A River on the China-Myanmar Border Mysteriously Turned Red

The Shweli River turned red alarming local residents. Picture: Kanbawzatai News


The waters of the Shweli river in northeastern Myanmar have turned red, prompting concerns about pollution along a major corridor of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Residents and politicians blame Chinese factories upstream, raising questions about accountability for the impacts of cross-border development.


Local reports say a river that forms part of the China-Myanmar border has turned red, prompting major concerns about pollution and accountability along a key trade route for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure and industry plan.

The Shan Herald reported that the Shweli river, on the border between Myanmar’s Shan State and China’s Yunnan province, changed color around June 10. Local residents suspect the change is due to factories upstream in China dumping waste into the river.

“We have never seen water color changes like this before. This is the first time I have ever seen the water red. I don’t know what China has done,” said local resident Sai Aye, who lives on the bank of the river in the border town of Muse.

The Chinese portion of the Shweli river, known as the Ruili river in Chinese and Nam Mao in indigenous Shan, is lined with factories that process sugar, paper, meat and fish for canning.

The Shweli is a tributary of the Irrawaddy river, the largest river in Myanmar and the source of irrigation for much of the country’s agriculture.

“I think a factory in China dumped polluted water into the river. We have already sent an opposition letter to China’s external affairs department in Shweli [Ruili] city in Yunnan province,” Sai Kyaw Thein, a Shan State parliamentarian for Muse, told the Shan Herald. “We already sent a water sample from the Shweli river to a laboratory in Mandalay.”

Though the cause of the red color hasn’t been found, the possible pollution raises major questions about environmental regulations and accountability around the BRI in Myanmar.

China and Myanmar both have laws on the books that require environmental impact assessments and other processes before a development project can be built. Local groups in both countries have also used domestic law to push for help cleaning up pollution or securing compensation for damage caused by industry. But in cases where the desire for “growth” negatively affects lives on both sides of a border, local residents are looking to their governments to address unanswered questions.

Chinese officials are just doing what ever they want in this world and don’t care about the short and long-term consequences of their actions in neighboring countries and for the whole world… Hope these polluters will be caged!
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