Monday, September 26, 2011

Myitsone Dam study should be made public: Dr. Htin Hla

(Interview) – The chairman of the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), which conducted a study of the ecological and environmental impact of the Myitsone Dam project, has urged the Burmese government and Chinese company behind the project to allow the study to be made public. Under an agreement, BANCA does not have the authority to release the study, he said. BANCA studied the ecological and environmental impacts on the Irrawaddy valley for five months. A portion of the study was submitted to a government workshop in Naypyitaw on September 17. Mizzima reporter Tun Tun interviewed Htin Hla on the study and its findings.

Q: Rumours said that BANCA would soon hold a press conference on your Myitsone Dam study. Is that correct?

A: No, it’s not true. Soe Nyunt who works in ornithology and environment conservation misused my name and gave this information to the media without my permission. He didn’t consult me. They spread this information without informing us. We can talk about these matters only when the government allows us to, based on our agreement with the Chinese Power Investment (CPI) Corporation.

Q: Did you present your paper in the Naypyitaw workshop with the consent of the Chinese company?

A: Yes, they told us how much of the findings we could release. I could not say more than appeared in the news because the agreement bound us not to disclose our findings. If I say more than that, I would violate the agreement.

We rechecked this paper after they checked and edited it. They asked us to check that we didn’t put any blame on them. They deleted many findings. More findings of the report can be released only by them.

Q: What should be the role of environmental impact studies in regard to large-scale development projects of Burma?

A: In the development of our country, we must do long-term development and sustainable development. Development with destruction of the environment isn’t good. Development can not be sustained if the environment is damaged. Our descendants would be left with nothing. So we advocate sustainable development. The environment is the most important factor. We must do environmental impact assessments (EIA). Then we must find out potential impacts on land use, air use and water use. Then we can find compensatory and mitigating measures to the impacts. These methods will vary from place to place. If we can do EIA surveys, it will be good for sustainable development.

Q: What are some of the most serious areas in your study in terms of environment destruction?

A: Gold mining and logging have great impact on the environment. We were surprised to see uncontrolled logging in the study area. We did not expect the destruction of environment to be on such a scale. This is one of the surprising findings in our study. I don’t know how much they have done in this area.

Once the Myitsone had clear water and was very beautiful. Now the water is muddy due to the gold mining. With excess uncontrolled logging, the soil erosion was terrible and the water also became muddy. The Myitsone of 10 years ago was very different from what we see now. We were very surprised.

Gold mining is the worst thing in the area. There are many organizations and people doing this, which complicates the issue. We don’t know which organizations to hold responsible. This is the best area for greedy businessmen to reap handsome profits. We could not point our fingers to any one party. Many people were working there.

Another issue we found was the illegal wildlife trade. They were conducting this illegal trade freely. The Chinese like to eat certain wildlife. This is carried out in places that are hard to access and to find out exactly what is going on and who is responsible. We are concerned about the illegal wildlife trade in this area because there are many rare species and great biodiversity. If we can not control the poachers, all of these valuable resources will be diminished soon. When large numbers of Chinese workers come to this area, the consumption of wildlife meat will be high. I think the situation will be worsened. We urged the Chinese to stop this illegal trade. They assured us that they would prevent this as much as they could, but I don’t know how much they can do. This area is not peaceful, and we cannot visit there now.

Q: Do you think it is too late to use the findings of this study in more effective ways so that the environment can be protected?

A: We can still control certain damage if we undertake to do it right now. As we said in our report, if we can implement area management, we can contain the damage. But if we do these things two or years later, I could be too late. The lifespan of the dams will be shorter too, because the erosion will be high due to deforestation and the accumulation of sediments in the dam will be high too. I think we need to contain these things before it’s too late.

Q: In your report, you mentioned the negative and positive aspects of the dams. How can you predict negative impacts?

A: In an EIA study, we mention only potential impacts. Conclusive impact can be detected only after the completion of the dams. So we could  only talk about potential impact.

Q: Personally, do you think all the study’s findings should be made public?

A: Yes, I think so. I said so at the press conference. People should ask them (the Chinese company) to authorize us to disclose the findings in our study. If the government and CPI allow us, we can release it.

Q: Are there some things in your study that should be made known to the public?

A: Yes, exactly. I would like to say much more, but I am not authorized to do so. So I suggest people push the Chinese company to let me speak freely. It will be good for all parties. Then everything would be clear and transparent.

Factors to consider in dam construction:

1.    Dams damage rivers.
2.   Dams destroy potable water resources and ecology
3.    Fragmentation of rivers affects the migration of fish.
4.    Dams disrupt the transport of sediments.
5.    Collapse of dams may kill people living downstream and damage their houses.
6.    Dams are expensive and the economic and environmental benefits of dams are uncertain.
7.    Dams cause loss of habitats because of flooding.
8.    Dams cause damage to the natural flow of water, transport of sediment and simple eco system.
9.    Compensatory and mitigating measures can be undertaken, but cannot eliminate all impacts and damage.
10.  Dams may cause health risks to the people living in the vicinity of the dam site.
11.  Hydropower is not clean energy.
12.  Reservoirs emit greenhouse gases.
13.  Using modern technology such as solar energy can reduce the need for dams.
14.  Environmental damage and degradation of human development is non-sustainable.
15.  The ecological, socioeconomic and health costs associated with dams should all be considered.
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