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Myanmar cardinal steps up fight to stop dam

Political leaders urged to resist pressure to resume China-backed Myitsone Dam project

Myanmar cardinal steps up fight to stop dam

People stage a protest about the Myitsone Dam project in Waimaw, Kachin State, on April 22. The controversial dam was halted by Myanmar in 2011 following protests over environmental and safety concerns. (Photo by Zau Ring Hpra/AFP)

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has made a passionate plea to all stakeholders to stop any effort to dam the Irrawaddy River.

In a video message marking Myanmar’s New Year on April 17, he appealed to Myanmar and Chinese leaders not to resume the stalled Myitsone Dam project.

“We are deeply concerned and worried. There are signs that extreme pressure is being brought on our leaders to restart the Myitsone Dam,” Cardinal Bo said.

“Millions stand to lose their livelihoods. Environmental and economic catastrophes are already predicted by the scientific community.”

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

By 2010, the dam's construction had caused at least 3,000 people to be relocated from their homes to newly built villages.

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

Cardinal Bo, 70, said China is a superpower and has been an all-weather friend to Myanmar, but it could contribute to the welfare of millions by stopping the project and helping Myanmar’s poor in many other ways.

“Once again, with tears in our eyes, our hearts burdened with the impending risks to millions, we plead with all stakeholders to stop the dam once and for all,” he said.

“The Irrawaddy is a sacred mother to all of us. Kindly annual the agreement. Our military and civilian leadership, we strongly believe, always keep the welfare of the poor people of Myanmar in their plans.

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“The resources of Myanmar belong to the people of Myanmar. The Myitsone Dam sadly does not benefit the people of Myanmar.”

Cardinal Bo has sent letters to Myanmar’s President Win Myint, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. He also sent one to China’s President Xi Jinping in the Chinese language.

In January, the outspoken cardinal called on all stakeholders to stop the dam project as it is an “environmental disaster” and “a death sentence” for the people of Myanmar.

Suu Kyi is visiting China to attend the Belt and Road Forum on April 26 where she is due to hold a bilateral meeting with the Chinese president. She has urged people to be open-minded about megaprojects and said her government would make decisions responsibly.

Renewed concerns over the project follow a December visit by Chinese ambassador Hong Liang to Kachin State, where he met with political parties and social organizations.

Amid a Chinese drive to restart the dam project, prominent environmentalists, activists and writers established a nationwide committee on April 1 to oppose the scheme.

Several protests about the dam were also held in Yangon and Kachin State in recent months.

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