With permission from the Burmese junta, a Chinese electricity giant is building seven hydro-electric dams in Burma's northern region of Kachin. The biggest of them - the Myitsone Dam - will see the forced displacement of 15,000 people from surrounding villages.

After seven years of negotiation and assessment, construction on the Myitsone damn began on December 21 2009. At 150 metres in both height and width, the dam will produce between 3,600 and 6,000 megawatts of electricity (the world's biggest dam - the Three Gorges in China - produces 18,200). It will also generate up to 500 million USD (368 million euros) per year for the Burmese junta.

 

Assessment of prospective flood zones. Image posted on Burma Rivers Network.

A local pro-autonomy political organisation called the Kachin Development Networking Group says that 47 villages, located in the world's eighth most bio-diverse region of the world, will be flooded because of the dam. 

Dam plans. Image posted on Kachin News.

Village residents: “We don’t want to leave”

Video posted on YouTube by "KachinNewsGroup".

On October10 2009, Burmese army commander Soe Win met with villagers from the Myitsone confluence. A representative from the village of Tangphre explained why the locals don’t want to move.

“Fifteen-thousand people will lose the means to feed themselves, people will have to fight for work and for land”

Ah Nan is a member of the Kachin Development Networking Group and anti-dam activist.

The Burmese junta and the Chinese company building the dam really don't care about what will happen to the local people. Our organisation sent an open letter to China Power Investment Cooperation (CPI) on October 27, 2009. The letter included all our concerns about the violation of human rights in the region and the environmental problems which will be caused by the dam. We then sent another letter, signed by numerous expatriates from the Kachin province who now live around the world, to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Neither the CPI nor the Chinese government has responded. We've tried all sorts of ways to protest. But the project goes on.

Almost 60 villages are about to go through forced evacuation; but so far, no permanent relocation plans have been drawn up. There will be a number of new social problems to be faced. Fifteen-thousand people will lose the means to feed themselves, people will have to fight for work and for land; some will have to migrate to neighbouring countries in order to find it."

A Catholic church that will be submerged if the dam is built.

The land as it is now

 

Farmers on the banks of the Irrawaddy.

One of the homes that will be submerged after the dam is built.  

Fishing in the Irrawaddy.

“When you think that the electricity produced will only serve China!”

London based Hkanhpa Sadan is secretary general of the Kachin Development Networking Group. He's regularly in contact with the anti-dam activists in Burma. 

The locals, mostly farmers, were forcefully expelled by the army and put in makeshift camps where they can't farm or fish. Not to mention that their lives have been completely destroyed. They're 13 kilometres away from home and two kilometres from an army base. That way the soldiers can keep an eye on them. 

Future camps for the displaced, near to Myitkyina, Kachin province capital, January 2010.

The dam won't benefit the locals in any way. It's Chinese people who will come to work there, so no jobs will be created. When you think that the electricity produced will only serve China! And shipping Chinese workers into the region - who don't speak Burmese - will prove a real shock to the two communities.

On top of that, the impact on the environment will be enormous. The Irrawaddy is an important source for the whole region, and this dam will limit its biodiversity.

It also needs to be pointed out that the dam will sit on a fault line. If there should be an earthquake, a massive part of the region would be flooded and the repercussions could reach as far as towns like Mandalay [situated on the banks of the Irrawaddy, central Burma].

All of our cultural heritage is based on this confluence [the meeting of the Mali River and the N'Mai River]. At weddings, elders tell the story of the rivers meeting and becoming one. How will we explain such a thing to younger generations now?

Finally, the construction of the Myitsone Dam concerns our fight for self-autonomy in the province of Kachin. For 15 years now, the Independent Army of Kachin has respected a ceasefire negotiated with the Burmese army, but the conflict still exists. This dam will become a pretext for the junta to reinforce their troops and take further hold of the region."

The height of the dam marked by the "dam crest" sign. January 2010.

Ground-levelling machines of a Birman company, Asia World Co., working for the project. January 2010.

A storehouse built for the dam. January 2010.

Land-assessors study for foundation-laying. 2007.

A workers' camp set up by the construction company.