Salween in Focus for Burmese Civil Society on Rivers Day

By Saw Yan Naing 15 March 2016

Ethnic civil society organizations and environmental activists together with local communities marked International Day of Action for Rivers along the Salween River in eastern Burma on Monday, expressing concern over the Burmese government’s six planned dams on the waterway.

Separate events took place at different locations in Shan, Karenni and Karen states, where in some locations active or latent conflict is a concern of the groups in addition to the projects’ potential negative environmental impacts.

The Save the Salween Network, an environmental advocacy group, was among those holding events on the Salween River, at Wan Sala village in Mongton Township along the Thai-Burma border in southeastern Shan State. The group was joined by local communities, including children, elders, religious leaders and political party representatives.

Similarly, the Karen environmental organization known as Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) held a Salween River event at the Ei Htu Hta displacement camp in Papun District, eastern Karen State. Hundreds of local community members including internally displaced persons (IDPs) attended.

Community-based organizations in Karenni State also held separate events.

The Save the Salween Network released a statement on Monday against “the government’s plans to build six dams on this vital artery, which has nourished the culture, traditions and livelihoods of our peoples for generations.”

One mega-project was singled out.

“We are also concerned at recent efforts to push ahead with the giant Mong Ton dam on the Salween River in southern Shan State, which will be the largest hydropower project in Southeast Asia. …We deplore the Burmese government’s attempts to push ahead with mega dams in ethnic conflict zones, against the wishes of local ethnic communities,” said the statement.

“We urge governments, companies and investors not to build any hydropower dams on the Salween, as they will threaten the livelihoods and existence of countless ethnic communities living along the river,” it continued.

The Salween River, one of the longest rivers in Southeast Asia, supports ecosystems rich in biodiversity along much of its length, providing food security for ethnic communities throughout the river basin.