Thursday, 21 August 2008

Earthquake Raises Concern over Mega Dams

The Irrawaddy News

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 struck near the Burma-China border on Wednesday, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). No deaths were reported.

The quake was reported at 5:35 a.m. (2135 GMT) located 224 kilometers from Dali in southwest China and 65 kilometers from Myitkyina in Burma, according to a statement on the USGS Web site.

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 KDNG 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.

Children Die in Chin State Famine

The Irrawaddy News

More than 30 children have died in a famine in Chin state, western Burma, according to the Chin National Council, an exile rights group.

The famine was caused by a plague of rats, which ate rice stocks in many of the state’s villages.

Another Chin group, the Chin Human Rights Organization, said the famine had hit about 20 percent of the state’s population, or at least 100,000 people.

“They have no food,” said Lian H Sakhong, a leader of the Chin Humanitarian and Relief Committee. “Unless we provide sufficient relief soon, the situation will become worse.”

He pleaded with donors to contact the Chin Humanitarian and Relief Committee so that relief can be rushed to the stricken areas.

The famine occurs about every 50 years when the flowering of a native species of bamboo gives rise to an explosion in the rat population. The International Rice Research Institute has warned of “widespread food shortages” because of the crisis.

Migrants Flow out of Burma as Economic Woes Deepen

In an area called "Kamtieng" of Chiang Mai, Thailand, each morning several hundred labourers, mostly from Burma, gather in the hope of getting a days work. Pick-up trucks stop to recruit the workers they need. Most are employed in construction and gardening. (Photo: John Hulme)

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s economic troubles have been a boon to human traffickers in recent months, keeping them busy at a time of year when wet conditions traditionally slow the flow of migrants across the border into Thailand.

A source who is involved in smuggling migrant workers from Burma to Thailand estimated that about 300 Burmese migrants are illegally transported to Bangkok each day from border areas such as Mae Sot, Three Pagodas Pass, Mae Sai and Ranong.

The most popular crossing point is Mae Sot, which is separated from the neighboring Burmese town of Myawaddy by the Moei River. Burmese routinely cross the river, either over the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge, which links the two towns, or on inflated inner tubes.

According to the source, who is based in Mae Sot, about 150 people are smuggled from Mae Sot to Bangkok every day.

Three Pagodas Pass, near the Thai town of Sangkhlaburi, is another major point of entry, with around 60 Burmese migrants leaving the area for Bangkok daily, according to local businessman Nai Lawi Mon.

Some local observers suggested that the steady influx was due to the impact of Cyclone Nargis, which slammed into Burma’s largely agricultural Irrawaddy delta on May 2-3, destroying cropland and leaving many farmers without any means of making a living.

“Normally, very few people come to Thailand during the rainy season,” said Nai Lawi Mon. “But this year we are seeing more and more people coming.”

Cyclone Nargis hit Burma at a time when inflation and unemployment were already at their highest levels in years, forcing a growing number of Burmese to flee to neighboring countries in search of work.

It is estimated that there are more than a million Burmese migrants living and working in Thailand, of whom around 500,000 are registered with the Thai Ministry of Labor.

The perils of their journey were highlighted in April, when 54 Burmese migrants suffocated to death while being transported in a container truck from Ranong, near the Burmese border town of Kawthaung, to the Thai resort island of Phuket.

Although the tragedy prompted officials to step up efforts to stem the tide of illegal migrants into Thailand, Burmese continue to make the trip in a desperate bid to find jobs to support themselves and their families.

Many end up in Mahachai, home to the highest concentration of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. Located a short distance from Bangkok, Mahachai attracts thousands of Burmese with low-paying jobs in the fish processing industry that are shunned by most Thais.

Mi Wot arrived in Mahachai a week ago and is still looking for work. She said she paid 460,000 kyat (US $383) for the trip. She made the journey, her first into Thailand, with ten other people, hiding in the back of a truck under a tarpaulin for three nights. The trip took so long, she explained, because of the numerous checkpoints along the way.

While Thai efforts seem to be doing little to prevent illegal migration into the country, the Burmese authorities have been carrying out a crackdown on their side of the border that appears to be having some effect, at least for now.

According to Maung Tu, a local businessman in Kawthaung, the human traffic into the neighboring Thai province of Ranong has slowed perceptibly in recent weeks.

Normally, several hundred people cross into Thailand each day; at the moment, the flow has been reduced to a trickle of around 30-50 people a day, according to sources in the area. Similar numbers have been reported in Mae Sai, near the Burmese town of Tachilek.

Meanwhile, the cost of smuggling migrants from Mae Sot to Bangkok has increased by about 2,000 Baht ($58) recently. It now costs 14,000 Baht ($412) make the trip to the Thai capital, sources said.

