Kachin Locals Demand Halt to Mega-Development Projects

Monday, March 16, 2020

Locals in Kachin State have demanded a halt to the implementation of mega-development projects that negatively impact livelihoods and the environment.

The call came on International Rivers Day, commemorated on Saturday around the world, and locally in Lon Gar Zup village in Myitkyina Township, organized by Htoi Gender and Development Foundation and attended by more than 100 people. The objective of the event was to recognize the need to maintain rivers in their natural state, oppose projects that impact water sources, and to protect people’s rights to clean and sufficient water, and for them to be able to manage this resource themselves.

“The current government and future governments really need to implement development projects for the development of all people,” Doi Bu, vice chairperson for the Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) told NMG. “We need projects that do not negatively impact our people emotionally and physically. That’s why we want the government to carefully consider their projects.”

Zarli Htwe, a lawyer working with the Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, told NMG that the projects being implemented need to be more carefully considered by the government, regarding their social and environmental impacts.

“It won’t benefit our people if these projects impact our society and the environment negatively. The government has to work for the benefit of the people, so the government should listen to the voice of the people,” she said.

Those in attendance at the event in Lon Gar Zup also spoke out against the China-backed Myitsone dam project, on the confluence of the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. After widespread public discontent, construction was halted under the former administration led by Thein Sein, but locals are still calling for the dam to be permanently abandoned.

“We demand that the Myitsone dam project not be continued. We want them to understand our feelings. We want them to know how people are suffering. They should not only consider their businesses. We want them to create happiness for people,” a woman from U Pyit village who attended Saturday’s event, told NMG.

Another U Pyit resident, Ah Hser, said that locals depend on the Irrawaddy for both drinking water and for the cultivation of their crops and they want it to continue flowing freely.

“We don’t want the Irrawaddy River to be damaged. We want the Irrawaddy River to remain as it is. This project [the Myitsone dam] is likely to destroy the Irrawaddy,” he explained. “I don’t know how big the impact will be because of this project. We are not educated people, so I cannot predict the impact. But we want to see a beautiful river remain as it is.”

Existing agreements for international development projects were signed under previous governments and locals have pointed out that there was little to no transparency or consent from communities in the pursuit of these initiatives.