SNLD Urges Govt Transparency on Salween Dam Projects

By Nyein Nyein 22 September 2016

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) has urged the government to be transparent and to ensure accountability and responsibility regarding large hydropower dam projects proposed on the Salween River in eastern Burma.

Six large hydropower dams are planned to be built along the river in Shan, Karenni and Karen states, which would collectively generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity—most of which would be exported to neighboring countries.

The SNLD also backs the demands of Shan civil society organizations (CSOs) and environmentalists to halt the dam projects, because of the local authorities’ non-transparent environmental and social impact assessment conducted last month without public consultation.

On Tuesday, Nang Khin Htar Yee, a SNLD lawmaker from Shan State’s Hsenwi Constituency, raised the issue of the Salween River dams in the Shan State Parliament.

But Soe Nyunt Lwin, the Shan State minister of national planning and finance, said the regional government was only permitted to manage smaller dam projects, which generate less than 30 megawatts. The minister suggested lawmakers raise the issue at the Union level, as the projects were beyond their control.

Sai Wan Hlaing Kham, an Upper House lawmaker from Lashio district, said SNLD parliamentarians were attempting to raise the issue in the Union Parliament, which is about to conclude its second session. Parliament will be unable to act on this issue until after its scheduled break.

With a plan to export up to 90 percent of the electricity from the hydropower dams to China, environmentalists and CSOs have continually protested the projects since their initial proposals, citing the harm that could be inflicted on local environments and livelihoods.

Locals worry that the halt of the Irrawaddy River’s Myitsone Dam project will push the Salween Dams through in order to appease the Chinese companies invested in the project.

“We will not accept the Salween Dams as a replacement for the Myitsone Dam,” said SNLD spokesman Sai Leik.

Sai Leik urged the government to focus on the potential which could be created by smaller hydropower dam projects on the Salween River.

“We understand that our country needs electricity, but we should think about self-sufficient hydropower dams, which would have less impact on our natural environment but fill the local need for electric power,” he said.

He said the SNLD will continue to push the government on this issue—first in Parliament and then through national dialogue—before the next Union Peace Conference to be held around February.