CHIANG MAI, Thailand—Some 1,000 local residents of Hsipaw Township and state lawmakers gathered to show their opposition to the construction of the Upper Yeywa Dam on the Namtu River (or Myintnge River) in northern Shan State on Friday.
The Hsipaw residents demanded the immediate cancellation of the dam project, a budget for which was approved by the Union Parliament last month.
“The local villagers request that everyone stand together with them in opposing the dam,” said Nang San San Aye, a Shan State lawmaker representing Hsipaw constituency. She was one of several lawmakers from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy who joined the protest on Friday.
Locals have been calling for a halt to the Upper Yeywa Dam project since 2014, when they first learned about the project, planning for which started in 2008. Construction budgets have been approved every year since 2010.
Construction of the dam is ongoing near the east and west of Talong village. If it collapsed, it would “submerge the entire village of Talong, with 653 inhabitants, 637 acres of orchards, and 140 acres of rice fields, and countless hill-farms, as well as temples, pagodas and schools,” according to a statement issued by local residents and lawmakers whose are closely monitoring the project.
Before the fiscal 2018-19 budget was approved in September, Sai Thant Zin, a Lower House lawmaker from the SNLD representing Hsipaw constituency, urged that the requested construction budget for the Upper Yeywa Dam of 3.7 billion kyats be cut by 3.2 billion kyats and the project paused to allow for assessments of the environmental and social impacts of the dam. His proposal was voted down by the Union Parliament, however.
He told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the project is not transparent, and the majority of local residents had been left out of the so-called public consultation conducted by the companies involved over the past few years. He has continuously raised the issue through parliamentary channels since 2016 but had no success trying to get more information about the project from the respective ministries. “I have learned that the EIA/SIA reports of the companies were substandard,” he said.
“They [the villagers] are very upset that the Union Parliament approved the construction budget,” said state lawmaker Nang San San Aye, adding that the Talong villagers “do not want to relocate and they demand that it be halted.”
Nang Lao Kham, a resident of Talong village, said, “The central [government] control over natural resources is the root cause of the ongoing conflict in Shan State.” She added that the conflict-torn states will never see peace if the government continues exploiting resources in the ethnic states against local people’s wishes.
The villagers together with civil society groups plan to submit a petition demanding a halt to the damming of the Namtu River to President U Win Myint and the embassies representing the foreign companies involved in the construction of the dam, added Nang San San Aye.
The dam is now being built by foreign companies such as Germany’s Lahmeyer, Switzerland’s Stuckey SA and French joint venture IPGRB, Deputy Electricity and Energy Minster U Tun Naing said while answering questions in Parliament last month.
A statement released by Hsipaw residents on Friday said, “He [deputy minister U Tun Naing] failed to mention that Lahmeyer is a subsidiary of Tracetebel ENGIE, the consulting engineer for the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Dam that collapsed in Laos last July, killing hundreds and displacing thousands.”
In their statement, Hsipaw residents and MPs said, “Foreign companies have so far ignored community opposition to damming the Namtu.” They urged foreign countries to stop promoting and investing in dams in the war zones of Myanmar, saying it fuels conflict and undermines peace efforts.