Namtu River Villagers Urge Foreign Firms to Cancel Participation in Dams

By Nyein Nyein 11 February 2019

Local residents along the Namtu (or Myitnge) River in northern Shan State are urging all foreign companies involved in dam projects on the river to follow the decision of Engie, the French company that pulled out of the Upper Yeywa Dam project.

Nang Lao Kham, a resident of Ta Long village, which would be directly affected if the Upper Yeywa Dam is built, said in a Feb. 11 statement from Action for Shan State Rivers that the Engie company’s withdrawal is “a great victory” for the local residents, who fear being submerged if the dam is built.

On the Namtu River, since the early 2010s the government has planned four dams with combined capacity of 1,200 megawatts: the Deedok dam in Kyaukse Township in Mandalay Region, and the Middle Yeywa Dam, the Upper Yeywa Dam and the Namtu Dam in northern Shan State’s Nawngkhio, Kyaukmae and Namtu townships, respectively.

According to local residents, public consultations for the Middle Yeywa Dam, site clearing for the Upper Yeywa Dam and road building for the Namtu Dam started last year.

The locals called for the withdrawal of the foreign companies’ investment in the dam projects in October. The villagers from the areas delivered a written appeal on Dec. 5 to several foreign embassies in Yangon—including those of China, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway—asking them to stop involvement in all four planned dams on the Namtu River.

Engie was included in the Burma Campaign U.K.’s “Dirty List” of companies linked to human rights violations in Myanmar in December  but, according to BCUK, the company asked to have their name removed from the list due to concerns of reputation risk, and said their subsidiary—the Germany company Lahmeyer—was no longer involved in the Upper Yeywa Dam project.

Sai Thum Ai, a spokesman for Action for Shan State Rivers, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that they hoped the government will listen to the concerns of local residents, who also sent a letter to President U Win Myint calling for a halt to the dam project.

“We would like the president to listen to the people’s voices. And the politicians also should do outreach to the communities and wards. We want genuine peace, not total investment, as the residents of these areas would have to relocate and could become displaced,” he said.

He said the villagers had already said no to building dams, but “they told us that the compensation and relocations would not be less than Paung Laung dam projects [some 40 km east of Pyinmana Township near Naypyitaw],” he said, referring to a completed dam which joined the national grid in late 2015.

“At that time the villagers near Paung Laung were given 1 million kyats for an acre of land, but look at their lives now,” the spokesman said, adding, “The residents understand and have observed those situations and we are not that naive.”

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in Keng Tung during her trip to eastern Shan Sate last week that if local people want the electricity from the hydropower project, she would make it happen.

“With regards to the hydropower, we have to consider it from every side: the technical need, finance, the public desire and the environmental impact. If the public desire is there, we will make it happen using our natural [water] resources,” she told Keng Tung residents on Feb. 6.

However, there have been attempts to build more dams on the Namtu/Myitnge River amid locals’ objections. Local communities in Hsipaw, northern Shan State, object to a plan to construct a dam near Hsipaw on the river by a local company known as Unienergy Company Limited, and have urge the company and the authorities to stop the project.

Unienergy has been visiting the area around the Nam Ma and Nam Paung tributaries, which flow into the Namtu River, in Hsipaw and conducted public consultations in Hsaileng village tract in Hsipaw in 2017, and in Jan. 27 and Feb. 2 of this year, said Sai Sar Lu, a resident spokesman for the village tract.

“The company has not shared any information with us yet on how big the dam would be, but we do not think the dam project would be good for us; we are concerned about the negative impacts,” said Sai Sar Lu.

He feared that if the dam were built, not only the three villages near the construction area, but a total of 21 villages with farms and orange plantations would become submerged.