Damming or Damning the Irrawaddy
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 6:49:49 PM
As so many megaprojects it has been highly criticised. First let us have a look at the site seen from a geological viewpoint. The Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam lies in an earthquake-prone area less than 100 km from the Sagaing Fault line where the India and Eurasia plates meet, posing a risk to basin inhabitants should an earthquake weaken the dam structure or cause landslides in the reservoir. If the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam were to break during an earthquake, it would endanger the lives of hundred of thousands of people by flooding Kachin State’s largest city, Myitkyina (see map above). The Sagaing fault is a major right-lateral strike-slip fault running North-South in Central Myanmar. This fault accomodates all or part of the differential motion between India and Eurasia (maybe more precisely the Sunda platelet) in this area.
The Ching Hkrang Dam 16 km north of Myitkyina, broke in July 2006, after several days of heavy rains. The break flooded the village of Ching Hkrang and killed five people.The Washawng Dam broke in may 2006. Neither break was reported in the Myanmar media, which are strictly controlled by the military junta. Let’s also have in mind that 230,000 people may have died during the world’s worst dam disaster in the province of Henan in Central China.
Of course there are other objections.
The reservoir of the Irrawaddy Myitsone dam will flood an area larger than Singapore, or New York City, in one of the world’s hottest “hotspots” of biodiversity. An estimated 10,000 people will be displaced, losing their livelihoods and natural resource base. Women will be particularly at risk during dam construction and resettlement. Reservoir discharge of accumulated mercury from gold mining operations in the area and other downstream impacts stand to threaten the already endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin.
Large dams destroy ecosystem integrity, fragment riverine ecosystems, isolating populations of species living up and downstream of the dam, and cutting off migrations which can contribute to inbreeding from smaller genetic pools. They also isolate the river from its flood-plain, releasing water from the reservoir that has less sediment and a changed chemical composition.
On the other hand the dam will generate an estimated $500 million in gross annual revenue for the government of Myanmar.
Environmental and rights activists have campaigned against the dam. A series of bomb blasts at the site of the controversial dam project destroyed cars and buildings and left one man injured on Saturday 17 April 2010 - that is to say The Kachin News Agency in Chiang Mai (Thailand) reported that four Chinese technicians died and 12 were injured in the blasts - news from Myanmar is not always too reliable. Myanmar has, however, certainly been hit by several bomb blasts in recent years, which the junta has blamed on armed exile groups or ethnic rebels. In May 2005 blasts at two Yangon supermarkets and a convention centre killed 23 people. The junta blamed those explosions on exile groups. The latest blasts came as the country prepares for elections planned for this year (2010) that critics have dismissed as a sham due to the effective barring of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi because she is a serving prisoner.
Much of the information in this post is derived from a 64 pages report on “Damming the Irrawaddy” available as pdf-file from Burma Rivers Network.