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Myanmar bishops call for full shutdown of Myitsone Dam

Resumption of dam construction would be like inviting a human tragedy, bishops say

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Myanmar bishops call for full shutdown of Myitsone Dam

People from Kachin State take part in a protest against the Myitsone Dam project in Waimaw, Kachin State, on April 22. The controversial dam, a US$3.6 billion Beijing-backed project originally designed to supply most of its electricity to China, was halted by Myanmar in 2011 following protests over environmental and safety concerns. (Photo by Zau Ring Hpra/AFP)

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Catholic bishops in Myanmar have jointly called for the complete shutdown of the China-backed Myitsone Dam.

In a statement released June 8, the bishops pleaded for all dam stakeholders “to review the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State and stop it permanently” for the sake of the country’s people.

“[The] River Irrawaddy runs through the heart of our nation nourishing millions of our people, flora and fauna with water for livelihood and life,” the statement said. “To the people of Myanmar, the history of [the] River Irrawaddy is intertwined with our joys and our sorrows.”

The bishops said the resumption of the mega dam would further displace thousands of people.

“It is like inviting a human tragedy,” they said, adding that scientists have warned the building of the dam increases the risk of disasters and humanitarian tragedies.

“The promised economic benefits that are thought to come from the dam are no match for the social and ecological disturbances that will certainly come,” the bishops said.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon and 18 bishops from 16 dioceses signed the statement after a biannual meeting held in Yangon on June 4-7.

The US$3.8 billion project on the Irrawaddy, Myanmar's premier waterway, was being built to provide hydroelectricity that would be used almost exclusively in neighboring China.

The dam's construction resulted in some 3,000 people being relocated from their homes to newly built villages.

The military-backed government of then president Thein Sein suspended construction in September 2011, but China has vigorously called for work to resume on the project.

Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw in Kachin State said the joint statement from the bishop’s “reflects the Church’s stance on the dam’s impact on both the environment and on the people.”

The Kachin bishop added that Myitkyina, Banmaw and Lashio dioceses of Myanmar have already discussed the dam’s effect regionally.

In April, Cardinal Bo sent letters calling for a permanent end to the dam to Myanmar’s President Win Myint, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Cardinal Bo also sent one, written in the Chinese language, to China’s President Xi Jinping.

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