Salween dams - price to be paid by half a million locals: MYPO

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Mizzima News 8 May 2007

The military junta's grandiose plans to dam the Salween River, the longest free-flowing river in Southeast Asia, will devastate sources of livelihood of over half a million residents living on  the mouth of the river, said a new report released today.

The military junta's grandiose plans to dam the Salween River, the longest free-flowing river in Southeast Asia, will devastate sources of livelihood of over half a million residents living on  the mouth of the river, said a new report released today.

The Mon Youth Progressive Organization in a new report, titled "In the Balance" said, more than half a million local residents living on the mouth of the Salween River in Burma will loose fresh drinking water, agricultural productivity, and fish, if plans to construct dams upstream are implemented.

It said, the people living on Salween banks, tributaries, and islands rely on the Salween estuary, where the fresh water of the Salween meets salt water, and that their lives are intricately interlaced with the seasonal flow and daily tides of the river.

The report said, with the construction of dams, fresh water at the mouth of the Salween River, which flows into the Andaman Sea, will be replaced by sea water and will result in lack of drinking water and destroy fertile lands, which will reduce agricultural productivity of farmers in the area.

"There are at least five townships that will face the consequences. And there are more than half a million people in these townships and they are all dependent on the Salween river basin," said Nai Chan Oung, one of the spokesperson of the MYPO.

With the help of neighbouring Thailand and China, the Burmese military junta is planning to construct more than five dams on the Salween River. In March, the junta began constructing the Ta Sang dam, which activists said has accelerated human rights abuses in Shan State.

Human rights and environmental activists said putting dams across the Salween River, which the junta claims are development projects, has led to deterioration of the environment and increased abuses such as forced labour, forced relocation, land confiscation, and construction of new roads for military expansion.

"If the water flow in the Salween changes even slightly and the water becomes too salty, it

will disrupt the delicate natural ecosystem of water, plants, and fish that Mon people have depended on for generations," Nai Tiaung Pakao, another spokesperson for the MYPO said.

Oung added that the sediment rich soil along the Salween and on the islands at its mouth, nourish the fertile paddy fields, vegetable gardens and fruit plantations that feed Moulmein, the third largest city in Burma.

"Constructing dams on the Salween , thus, will trap the vital sediment upstream and reduce productivity for farmers, create lack of fresh drinking water and shortage of fish for fishing folks," Oung told Mizzima.

The MYPO, which did a field research in five townships along the Salween River, called on the Burmese military junta as well as companies involved in the construction of the dams to stop the plan considering the plight of the people who will be affected by it.

The MYPO said, without any alternative plans that will provide relief to the affected community, the dam project, though the junta terms it as a development project, will be a disaster for local people.

"When we talked to villagers in downstream Salween , they were shocked to know that there are such plans to build dams and are very much ignorant about how it will be affecting them," Oung said.

According to the junta's agreement with Thailand , which is constructing five dams on the Salween River, at least 80 percent of electricity to be generated from the hydro-project will be sold to Thailand.

Activists said, locals are the least group of people that will benefit from the junta's planned hydroelectric-projects on the Salween River .