Hkawn Tawng, a Kachin widow, was forced to move from her original home close to the confluence where the Irrawaddy river is formed in northern Kachin State nearly a decade ago on the orders of the government to make way for the Myitsone mega-dam project.
Her new home in the Aung Myin Thar “model village” built by the Chinese firm behind the Myitsone project and its local partner Asia World, is no longer structurally sound. A problem shared by many of the homes in Aung Myin Thar which is built on a floodplain. Her home was left severely damaged by strong winds on May 19th and since the storm, she has had to abandon her home altogether.
“My house had been damaged for a long time but I could still live in the house. Now I can’t live in my house. It’s really bad when it rains. I can’t sleep in my house. I already told the respective authorities about it. They promised to fix my house. Then the carpenters came to see my house to repair it. The carpenters said they could not fix the house and it would be better to construct a new house but I am a widow. I can’t afford to construct a new house,” Daw Hkawn Tawng told Kachin News Group (KNG).
The firm which was then known as China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) but is now called State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) and its local partner Asia World, built the houses between 2009 and 2011 for villagers who were ordered by the government to move to make way for the Myitsone dam. According to relocated villagers the houses were built by Asia World quickly using poor materials. Asia World, is a large Myanmar conglomerate founded by Lo Hsing Han, a former militia leader infamously dubbed the “Godfather of Heroin” by American officials. Today the firm is run by his son Steven Law also known as Htun Myint Naing.
Within months of their completion, many of the houses that Asia World built in both Aung Myint Thar and another model village across the river at Maliyang started to fall apart. Although the Myitsone project was officially suspended in September 2011, the displaced villagers remain barred from returning to their original villages.
As Hkawn Tawng’s neighbor Marip Lura, a well-known activist and strong opponent of the dam project explained to KNG the villagers have faced many difficulties since they arrived at Aung Myin Thar and Maliyang. “The houses were not built well. Almost all the houses in our village are broken. Some houses were completely broken and people cannot live in them”, Marip Lu Ra explained.
“They have faced economic hardship. Therefore they cannot afford to repair their houses. They (companies) are fully responsible. They forced us to relocate here” added Marip Lu Ra who is one of the most outspoken of the relocated villagers.
The shoddy construction and poor conditions the relocated villagers have been forced to endure were documented in a 2013 report by Mungchying Rawt Jat (MRJ), a local Kachin CSO that works with landless villagers. The report called “Model villages are not a model” noted that the houses at Aung Myin Thar were built by CPI and Asia World Company and while representatives of the firms claimed that the villagers would get better houses than they had before, this proved to be completely untrue.
“The roofs have blown off and leaked during rain; houses are tilting, and the floors have been flooded during the past two years. There is no land for local people to sustain a livelihood. People are suffering from diarrhea, malaria, influenza, paralysis, and mental problems in the camp and their health condition is getting worse,” the 2013 report noted. Hkawn Tawng’s ongoing difficulties show little has changed for the villagers in the years since the MRJ report was released.