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Protest against Myitsone dam project in Yangon Protest against Myitsone dam project in Yangon.  (ANSA)

Myanmar cardinal lashes out at controversial dam on Irrawaddy

Cardinal Charles Bo says people must resist Chinese attempts to restart $3.8m Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River.

By Robin Gomes

Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar is vehemently opposing the China-backed Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River saying it is “the death sentence” to the people of Myanmar.

In a January 28 press release, the Archbishop of Yangon appealed to all stakeholders to stop the project saying the controversial dam is an "environmental disaster" that will deprive millions of farmers of their livelihood in a nation where 80 per cent of the population depends on agriculture. 

Livelihood at stake

"The grim prospect of millions of farmers losing their livelihood, the abuse of sacred sites along the rivers, the death and destruction of the precious flora and fauna of our dear nation, are becoming a nightmarish reality," he said.

In an earlier message on the occasion of Christmas 2017, Cardinal Bo had spoken against the project, urging the people of Kachin state to protest against the $3.8 billion dam , a massive hydroelectric power development project, 90 per cent of whose electricity is expected to go to China.

By 2010, the dam's construction had caused the relocation of at least 3,000 people.  The military-backed government of President Thein Sein suspended construction in September 2011, but China has vigorously called for the resumption of the project. 

Pawning mother to greedy superpower 

“Faced with the sad prospect of losing our mother Irrawaddy, through Myitstone dam, to the greed of a superpower,  every Myanmar citizen pleads with all people of good will to come to the support of the poor of Myanmar,” the cardinal wrote in the release message entitled, “Stop Trafficking Our  Mother  Irrawaddy”.

Regarding Irrawaddy more than a river, the cardinal said she is a sacred mother whose history is intertwined with that of the nation and its people; it is a commodity that cannot be bartered.  “She is our hope, she is our destiny.”

Concerns over the resumption of the Myitstone dam grew after a December visit by Ambassador Hong Liang of China to Kachin where he met with political parties and social organizations.  Two weeks later, the Chinese embassy released a statement saying the local Kachin community were not against the project but some outside individuals and social organizations were objecting.

Three Kachin political parties quickly refuted the Chinese claim.

Cardinal Bo decried the “big and powerful countries” who want everything from the nation.  “For decades, they abused its strategic position to threaten Myanmar. They commodified our girls and women through human trafficking in the northern states of Myanmar," he alleged. 

The outspoken cardinal compared those who support restarting the dam project to “sons and daughters who commodify their parents for monetary gain”. "History will never forgive those who sell our mother Irrawaddy," he warned and hoped that the country’s “leaders will resist all efforts to destroy our nation’s destiny and dignity”.

 

Please find below the full text of Card. Bo’s press release:

                                              Stop Trafficking Our Mother Irrawaddy

We the people of Myanmar,  with tears in our eyes, our hearts shaken by fear and sorrow, knock at the doors of our rulers and the international community.   Faced with the sad prospect of losing our mother Irrawaddy, through Myitstone dam, to the greed of a superpower,  every Myanmar citizen pleads with all people of good will to come to the support of the poor of Myanmar.

Irrawaddy is not a river to us,  she is not a commodity to be bartered.  She is the sacred mother of every Myanmar people.  Her history is intertwined with the history of Myanmar. Like the jewel around the neck of our nation, Irrawaddy traverses through the whole nation crossing thousands of miles.   She is witness to our sorrows, joys and wounded history.   She is our hope, she is our destiny.

For a nation of agriculture, where 80 per cent of the people lives by farming,  Irrawaddy is an unfailing accompanier in their livelihood.   Her Majesty, her dancing down the mountains, her mystic meandering through the soul of the nation,  her generosity to the poor farmers, make Irrawaddy the nations' sacred identity.    For thousands of sacred sites along the banks of Irrawaddy,  this river is the most sacred symbol of our nation.

This sacred mother is now open for trade.   Big and powerful countries need everything from this nation. For decades, they abused its strategic position for threatening Myanmar. They commodified our girls and women through human trafficking in the northern states of Myanmar.  The same sad fate now falls on our Mother Irrawaddy.

The recent events in the country have further, unfortunately, increased the leverage of certain countries over our nation.  Threats and blackmail are used with impunity.           

This is the moment of heart-wrenching tragedy.  

Myitstone dam is the death sentence to the people of Myanmar. The grim prospect of millions of farmers losing their livelihood, the abuse of sacred sites along the rivers, the death and destruction of the precious flora and fauna of our dear nation,  is becoming a nightmarish reality.  This dam is an environmental disaster. Myitstone dam is a toxic cognac for chronic war.  Peace will fade in the horizon.  A bleak future awaits the people of Myanmar. We do not deserve this.

For the peaceful future,  Myitstone dam must be stopped.  The former President U Thein Sein took the courageous step of stopping the dam work.  We believe all those inside Myanmar will support the move to abrogate any treaty that abuses Mother Irrawaddy.  Those who support the restarting Myitstone dam are like sons and daughter who commodify their parents for monetary gains.  History will never forgive those who sell our mother Irrawaddy.

On behalf of all the people of Myanmar,  especially the poor farmers, we earnestly request all stakeholders to stop their attempts to abuse our mother Irrawaddy.  We earnestly request the people of Myanmar to join hands in protecting the dignity of our mother Irrawaddy.  We are hopeful that our leaders will resist all efforts to destroy our nation’s destiny and dignity.

+Charles Cardinal Maung Bo., DD , SDB

30 January 2019, 14:08