Junta Disrobes, Charges Leading Monk - Gambira

The Irrawaddy News

The leader of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA), Ashin Gambira, has been disrobed by the authorities and charged with multiple criminal offenses in the aftermath of the 2007 uprising.

His lawyer, Aung Thein, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Gambira told him the authorities disrobed him after his arrest in November 2007 without following traditional procedures or consulting relevant monks’ organizations.

“Ashin Gambira said the authorities, under Buddhist rules, had no right to disrobe him or to charge him with criminal offenses,” said Aung Thein.

The ABMA was a key organization behind the 2007 nationwide uprising.

Gambira appeared in court on Wednesday in Insein Prison with three other monks and five citizens, all of who face multiple charges under State Offence Act 505 A or B, Immigration Act 13/1, Illegal Organization Act 17/1, Electronic Act 303 A and Organization Act 6.

His lawyer said the charges have to do with immigration laws, contacting banned organizations, illegal contacts with foreign organizations through the Internet and other offenses.

The next court date for Gambari and his colleagues was set for August 27, said Aung Thein.

Since 1962, many monks have been arrested and charged with criminal offenses, say people familiar with the military government.

Burmese monks, often joined by students and laborers, have been leaders in many demonstrations protesting military rule. Monks were in the vanguard of the 2007 uprising in which hundreds of thousands of people across the country staged demonstrations in the largest mass uprising since 1988.

The regime is also believed to have killed monks, hundreds of whom remain in prison or are still missing.

The Burmese junta officially supports Theravada Buddhism and has banned other forms of Buddhism.

“During British colonial rule, some monks were arrested for their political activities and imprisoned, but they were never disrobed by the colonizers,” said Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, which has offices in Thailand.

“Under the junta, many monks have been arrested and disrobed for their conscientious objection. on this basis alone, the junta’s Buddhist faith is called into question,” he said.

Making Intervention Work

Improving the UN's Ability to Act

Morton Abramowitz and Thomas Pickering

From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008

Summary: The UN must streamline its decision making process so it can start backing up its lofty words with action.

Morton Abramowitz is a Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation and former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand and Turkey. Thomas Pickering is Vice Chair of Hills & Company and has served as U.S. Ambassador to six countries and the United Nations.

In May, Cyclone Nargis struck southern Myanmar (also known as Burma), killing over 80,000 people and leaving millions homeless and in dire conditions. For weeks after the storm, Myanmar's military junta blocked and delayed international relief efforts while doing little to aid survivors.

Despite heated condemnation from capitals throughout the world, the international media, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Myanmar's government was exceedingly slow in allowing foreign aid and foreign relief workers into the affected area. Myanmar -- already a humanitarian disaster before the cyclone -- has once again starkly exposed the international community's inability to face down governments that massively mistreat their people. It is time for the international community to reduce the disparity between words and deeds.

In the past few decades, there have been remarkable advances in the fields of human security and human rights. Democratic governments and civil-society organizations have increasingly spoken out against wanton human rights abuses, violence against minorities, and the dangers of unchecked state sovereignty. Terms such as "never again" and appeals for "humanitarian intervention" and a "responsibility to protect" have become commonplace as concerned countries have sought to prevent man-made crises or halt them before they descend into mass violence. Treaties such as the United Nations' Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and an international criminal judicial system have been developed to limit states' power to harm their own citizens and their neighbors.

In the face of certain humanitarian disasters, such as Serbian violence against Albanians in Kosovo during the late 1990s, the world has reacted strongly to end the atrocities. Some international efforts have come too late: in Bosnia in the 1990s, Sierra Leone at the turn of the century, and Liberia in 2003. And there are ongoing humanitarian emergencies today in repressive states such as North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe and broken states such as Somalia. These countries have remained largely immune to international pressure; meanwhile, their citizens continue to suffer. Rising public concern, media attention, and pressure from grass-roots organizations have helped ensure that governments do not simply avert their gaze. All of this attention has also helped produce significant diplomatic activity (as in Darfur) and has generated large sums of money to assist refugees and displaced people fleeing violence and ruin. Unfortunately, it has not been enough to put an end to the worst crises.

In an ideal world, noncoercive efforts would produce better behavior. But states persecuting their own people are rarely responsive to peaceful gestures. General sanctions also have their limitations; they tend to hurt already-suffering populations and have little impact on government policies, as was the case in Iraq during the 1990s and as is happening in Myanmar today. Sanctions that target regime leaders (especially their finances) are more promising, but preventing leaders from entering the United States or doing business there -- two cookie-cutter sanctions Washington often employs -- does not seem to have much of an impact.


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