Myanmar Cracks Down on Dams

Deputy minister says no new dams will be built and spending on existing ones will be halved.

Myanmar Cracks Down on Dams
Credit: Steve Photography/

No new irrigation dams will be built in Myanmar under the current government and spending on existing facilities will be halved given their questionable benefits for national development, a deputy minister reportedly said July 13.

With Myanmar’s irrigation dams failing to boost agricultural production and farmer welfare, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation Tun Win said that the government would suspend the building of new dams. He added that it had decided to halve maintenance spending for existing dams for the 2016-2017 fiscal year from 24 billion kyats ($20.3 million).

“It has become clear that building [irrigation] dams contributes nothing to national development,” The Irrawaddy quoted him as saying.

According to the deputy minister, despite large sums of money being spent on irrigation dams since 1988, cultivation of rice paddies through irrigation still makes up only ten percent of total cultivation as was the case before, with the remaining 90 percent depending on unpredictable rainfall. Furthermore, only 2 million acres of irrigated farmland out of around 15 million acres of monsoon paddies are in use, according to government estimates.

Alarmingly, Tun Win also noted that farmland was only supplied with irrigated water during the hot season from March to May, in spite of the fact that farmers needed water during the rainy season as well from June to September since droughts sometimes occur then too. In some cases, water had been stored in dams just for the sake of officials conducting investigations, the deputy minister said.

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“It is unacceptable that water was stored in dams just for official inspections,” he said. “We have instructed authorities to release water from dams whenever farmers need it.”

Last week, Myanmar also announced that it would dismantle about 200 river-water pumping stations.

According to Kyaw Myint Hlaing, director general of the Irrigation Department, there are currently 235 dams managed by the irrigation department, with only 190 of them actually able to provide water for irrigation. Of the remaining dams, 35 cannot distribute water and 10 cannot store water.