New report slams Salween dam projects

Key Issues: 

The Irrawaddy 15 March 2006

By Khun Sam

An environmental impact report released on Wednesday has condemned Burmas proposed dam projects on the Salween River, warning that vast tracts of land and thousands of local Karenni villagers would be at risk if the projects were to proceed.

The report, Dammed by Burmas Generals, was prepared by the Karenni Development Research Group-a Mae Hong Son-based forum comprising nine civil society groups-and raises serious concerns about the potential impact of the projects, particularly in light of previous experience with the Lawpita hydropower plant in Karenni State.

The product of a years field research, the report focuses mainly on the proposed Weigyi Dam, one of four such projects agreed to by the Burmese junta and Thai authorities to be built on the Salween River in Karenni and Karen states.

If the Weigyi Dam is built, its reservoir will flood over 640 square kilometers in Karenni State, and some 28 villages and towns will [be] under water, impacting about 30,000 people, researcher Aung Ngeh of KDRG said on Wednesday in a press conference announcing the release of the report.

He added: The entire tribe of people-the Yintalai, who now number a mere 1,000-will permanently lose their homeland.

Aung Ngeh cited Burmas Lawpita hydroelectric plant-built in the 1960s-to illustrate the likely problems to be faced with future projects on the Salween River. He challenged the juntas claims that Lawpita successfully increased energy and irrigation output, saying instead that Lawpita was responsible for forced displacement, electricity and water shortages, increased militarization, human rights violations, and an increase in landmine installations to protect the site from attack by ethnic rebels.

The KDRG report claimed the Lawpita project caused flooding over 200 square kilometers and the loss of an estimated 12,500 homes and farms, with the majority of people who lost their homes not receiving any compensation from the government.

The Weigyi project, scheduled to begin construction in 2007 with the assistance of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, is being developed principally to satisfy Thailands energy needs and increase revenue for the ruling junta, according to KDRG researcher Moe Moe Aung.

She added that the project would spell disaster for the local Karenni population-who have been denied any participation in the decision-making process or in evaluating the impact on the local environment-through human rights violations and an increased Burmese military presence in the region.

In recent days, we [have] heard villagers were forced to construct a road leading to the project site, and the number of military battalions has risen, she said at Wednesdays press conference.

Khun Man Ko Ban, a Karenni native and former elected representative in the aborted 1990 elections, pointed out that such projects should not be considered unless the government recognizes the right of local people to be involved in the process.

The people and environment must be balanced, he said. [We] need laws to protect our right to freedom of expression in stating our position.

The KDRG report also called on the Burmese junta, the Thai government and international investors and agencies to halt all dam projects along the Salween River, saying that such projects will simply further subsidize Burmas military regime and bring greater hardships to the Burmese people.