Karen Group Opposes Salween River Dams

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Irrawaddy 30 September 2008

By SAW YAN NAING

The Burmese government’s plan to build two major hydropower dams—the Wai Gyi and Hat Gyi—on the Salween River in eastern Burma threatens the human rights of local residents and the biodiversity of the area, says an environmental organization. 

According to the report “Khoe Kay: Biodiversity in Peril” released by the Thailand-based Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) on Monday, more than 40 rare seeds and animal species in the Salween River watershed are likely to vanish if the Burmese government completes construction of the hydropower dams.

Ko Shwe, a spokesperson for KASEN, said, “According to our research, we found about 394 different species. Among them, there are 8 endemic species including plants and animals. If the dam is completed, these species will be totally vanished.”

The report urged the government to conduct a professional environmental assessment as well as an environmental impact study before construction work begins on the hydropower dams. 

The Wai Gyi and Hat Gyi dams are both located in Karen National Union controlled areas.

Meanwhile, Saw Nay, the director of Karen River Watch, said the Hat Gyi dam on the lower Salween River threatened several thousands of residents as well as wildlife.

According to its research, about 5,000 reside in more than 20 villages in the upper Hat Gyi dam area will be forced to relocate if the dam is completed, he said. He said human rights abuses such as forced labor, forced relocation, the disappearance of culture heritage as well as environmental damage including disforestation and flooding are likely to occur.

The Hat Gyi dam, the first to be built, is designed to power a 600-megawatt turbine. The project is expected to be complete by 2010.

The Hat Gyi dam project has drawn strong protests from nongovernmental organizations concerned about the potential environmental impact and the dam’s effect on the livelihood of villagers.