Junta's hydropower projects to endanger biodiversity of Salween River

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Mizzima News 27 September 2008


Over 40 endangered plant and animal species found in the Salween River in eastern Burma will become extinct if the ruling junta goes ahead with its construction of hydropower dams, a new environmental report said.

The report titled 'Khoe Kay: Biodiversity in Peril' released by a Thailand based Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said, the junta's proposal to build hydropower dams on the Salween River will endanger  biodiversity.

"Building dams on the Salween will destroy the ecology which will then wipe-out the over 40 endangered species found in the region," Ko Shwe a representative of the KESAN, who on Friday launched the report in Bangkok, told Mizzima.

The report, the first detailed survey of biodiversity of Burma's Salween River, is compiled by local and indigenous researchers particularly at the proposed 'Wai Gyi' dam site, construction for which the Burmese regime had signed an agreement with Thailand.

Ko Shwe said, Wai Gyi dam, if constructed would be the second largest dam on the Salween River after 'Ta Sang' in Shan state and would produce a minimum of over 4000 mega watts of electricity.

"For such a capacity, the dam will inundate more that 380 kilometres of land upstream," Ko Shwe said. Besides, the river's downstream will dry up and will result in severe shortage of fresh water for cultivation apart from destroying the biodiversity.

Burma's military rulers, in its claimed development projects proposed to build a series of dams on the Salween River, which according to environmentalists is the only free flowing river left in Southeast Asia.

While the junta with the help of China and Thailand is determined to go ahead with its planned dam construction, it has also agreed to supply Thailand and China with the electricity generated.

"According to our research, most of the electricity generated from the dams will be exported to China and Thailand and only a small percentage will be used in Burma, but even that will be channeled to military bases," Ko Shwe added.

The report, in its recommendations, urges the Burmese regime to conduct more detailed and comprehensive research on the biodiversity and to conduct an environmental assessment before building the dams.

Besides, the report said, the indigenous people living along the Salween River must be the first to reap the benefits from the dam and its development projects.

'As environmentalist, we object building the dams. But if the junta must continue, there should have more comprehensive studies on the biodiversity as well as environmental assessment before constructing the dams," Ko Shwe said.