EGAT urged to assess impact of Burma dams

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Bangkok Post 29 October 2007

By APINYA WIPATAYOTIN

Mae Hong Son – The National Human Rights Commission has completed an initial environmental and social impact study of a controversial hydro-power dam project on the Salween river.The report is the first of its kind as the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), the developer of the Hutgyi dam, has yet to come up with a report on the proposed dam’s potential impact on the environment and local communities.

“As far as I know, there is no study of the possible impact of the dam on the Thai side. Our report will reveal the impact [of the Hutgyi dam], which has never been raised by the state agency,” said human rights commissioner Vasant Panich who spearheaded the study.

Egat has only conducted an environmental impact assessment study for the Burmese side.

The report, to be released tomorrow, covers various aspects of the dam’s impact, including damage to the livelihoods of ethnic groups living on Thai territory along the Salween river who might have to be relocated and possible devastation to the river’s ecology.

Originating in Tibet, the Salween is considered the last free-flowing international river in Southeast Asia.

Mr Vasant said the National Human Rights Commission would also invite Egat officials to discuss the report.

“They (Egat) should be informed about the plight of minority people on the Thai side who will be affected by the dam construction, so that they can get well-rounded information about the dam’s adverse impact,” he said.

Representatives from minority groups living in Mae Hong Son as well as environmental and human rights protection groups will be invited to voice their opinion about the proposed dam.

The Thai and Burmese governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding to study the possibility of dam constructions along the Salween river in 2005. Hutgyi dam is one of six projects that have been heavily pushed.

The project, which is about 30 kilometres from the Thai border in Mae Hong Son, has an estimated capacity to produce 1,200 megawatts of electricity.

Construction work on the 36-billion-baht dam was scheduled to begin next year. However, Egat recently temporarily suspended its survey of the proposed site after a Thai engineer was killed in an artillery attack on Egat construction workers last month. Another Egat employee was killed in a landmine accident in May 2006. Over 40 Egat workers were evacuated to Thailand following last month’s incident.

Montree Chantawong, campaign coordinator from the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, urged the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning to instruct Egat to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the proposed dam’s impact on Thai territory as well.

“Egat might claim that the dam is located in Burma, so it is not deemed by Thai law to conduct an environmental impact assessment,” he said.

“But in fact, the project will cause massive adverse impact on Thai people who rely on the Salween for their lives.”