Nixed China Aid Leaves Myanmar Agency in Debt, Citizens in Danger

Without assistance for a tunnel, an irrigation department is in debt and hundreds of thousands are at risk from flooding.

Nixed China Aid Leaves Myanmar Agency in Debt, Citizens in Danger
Credit: Irrawaddy River image via Steve Photography/

China’s refusal to deliver on pledged aid for the construction of a tunnel across Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River has left the Irrawaddy Division’s irrigation department millions of dollars in debt and hundreds of thousands of people at risk of flooding in what could be yet another case of Beijing’s troubling record on infrastructure in Southeast Asia, an official told The Irrawaddy.

After Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to provide disaster relief funds to Myanmar during a visit to China by then-president Thein Sein last September, the Department of Irrigation in Irrawaddy Division’s Hinthada Township had begun building a tunnel across the Irrawaddy River in Zalun Township and even borrowed 2 billion kyats ($1.67 million) from the National Disaster Management Committee.

But according to an article published in The Irrawaddy June 10, the department’s assistant director, Tharyar, told the publication that the money from China never came, leaving the department with 5.5 billion kyats ($4.6 million) in debt from both project investments as well as debt owed to borrowers. Construction of the project had already begun in February this year and around 90 percent of it was completed by April.

“We implemented this project with the knowledge that China would assist us. They also inspected the project while it was already in the process of being implemented. [But then] China said, citing its policy, that it would not give [financial assistance] for ongoing and completed projects, only for new projects,” he said.

“We had no budget allotted for this project from the national budget or from funds [from the Disaster Management Central Committee]. We have no idea how to solve this,” Tharyar added.

The purpose of the tunnel, the department said, was to divert the flow of the Irrawaddy River to prevent erosion in a number of townships. Tharyar said that the government should consider submitting a proposal to Parliament to allot money from next year’s budget because without the tunnel to divert water flow, there is a greater risk that the river dyke would collapse, thereby putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk.