By Devin Watkins
The proposed construction site for the Myitsone Dam lies at the source of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State.
Plans were laid for the dam in 2001 with the goal of setting up 64 hydroelectric plants to generate electricity.
Former President Thein Sein put the project on hold in September 2011.
But fears that work could resume have prompted Myanmar’s Bishops to renew their appeal for the government to officially terminate the project.
“We, the Catholic Bishops of Myanmar, representing the Catholic Christians of 16 dioceses, earnestly request all stakeholders to seriously reconsider the ill-conceived Myitsone dam in Kachin State.”
In an official statement sent to the Fides News Agency, the Bishops say their plea “is for all our brothers and sisters in the whole of Myanmar, whose life story is the story of our ‘sacred Mother’, the Irrawaddy River.”
The proposed dam has long stirred controversy, due to damage that would be caused to the river’s vast floodplain by its modified flow.
Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, has twice stepped into the fray with pleas for an end to the project.
Fault lines exposed
In this most recent appeal, the Bishops say the Irrawaddy “runs through the heart of our nation, nourishing millions of people, flora, and fauna with water for livelihood and life” and is deeply intertwined in the lives of the people of Myanmar.
Scientists, they say, have “have identified serious fault lines below the river’s courses and building a dam might expose the lines to greater pressure and consequent mega-disaster.”
Relocation of millions
By 2010, construction on the Myitsone dam had already forced the government to relocate some 3,000 people to newly-build villages.
The Bishops say the dam would drive millions more from their homes and would provoke “a humanitarian catastrophe” and the migration of thousands of people.
Peace over profit
“For a lasting peace in the region, the Irrawaddy River needs to be left intact,” they assert. “The promised economic benefits that are thought to come from the dam are no match to the social and ecological disturbances that will certainly come.”
“Peace,” say Myanmar’s Bishops, “will become a distant dream. After decades of conflict, Myanmar deserves to rise to a new life, enriched with creative opportunities, rather than to life deprived of the abundant life-giving waters of the Irrawaddy.”