Paunglaung Dam Violates Norms and Destroys Lives, Study Finds

By Zue Zue 7 October 2015

RANGOON — Displacement caused by the Paunglaung dam in eastern Burma’s Shan State was carried out in violation of human rights and has resulted in the deterioration of health, food security and livelihoods, according to a survey carried out by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

The findings, published earlier this week in a report titled, “Forced Displacements and Destroyed Lives Around the Upper Paunglaung Dam in Shan State, Myanmar,” showed that international guidelines were not followed during the displacement process leaving lasting effects on the communities moved to make way for the 61 square kilometer reservoir.

“Myanmar [Burma] authorities have, once again, not bothered following international guidelines when evicting families, forcing them deeper into poverty,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs and the report’s principal author.

PHR surveyed a total of 80 consenting households, interviewing participants about the displacement procedures, relocation process and post-move conditions. Over the course of nine months, the researchers found that the project ultimately resulted in a loss of jobs and income, increased food insecurity and poverty, and limited access to improved water sources.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they accepted a relocation scheme because they felt threatened or afraid of what would happen if they refused, and 84 percent dropped below the poverty line after the relocation. Ninety-three percent of respondents said their overall living situation had become worse since they were displaced.

Ninety-one percent said they did not have enough money to make ends meet. Forty-five percent cited insufficient access to drinking water. Eighty-one percent of respondents should be referred to a professional consultant to seek treatment for depression, the report said, as mental illness and alcoholism appear on the rise.

The Upper Paunglaung dam supplies electricity to the capital Naypyidaw and lies on the Paunglaung River in southern Shan State, an area prone to conflict between the Burmese government and ethnic rebels.

The project was jointly developed by Chinese, Swiss, and British firms, and was completed in 2013, according to PHR. Some 8,000 people from 23 villages were relocated to make way for the development.

Deputy Minister for Electric Power Aung Than Oo recently told the Lower House of Parliament that the ministry had developed a acceptable system for dealing with displacement related to energy projects, which included construction of new villages complete with homes, roads and water supply. He also testified that measures were in place to ensure that compensation reached the hands of those displaced.

“Though [authorities] have given verbal promises, the situation is very bad, in reality,” affected villager Min Min Htay told reporters in Rangoon. “We don’t have enough food, sources of livelihood are scarce and we have difficulty accessing drinking water. Some people got depressed because they lost their farms, and even tried to commit suicide by taking poison.”

PHR is a New York-based advocacy group that focuses on physical and psychological impacts on communities on the frontlines of human rights crises. Operating in more than 60 countries, PHR specializes in using forensic documentation to assess human rights conditions.

A number of Burma-based civil society organizations assisted PHR in carrying out the Paunglaung survey, including Land In Our Hands (LIOH), Kayan New Generation Youth (KNGY) and six other local organizations.