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Aung San Suu Kyi has made an appeal to the Burmese and Chinese governments and the international community to work towards lessening the impact of a major dam on Burma’s main river which experts claim could cause widespread ecological and social damage.
In a letter written yesterday and titled ‘Irrawaddy Appeal’, the opposition leader also called on foreign diplomats to help save what she described as “the most significant geographical feature of our country”.
The Irrawaddy River enters Burma from China in the far north and runs 2,170 kilometres south before it exits into the Andaman Sea. It is the country’s most important commercial waterway and the lifeblood of millions of Burmese.
But a major hydropower project in the upstream section in Kachin state threatens to displace 15,000 people and cause ramifications the length of the country. Upon completion in 2017, the 6000 MW Myitsone Dam, financed largely by China, will become the world’s fifteenth largest dam.
Ohn Kyaing, information officer for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said the letter, written in both Burmese and English, was a “serious and genuine appeal” and was distributed to international media and diplomats and UN officials inside Burma.
Despite the human and environmental cost of the project, the vast majority of the dam’s output will go to the China Southern Power Grid, despite only 20 percent of the Burmese population having regular access to electricity.
Last month, Burma Rivers Network (BRN) published a synopsis of a 2009 internal report by the China Power Investment (CPI) Corporation, the company behind the Myitsone dam, that had called for the lucrative venture to be scrapped, claiming it was both unnecessary and that the damage caused by it would be too costly.
Both BRN and CPI have warned that the dam’s impact on the hydrology of the river further downstream could be highly damaging.
Suu Kyi’s letter said that the “lack of sound planning, the failure to enforce necessary conservation laws, and a poor ecological awareness have created diverse problems”.
Referring to China’s role in the project, she added that “keeping in mind the interests of both countries, both governments would wish to avoid consequences which might endanger lives and homes”.