Myanmar’s mega-dams

New Oxford research explores the dynamic between dam builders and campaigners in Myanmar.

Researchers at the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment recently completed the first academic study on the politics of mega-dam construction in Myanmar. Scholars investigating large dam developments in Asia usually focus on dam campaigners, rather than the target of their campaigns ‒ the dam developers. Yet the perspective of dam developers is crucial to comprehensively understand the dynamics of social and environmental activism in Asia, as well as its implications for the region’s energy landscape.

The new study analyses the interplay of anti-dam activists and Chinese dam developers in Myanmar via two case studies: the Myitsone Dam and the Mong Ton Dam. The research is based on interaction with both activists and dam developers and includes data from some of the first scholarly interviews carried out with Chinese dam developers.

The authors present evidence of change from both sides: domestic activists have professionalized in recent years and now employ tactics comparable to those of activists in Europe and the United States; Chinese dam developers now attempt to engage with civil society, albeit with limited success in the two cases studied. Yet, even with these changes, conflict over dam development persists and Myanmar may soon face severe limitations to development options for improving water and energy security. The authors also discuss the case of Bhutan to illustrate the potential for developing Myanmar’s hydropower resources.

The new study, which was published in the International Journal of Water Resources Development, can be accessed here.

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