- 4th February 2020
- Posted by: Miranda Pont
- Category: Blog
Duncan Faulkner, Head of Hydrology has recently returned from Myanmar where he was visiting irrigation and hydro-power infrastructure as part of an international project: Strengthening Integrated Flood Risk Management.
The project aims to assist eight countries in strengthening knowledge and capacity for applying Integrated Flood Risk Management (IFRM) approaches to the design and implementation of flood management solutions for greater effectiveness and sustainability. This project is funded by the Asian Development Bank, we are working in association with Landell Mills Ltd and delivering on behalf of the National Governments of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Viet Nam.
During his time in Myanmar, Duncan visited major irrigation infrastructure on some of the tributaries of the Irrawaddy River, and here he reflects on his experiences:
We have been driving for hours from our hotel: at least three hours, up to eight one day, through arid bush country with acacias and even the occasional eucalyptus. Through paddy fields where workers are completing the rice harvest, often by hand. Every encounter, every overtaking manoeuvre, every herd of Zebu cattle on the road necessitates a blast on the horn. I’m amazed it hasn’t worn out by now.
The track twists as it climbs through forest, past towering bamboos, and in the distance we spot our long-awaited objective, distinctive with its white-painted ribs marking drainage channels on the dam face, and the enormous dam name marked out in Myanmar script, on the blue, yellow and green of the national flag.
We are directed to a building sited above the dam embankment, where a reception committee are waiting. Before we can make a move, our driver leaps out and opens the car door. We receive a low bow and are offered a plastic-wrapped airline-style wet towel from a tray.
A dozen engineers and staff smile and we are welcomed into a conference room, ushered to the sofa at the front while others sit behind us. At the back of the room, waiters emerge from a kitchen, bringing fragrant green tea in lidded china mugs, coffee, slices of melon and crispy salted miniature fish, caught in the reservoir. It’s taking me a while, but I’m starting to learn the 5-syllable Burmese word for thank you.
There is a PowerPoint presentation loaded but already Tony and I are off our seats, looking with the regional engineer at the display on the front wall of the room, which shows plan and sectional drawings of the dam and spillways, along with formulae and tables giving stage-volume and stage-discharge relationships. After lunch we are invited out to a convoy of vehicles, led by a motorbike whose rider will go ahead to open gates and doors.
The dam tour gets underway: the main spillway, the auxiliary spillway, the radial gates, the repairs to the cavernous hole gouged out by a thousand tons of water per second thundering down the concrete chute, the echoing cathedral housing Chinese-made hydroelectric turbines and generators. The control rooms are very like those I have visited at Irish hydropower dams. The valve is the size of a large car that can release water when the turbines are not needed or not capable.
Much of the water is used twice: once for power generation and then again when it is abstracted from the river a few miles downstream at a diversion weir. From there it flows into a vast arterial network of canals, watering a twice-yearly crop of rice, along with beans, sorghum and cotton to feed and clothe this vast, fertile, industrious, fascinating but also troubled country.