Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kachins against ka-ching

The dams across the Irrawaddy were to be built and the power exported to Big Brother. However the Burmese govt suddenly had a change in heart, in part driven by resistance to the project from Kachins who populate the headwaters and have been displaced. BB has now launched a "win hearts and minds" operation but the natives remain unconvinced. There is also fear that if/when general Thein Sein steps down the projects will be restarted and the lands that they hold sacred will be no more.

It was a project conceived, financed and – so far partially – built by the state-owned Chinese Power Investment Corporation (CPI), to take electricity across the border and help industrialise the Chinese province of Yunnan. At 152 metres high and with a potential capacity of 6,000 MW of electricity, the Myitsone was to be the largest of seven dams at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River. If completed, it will be the 15th largest dam in the world. But soon after work started in 2009, the project ran into trouble.

Environmentalists objected because the Irrawaddy is Burma's most important water resource, supporting a thriving fishing industry, irrigating Burma's rice bowl, and supplying silt to the Irrawaddy delta....Ordinary Burmese objected because the Irrawaddy is the country's spiritual lifeblood, the subject of stories, songs and poems. With around 90% of the electricity from the dam going to China, the Burmese saw little benefit for themselves....Finally, the people of Kachin state objected because the 296-square-mile reservoir would not only submerge 63 villages, it would also drown a sacred site at the confluence of the N'Mai and Mali rivers. As work got underway, the Kachin Independence Army broke a 17-year-old ceasefire to attack the dam site. In 2010, 10 bombs exploded around the dam site, killing a Chinese worker.

Still the Burmese government pushed ahead with the project, keen to placate Burma's staunchest ally and biggest trading partner. Then in 2011 Burma's new president, Thein Sein, abruptly announced a halt to construction, and promised that the dam would not be built during his term in office. It was a stunning turnaround that infuriated the Chinese.