Ngo Chang Hka Dam

The stunningly beautiful, biodiverse Ngo Chang Hka valley, ancestral home of thousands of indigenous Kachin on the eastern Kachin State-China bor-der, is under threat from a cascade of four large hydropower dams planned by the Burmese government and Chinese investors. The dams, planned by China’s YEIG International Development Company Ltd. (YEIG) to produce 1,200 megawatts of electricity, will block theNgo Chang Hka, a tributary of the N’Mai River, one of the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River. The Ngo Chang Hka sustains the lives of over 4,500 peo-ple of Ngo Chang, Lachid, Lhao Vo, and Lisu ethnicities living in seventeen villages along the river valley in Chipwi and Sawlaw townships. These com-munities have lived sustainably in this area for over 1,000 years, cultivating farms along the steep-sided valley floor. Local people are strongly opposed to the dams, which have been planned without their knowledge or consent. They fear the loss of their ancestral homes, lands and culture, and the irreparable damage to their natural envi-ronment, including unique medicinal herbs growing along the river. Pollu-tion from ongoing molybdenum mining in the upper reaches of the Ngo Chang Hka will be worsened by the building of dams, with mining run-off caught in the dam reservoirs. Past experience of flash floods and earth-quakes also causes locals to fear disaster from potential dam breaks. The nearby Chipwi Nge hydropower dam, completed in 2013 by China Power Investment (CPI), provides a clear lesson of the negative impacts of large dams. Valuable farmlands were destroyed without proper compensa-tion, and villagers downstream now suffer from unpredictable releases of muddy, polluted water from the dam that destroy riverside crops, kill fish, and make bathing dangerous. Promised free electricity from the dam, local villagers now pay three times more for electricity than residents of Mandalay or Yangon. Only one third of the dam’s potential capacity is currently being used, due to a lack of transmission infrastructure.The Ngo Chang Hka villagers have blocked company personnel from sur-veying for the dams, have written an open letter to the President to stop the projects, and have publicly protested. However, the four dams are among 50 new large dams being pushed ahead by Burma’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy, to increase national hydropower capacity from about 3,000 to 45,000 megawatts, a large proportion of which is for export to other coun-tries.Chipwi and Sawlaw townships are active conflict areas, where fighting continues between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government aligned troops, and where thousands of villagers remain internally displaced. A root cause of the conflict is the dispute over control of land and natural resources. Therefore proceeding with the Ngo Chang Hka dams against the wishes of the local communities will be sure to further inflame the conflict. The Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) calls for an imme-diate cancellation of all planned large hydropower dams on the Ngo Chang Hka and other rivers in Kachin State. KDNG also demands that Burma’s current centralized national energy plans, which prioritize export of electric-ity, are abandoned. Future electricity development plans should conform to a federal decentralized model that prioritizes the power needs in each state first. Existing energy projects should be reviewed to ensure their capacity is being used primarily for the benefit of local populations. This will help forge local development and peace.