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Myanmar quietly announces plans to study controversial Chinese dam project suspended 13 years ago

In World
May 23, 2024

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Myanmar’s military government appears to be considering reviving a massive China-backed hydroelectric dam project, work on which was suspended more than a decade ago after protests over its possible impact on the environment.

A notice from the Information Ministry, published online in the latest issue of the government gazette on Tuesday, announced a new leadership team for the Myitsone hydropower project, which was put on hold in 2011 by Myanmar’s military-backed former president, Thein Sein.

The $3.6 billion project in the northern state of Kachin, along the country’s Irrawaddy River, was supposed to export about 90% of the electricity it generated to China, Myanmar’s northern neighbor.

China had considered the dam an important part of a national strategy to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and meet its targets to cut pollution. It lobbied strongly for its construction to resume, even after the suspension.

Environmental activists have said the dam would displace countless villagers and upset the ecology of the Irrawaddy River, one of the country’s most vital national resources,

Other opponents questioned the arrangement in which China would take 90% of the dam’s power, while nearly 70% of Myanmar at that time had no access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

Myanmar currently suffers from prolonged power outages that have become a major burden since the army seized power in February 2021, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Power cuts in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, now typically last eight hours a day.

The state-owned Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation reported early this month that the power supply has decreased due to inadequate power generation, a sudden increase in power consumption during a recent brutal heat wave and the destruction of electrical facilities by forces fighting against the country’s military government.

Current power production can meet only 50% of demand, it said.

It said a board for the Myitsone hydropower project was formed with 11 members from different departments. Aye Kyaw, a deputy minister of the Electricity Ministry, was appointed the board’s leader.

The notice, dated April 24, said the group would conduct research, consider technical solutions and handle public relations for the project in collaboration with the leadership team of China’s SPIC Yunnan International Power Investment company.

Any revival of the project will have to contend with the war being fought over much of Myanmar by pro-democracy guerrillas and their ethnic armed group allies against the military-run government installed after Suu Kyi was ousted.

Fighting has erupted in the nearby townships of Kachin’s capital, Myitkyina, in recent months as the troops from the powerful armed forces of the Kachin ethnic minority have reportedly captured dozens of army bases in the area.

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