Irrawaddy Myanmar NewsIrawaddy Myanmar News
Irrawaddy River embankments in Myanmar could exacerbate the dispute
Nowadays Myanmar makes a lot of news. Once known as Asia's paddy dish, Myanmar adhered this sticker for much of the twentieth centennial. Myanmar's then-premier Thein Sein took his countrymen and world monitors by surprise in September 2011, six years ago, by postponing the Myitsone Dam in the north of Myanmar, the biggest of seven hydroelectric power plants on the Irrawaddy River.
Since its launch in 2009, the site has been highly disliked due to its enormous adverse impact on the livelihood, fishing and agribusiness. Although Myanmar's policy system was highly repressive at the timeframe, a large anti-Myanmar struggle had developed, headed by grassroots groups and NGOs.
Myitsone Dam's closure is widely regarded as the most important symbolic of Myanmar's transformation from an autocratic to a democratic state. Last year when I did fieldwork in Myanmar, a Myanmar ecologist said to me: "It was the first since the 1962 putsch that the country's leaders took into consideration popularity.
Myanmar's chief Aung San Suu Kyi was asked to make a choice about his destiny last year, but she is still abandoned. This would have a disastrous impact on the livelihood. Hydroelectric power is the primary objective of the Irrawaddy River dam. Myanmar's hydroelectric power capacity is 108 gigawatts - a country's greatest resource in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar needs to use its enormous hydro capacity to do something about this, especially as Myanmar's renewables capacity is relatively scarce beyond hydro. Myanmar, for example, has 3,400 km2 of windward speed of more than six metres per second, the bare essentials for today's generation of winds. Therefore, Myanmar's fast increasing demand for electricity will not be met by the use of offshore and offshore sources.
Burma is a country that is exploring renewables as an alternative to power generation, as it has only limited resources of fossile fuels. Proposed Irrawaddy River power output exceeds 15 GW. Much of the community (to be expelled) is Kachin, a Myanmar based religious community that has been living on this land for centuries.
They have a noticeable adverse impact on local authorities, even if they are not carried out. However, the project's impact on society goes far beyond resettlement. Nearly 40 million inhabitants are living in the Irrawaddy Basin riverbank. That is equivalent to two third of Myanmar's overall citizens. Large hydroelectric power plants, however, act as a barrier in a fluvial system and block the movements of migrating types of dam.
For example, migrating freshwater species can be cut by up to 20 per cent by building large hydroelectric power plants, while action against the adverse effects of hydroelectric power plants on fishing, such as fishing stairs, can only partly alleviate this effect. There are many indications that large hydroelectric power plants can increase farm production and compensate for the adverse effects on fishing.
In fact, floods can be controlled by means of embankments, which can increase farm production by several points, according to some research. Large embankments can also inhibit the nutrient flux, which in turn can decrease the farm output. Burma continues to be a predominantly rural economies, employing about two-thirds of the Burmese people and generating almost 40 per cent of the country's GDP in the farming area.
A reduction in farm production would therefore be disastrous for the state. Myanmar's best prospective hydroelectric locations are all in areas of tension. Peoples' clash between the Kachin in the north of Myanmar and the Myanmar army - with the Kachin calling for more self-determination from the nation's leaders since the early 1960' - was allegedly intensified in 2010 after work on Myitsone Dam began.
Kachin and the Burma Army then collided in 2011, ending a 17-year cease-fire-treaty. This kind of violence can further jeopardise the safety of our planet as it displaces the lives of millions of people who are struggling to restore their livelihood. Whilst the developing Rakhine state crises with the Rohingya are attracting foreign interest to Myanmar, the Kachin state in the north is also experiencing a less prominent war.
Burma's government's aerial attacks have progressively increased since 2016 as the Burma administration seeks to remove the Kachin opposition to unify Myanmar. The Kachin state has not seen such a brutal military struggle in at least 20 years. Every embankment being built in Kachin State today - which would be an incentive of the local authorities - would further exacerbate this war.
Major hydroelectric power plants will have a far-reaching impact on the livelihood of the people of the Irrawaddy River Basin. The use of Myanmar's hydro power assets therefore requires thorough management of compromises by policy-makers - including a thorough assessment of the likely impact and the establishment of viable alternatives for those affected by large hydroelectric power plants.
In Myanmar there are already numerous rules - in particular the environmental impact assessment procedures adopted at the beginning of 2016 - to counter these compromises. But only a few of them are being put into practice and to date little information on Myanmar's hydroelectric power plant developments has been passed on by the state. Myanmar's leaders must immediately reverse this trend if they are to reach sustained growth for the state.