Civil Society Organizations Call for Halt to Salween Dam Projects

By Yen Saning 19 January 2015

RANGOON — Over 61,000 people and 131 civil society organizations, including political parties representing ethnic communities in Burma’s eastern states, have signeda petition calling for an unconditional halt to plans for the construction of dams on the Salween River and its tributaries.

Locals say that building the six dams planned for locations in Shan, Karenni and Karen States will displace locals and destroy rural livelihoods.

“Some big cities like Pa-an, Moulmein and Bilu Kyun will suffer,” said Saw Thar Poe, coordinator of Karen River Watch. “When the river is dammed, sea water will come into the basin and farmers will not be able to get fresh water for agriculture.”

Copies of the petition, organized by the Burma River Network, will be delivered to the Ministry of Electric Power and the Chinese and Thai embassies in Rangoon. China and Thailand will be the main beneficiaries of the electricity generated by the dams, and state-owned power generation companies from those countries—including EGAT International, China Three Gorges Corporation, Hanergy, Hydrochina and China Datang—will build the projects in partnership with local companies Shwe Taung, Asia World and International Group of Entrepreneurs.

“The planned Salween dams will produce over 15,000 megawatts of electricity, most of which will be exported to China and Thailand, while millions living along the river in Burma will bear the environmental and social costs of the projects,” said the Burma River Network in a press press statement released today.

Ah Nan, the Burma River Network coordinator, said that a lack of transparency meant that many people around the Salween delta were unaware of the impact of the dam projects.

“The locals have no idea that they will be displaced,” he said. “The public is not being consulted about the dam construction, and then they are forced to move.”

Soe Doh, a member of Karen River Network, said his organization has requested that the government and participating companies inform affected communities about the social and environmental impact of the dams, make contingency plans for possible earthquakes, and assess the potential of future conflict between government forces and ethnic armed groups at the dam sites.

The Burma River Network also met with ethnic parliamentarians on Monday in order to discuss their concerns about the dam projects.