In the midst of Myitsone dam related controversy, with the National League for Democracy government torn between having to honor the previous military government contract and also have to be sensitive to the popular public dislike of the mega dam project, the Kachin state government shelving of a Inner Mongolian company’s proposal to conduct a feasibility study on the extraction of gold and other minerals is a welcome piece of information for the Kachin people and as well the whole country.
However, the name Inner Mongolia should not be misled as any other different state, because it is one of China’s autonomous regions, located in the north of the country and thus is the Chinese enterprise.
The project proposal was made by Inner Mongolia Duojin Investment Company Ltd, according to the Kachin State Forest Department, reported The Irrawaddy.
Reportedly, it is Myanmar’s largest national conservation area, a sanctuary which nearly triple the size of Singapore in Kachin’s northernmost township.
The proposed project covers an area of 492,900 acres in Putao township including Hkakaborazi National Park and its southern extension area, which together form the largest national park in the country, as well as the ASEAN Heritage Park-Hponkan Razi Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to globally threatened wildlife species including the black musk deer, red panda and white-bellied heron. The area also covers protected forests in the township’s Northern Mountain Forest Complex; these include subtropical evergreen forests, mixed deciduous forests, pine-rhododendron forests and alpine meadows, according to The Irrawaddy.
The proposal was dead on track when the Kachin state chief minister Khet Aung said: “I strongly dislike the project. It could destroy our heritage and ecosystem,” adding to show his intense disapproval, “how could I allow it?.”
The Forest Department started to review the company’s proposal and field study in January and on March 19 decided to preserve the area in the interests of coming generations.
Kyaw Kyaw Lwin deputy director of the state Forest Department said the project threatened to harm not only the national conservation areas but also the N’Mai Kha River, which is one of the main sources of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) river, the lifeline of Myanmar.
Apart from that, “The project faces a strong backlash from locals residents. It could easy provoke a conflict between the company and locals. That’s one reason that we decided to scrap the proposal,” he said.
Because of all these, the deputy director said they have decided not to allow that project. However, the Kachin state government has yet to issue an official decision on the matter.
“Gold mining is taking place in the headwaters of the Irrawaddy, the lifeline of the country and one of the greatest Asian rivers. It threatens the ecosystem of the entire river basin and along with it the livelihoods of about 20 million people,” wrote Images Asia Environment Desk and Pan Kachin Development Society published report titled: “At What Price? Gold Mining in Kachin State, Burma” in November 2004.
The report said: “Since the mid 1990s the artisanal mining mainly done by locals, has gradually been replaced by mechanized and thus more destructive practices. These include riverbed mining with bucket and suction dredges as well as hydraulic mining of river banks and large open cast and shaft mines. On land, more and more areas are deforested in order to make way for mining and to build the necessary infrastructure. Together with the mining activities, the use of the mining agent mercury has increased. Methods of mining that disturb increasingly large areas of land are spreading, including employment of cyanide leaching, as the most easily accessible alluvial gold is depleted and deposits deeper in the ground and in hard rock are exploited.”
“By its very nature gold mining is unsustainable and highly disruptive to the areas in which it takes place and of the downstream environment,” assessed the report rightly which is true today, as it was in 2004.
The undertakings at that time were mostly local and medium-size companies from China, but the recent Chinese company is a different category with large scale capacity and hence could be more devastated, reasoned the environmentalists.
And as such, scrapping the project proposal of Inner Mongolia Duojin Investment Company Ltd, the area which includes the headwaters of the Irrawaddy, is an appropriate undertaking and worthy of appraisal.
The Myitsone dam project planned to be built is at the confluence of the Mali Hka and N’Mai Hka rivers and the main sources of the Irrawaddy river, the same area proposed for China’s gold mining, that has been suspended since 2011 and causing controversy, as the NLD government wants to continue but the public are against it.
Hopefully, the Myitsone dam project denial will follow suit for the benefit of the people and sustenance of the environment.