Salween River

Salween is the only major river that remains free-flowing in Southeast Asia. It originates in the Tibetan highlands, flows through China’s Yunnan province into Shan and Kayah states in Burma, before entering Thailand at Mae Sariang district, Mae Hong Son province. Forming the border between Thailand and Burma, the Salween River runs for 127 kilometres before re-entering Burma at Sob Moei and emptying into the Andaman Sea at Mawlamyine. With a total length of 2,820 kilometres, the Salween is the world’s 26th longest river and its river basin covers a total area of 324,000 square kilometres.

There are various ethnic groups who are dependent on the Salween River living along the river’s banks in China, Burma and Thailand. These people include the Nu, Lisu, Wa, Karen, Tai, Karenni and Mon. The river which has long been the source of endless benefits to local people is now being targeted by dam developers who seek to “profit” from this river.

Since the early 1980s, the Thai and Burmese governments have been engaged in various negotiations to build large dams on the lower reaches of Salween; and in 2004 they agreed to establish a joint venture to proceed with five hydroelectric projects, of which four would be located on the Salween. The Thai government also plans to construct more dams along the tributaries of the Salween to divert water from the Salween to the Bhumipol reservoir in northern Thailand.

In the upper reaches of the Salween, where the river is know as Nujiang, the Chinese government plans to build a cascade of 13 dams. Sections of the Nu River form part of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, an area renowned for its rich biodiversity and home to numerous indigenous groups. Although Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao suspended the Nu River projects in early 2004, media reports indicate that a scaled-down version including four dams may proceed; and that preliminary construction and exploration activities have already begun around these dam sites. [MAP]

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