Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Myanmar: Myitsone Dam -intimidation, corruption, eviction

A Kachin woman stands before the proposed site of the Myitsone Dam. Upwards of 15,000 people will be displaced by its construction, say activists

A dam being built in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State will displace more than 15,000 people, activists warn.

According to the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), based in Thailand, which has called for a halt to the dam’s construction, over 60 villages are being forced to relocate without proper resettlement plans.

Thousands will lose their livelihoods, including farming, fishing and non-timber forest product collection, the group claims.

“The government is going to drive us out of our village,” claimed Ma Jar*, a 40-year-old mother of three in Tanghpre, an agricultural village of just over 1,000. Until now she has never struggled to support her family, earning about US$1,500 per year from the djenkol bean trees, a local delicacy in Myanmar, she grows on her land.

Massive project

The Myitsone Dam - a joint effort by Myanmar’s military government and the China Power Investment Corporation and the China Southern Power Grid Cooperation – will inundate approximately 766 sqkm of pristine rainforest, creating a reservoir roughly the size of New York City, says International Rivers, an NGO based in the US.

Located 1.6km below the confluence of the Mali and N’Mai rivers, the source of the Ayeyarwady River - which bisects the country from north to south and empties into the Andaman Sea - the dam will be the largest of seven proposed along the three rivers.

Construction of the Myitsone Dam began at the end of 2009 and is expected to be completed in 2017. At an expected height of 152m, the dam will be the 15th largest hydroelectric power station in the world, producing 3,600MW of electricity which Myanmar’s military government will sell to China, bringing in over $500 million annually.

Running out of time

But with the May deadline to leave their homes approaching, many residents have expressed frustration over the lack of information about how much compensation they will receive and when.

“We have to leave in just over a month. We should have been told by now,” complained one.

Officials from the Asia World Company - a Burmese company facilitating the project - are reportedly calculating land size and property values of those affected, although no actual date has been confirmed.

“A flawed compensation process that has no independent oversight or accountability mechanisms is being carried out using intimidation by military authorities,” Ah Nan, a KDNG spokeswoman, claims.

To qualify, each land owner must produce a land title; however, in this rural state where armed conflicts have been raging for years, most people inherited their land and do not possess proper deeds, making it unlikely that they will be compensated at all, she says.

At the same time, those who do qualify may find that only building costs will be taken into account, and not the land, while calculations of farm land are based on only rough estimates.

For example, for plantations or orchards, it is assumed that only one tree is planted every 3m, regardless of how many actual trees are planted.

Moreover, villagers are being forced to sign compensation agreements regardless of their accuracy in calculating losses, with someone from the authorities coming to each household to demand their signature, the KDNG reports.

As a result, some residents are rushing to local authorities to receive certification letters attesting to ownership – a process many fear will prove ripe for corruption and bribery.

Meanwhile, those who have viewed the new relocation site where homes are being built near the village of Kyinkanlonkarzwut, between Myitsone and Myitkyina, to accommodate those affected, are not happy.

“The houses are very tiny and in a small compound… It’s far short of my expectations,” one woman complained, describing her current home as more than double the size of the new home being offered.

Risks and resistance

Some residents have even written to the country’s ruling military leader. In October, residents in Tanghpre submitted an open letter to Senior General Than Shwe detailing their opposition and requesting additional surveys to determine the dam’s long-term impact.

The dam is less than 100km from a major faultline, posing a risk to basin inhabitants should an earthquake weaken the dam structure or cause landslides in the reservoir. If the dam were to break during an earthquake, thousands would be at risk of flooding in Myikyina, Kachin State’s largest city, just 40km downstream, the group warned.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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