Massive Chinese-Backed Dam on Irrawaddy River Halted by Burma's Government

irrawaddy river photo

The Irrawaddy River just south of the proposed dam site, photo: Wikipedia.

One day after Brazil's hotly protested Belo Monte dam is halted by court order, another massive hydropower project is halted, on the other side of the world and by a government not exactly renowned for conservation.

In a letter read out in parliament, Burma's president announced the the suspending of construction of the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam on the northern part of the Irrawaddy River. Perhaps more remarkable, considering the historic lack of public representation in government in Burma, is that it a public campaign played a significant role in stopping the 500 foot high dam, which was due to be completed in 2019 and would've created a 300 square mile reservoir.

The Myitsone dam would've been 3.6 GW in size, with the majority of the electricity generated going to China. Thousands of people would've been displaced by the construction of the dam.

An environmental assessment, commissioned by the governments of Burma and China found,

The fragmentation of the Irrawaddy river by a series of dams will have serious social and environmental problems not only upstream of dams but also far downstream in the coastal area. There is no need for such a big dam to be constructed at the confluence of the Irrawaddy river. (The Guardian)

While certainly a victory for the people of Burma and for environmental conservation, The Guardian also reports on a very interesting twist in the road leading to the decision to stop construction.

According to diplomatic cables, newly released by Wikileaks, the US government, via its embassy in Burma, was funding some of the civil society groups opposing Myitsone.

While not specifically stated in the cables, it wouldn't be surprising if the US support for these groups opposing the dam had at least as much to do with the fact that China would be the main beneficiary of the electricity from it, as it had to do with support of democracy in Burma or (still less) environmental conservation.

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