A RIVER UNDER THREAT: THE CASE OF MYITSONE DAM
September 4, 2020
The Asia Pacific is marked by the swathes of arable land, vast forests, and bodies of water which are abundant sources of food and livelihood for its people. However, the region remains poor, underdeveloped, and its people are undernourished despite the numerous “developmental projects” located in the region. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that 518 million people are undernourished in 2017. [i]
Mega dams and other dam projects are just a few developmental projects that continue to threaten the biodiversity that feeds the people. It is in this line that the Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED) together with the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), the International Indigenous People’s Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), and the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) have organized the webinar “Breaking the Barriers: A Webinar on the Impacts of Large-Scale Dams in Asia” last August 11, 2020.
Attended by over 200 participants, the webinar was a platform to discuss the affects of the mega-dam to food security and rural peoples as facilitated by PCFS policy and campaign officer JC Mercado. In a 2019 statement, PCFS said that “the massive dams alone that China and other foreign interests are funding and building along the Mekong River pose serious harm to fishing and farming communities in the sub-region, including on fish stocks, river flow and soil fertility, on top of physically displacing tens of thousands of farmers and indigenous peoples.”[ii]
The Myitsone dam is a $3.6 billion Chinese-backed mega project that threatens the lives of rural peoples around the Mekong river. Sixty (60) million people farmers, fishers, rural peoples, national ethnic minorities, and Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in Southeast Asia rely on the Mekong river for food, livelihood, identity, and culture. The dam will be erected at the source of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar; it is an old project that has been shelved in 2011 due to people’s protests. It is only recently that the Government of China has stepped up to push the project. Should the project push through, it will be the largest dam in the region and will displace thousands of people and will flood the area the size of Singapore.
The Irrawaddy River is the lifeblood of the peoples of Myanmar and the birthplace of the Kachin peoples. The impending doom brought by Myitsone Dam will affect their right to self-determination and they have all the reasons to be concerned. Flooding and displacement are foreseen as the biggest impacts of the dam as nine (9) more mega-dams are planned. Kachin and Burmese anti-dam leaders cried in unison that such ambitious dam project is the “death sentence” for the people of Myanmar.[iii]
One of the biggest impacts of the Myitsone Dam is the people’s access to freshwater and resources for freshwater drinking. Vietnam has already experienced droughts that led to drinking water scarcity. However, the long-term impact of the dam will dent the food sources in the region. The dam is foreseen to alter the water flow of the river that will directly affect the rice production; the countries along the Mekong River are known rice importers in the region. It will intensify the already worse state of hunger and undernourishment in the Asia Pacific.
Let the rivers flow
Mega dam projects have a long, bloody and violent history in the region. In the Philippines, the World Bank-funded Chico Dam Project in 1965 threatened to displace 100,000 people. The martyrdom of Anti-dam figure Macli-ing Dulag in 1980 has fanned the flames of protest and resistance that forced then Philippine President Marcos. The Mapithel dam in Manipur, North East India has affected 2,000 hectares of forest, land, and villages. It blocked the Thoubal River leading to the destruction of the environment, livelihood, and Indigenous culture in the Mapithel valley.
The Myitsone dam poses the same threat to the rights and welfare of the people of Myanmar and its nearby countries. Because of its domino effect across the region, the people must forge common unities against their common enemy – the impending drought, massive flooding, food scarcity, and the attack against rural communities. The people have already rejected the mega-dam before, and the people will reject it once again. The people will continue to assert that the rivers must flow freely.
[i] Three million undernourished people in Asia-Pacific need to be lifted out of hunger every single month until the end of 2030 to achieve Sustainable Development Goal. (n.d.). Retrieved September 04, 2020, from http://www.fao.org/asiapacific/news/detail-events/en/c/1254771/
[ii] Solidarity statement: Respect and protect the Mekong people’s rights to land and resources. (2019, September 21). Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://foodsov.org/solidarity-statement-respect-and-protect-the-mekong-peoples-rights-to-land-and-resources/
[iii] Fawthrop, T. (2020, June 03). Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam Dilemma. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/03/myanmars-myitsone-dam-dilemma/