China Starts Burma's Tasang Dam amid Drought Crisis in Yunnan

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The Irrawaddy 27 March 2010

Chinese admissions about the extent of a severe drought in its southwest Yunnan Province bordering Burma coincide with an announcement that a Chinese-led consortium is beginning work a huge hydroelectric dam on the Salween River.

Dams built on major rivers running through Yunnan are being blamed for contributing to the current drought and the lowest water levels along the Mekong River for many years.

Three state-owned Chinese firms will work on the US $9 billion 7,100 megawatt capacity dam at Tasang on the Salween, confirmed the Chinese State Asset Supervision and Administration Commission.

The firms are China Three Gorges Corporation, Sinohydro Corporation and China Southern Power Grid.

The inclusion of China Southern Power Grid indicates that China is aiming to develop an infrastructure to transmit most of the electricity generated from the project into Yunnan.

Three Gorges Corporation manages one of the world's biggest hydroelectric projects, of the same name, on the River Yangtze in China—and is blamed for major environmental problems.

Burma has virtually no electricity grid outside of a narrow corridor between Rangoon and Mandalay and its generating capacity is barely 25 percent of the planned Tasang's capacity.

The Tasang dam is going ahead despite warnings from environmentalists that it will be ecologically damaging for Burma—and could lead to water shortages downstream.

China's central government has ordered a halt to some hydro dam project in Yunnan because of ecological concerns.

“Our neighbors' governments … should follow their own standards in Burma as well,” said the NGO Burma Rivers Network.