Earthquake Raises Concerns Over Mega Dams

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Originally published in The Irrawaddy

Frequent earthquakes in North Burma this year have raised more concern over the military government’s plan to build a series of mega dams on the Irrawaddy River to generate electricity.

A 5.3-magnitude earthquake hit China’s border with Burma early on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing more than 1,000 people to evacuate, the US Geological Survey and Chinese state media said. (Photo: AFP)
Aung Wa, the chairman of the Kachin Development Network Group (KDNG) who is based in Laiza on the Burma-China border, said four earthquakes have struck in Kachin State so far this year.
Naw Lar, the coordinator of the KDNG dam research project, said military authorities should reconsider plans to build dams on the Irrawaddy River, Burma’s most important commercial waterway.

“Burma’s military regime should learn from China,” said Naw Lar. “It is not too late for the regime to re-think and halt its planned dam projects if they seriously think about the impact of earthquakes in Sichuan Province in southwest China.”

The Sichuan earthquake in May killed more than 40,000 people and millions of people in the earthquake zone lived in fear of the potential failure of hydroelectric power dams there. One dam was seriously threatened, but none failed.

Meanwhile, a joint inspection team from China and Burma are engaged in surveying the seven dam projects, which will generate an estimated 13,360 MW in Kachin State in North Burma, a region that is on an earthquake fault line that runs through China’s Yunnan Province.

Naw Lar said Burma and China should abandon the dam scheduled to be constructed near Myitsone on a confluence of the Irrawaddy River. The dam, the largest of the proposed structures, is considered to be the most vulnerable to earthquakes.

According to a KDRG report, “Damming the Irrawaddy,” the Myitsone dam is located less than 100 kilometers from a fault line where the Eurasia and India tectonic plates meet.

Since 2006, the dam projects have been in a roll out phase by the Hydropower Project Implementation Department under the Ministry of Electric Power (1) and China Power Investment Corporation (CPI).

“If the Myitsone dam is built and breached by an earthquake, Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State with more than 140,000 people, will be at risk and hundreds of thousands of people in Waingmaw, Sinbo and Bhamo Townships along the Irrawaddy River will be under water,” said Naw Lar.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said the tremor on Wednesday destroyed buildings and about 1,200 people were forced to evacuate their homes near the epicenter, an area populated by large numbers of ethnic minorities.

Many homes collapsed in Sudian, China, and other towns reported damage, Xinhua reported.

The Burmese community in Laiza said the quake was stronger than others in the recent past.