a halt on development.
Concerns about the dam’s environmental impacts, displacement of local populations and an original power-transfer agreement that would see about 90 percent of the electricity generated by Myitsone sent to China have all fuelled the persisting resistance to the project.
A group of more than 50 Kachin civil society organisations came out forcefully against Myitsone’s resumption earlier this month, when the scrutinising commission paid a field visit to Myitkyina from September 15 to 18.