Environmentalists demand halt to US $ 35 billion Burma dams

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Mizzima 16 March 2009   

Chiangmai (Mizzima) – Activists and environmentalists across the globe on Saturday urged Burma’s neighbouring countries to halt dam construction projects as it hurts local residents while providing financial lifeline to the military-rulers.

The call came in the form of myriad protests in several countries by activists and environmentalists on Saturday, which is observed as an International Day of Action for Rivers.

Burma Rivers Network, comprising of several environmental organizations working on Burma’s environment, in its press statement on Saturday called on related partners - neighbouring countries, dam builders, and international financial institutions – to realise the impact of dam constructions on local people in Burma.

Raising slogans such as “We stand and say: Free Burma’s Rivers, and Free Burma,” the statement argues that dam projects should be put on hold until the affected people are given opportunities to fully participate in project decisions, and energy planning is transparent and takes into consideration alternatives to dams.

Burma’s military-rulers in recent years have signed several agreements with Thailand, China and India for construction of dams on rivers in Burma including the Salween, on which at least five dams are to be built.

According to the agreements, dam constructions would be undertaken by Thailand, China and India, while the Burmese government would provide security and in turn would sell electricity to them after the completion.

The Thai government claimed that the investments of energy projects in neighbouring countries including Burma are “for energy security in the future.”

Experts estimate that the whole dam series will produce approximately 35,000 Megawatts of electricity, and would cost US$ 35 billion.

“Revenue from investment and the sale of electricity will provide huge sums of money to Burma’s military regime. After over 50 years of civil war in Burma, there will be no transparency or accountability around these investments but instead the money will support the regime to increase its power,” the statement noted.

Sai Sai from Salween Watch, based in Chiang Mai told Mizzima that currently the Burmese military has moved forward with several of the projects.

“The survey by junta’s counterpart company is going on and it results in more forced labour and forced relocation in the area of construction sites,” he said.

The group also noted that to date, none of the affected people in Burma have been consulted about the dam projects.

“All the dams threaten internationally-recognized biodiversity yet almost none of the sites have been assessed for environmental impacts,” the group said.

The group said, a study of the biodiversity of the Weigyi dam area on the SalweenRiver in ShanState shows that the dam construction would endanger the existence of 194 plant and 200 rare animal species, including 42 endangered species.

As a part of the International Day of Action on Rivers, ethnic Kachin in Northern Burma on Saturday organized prayer ceremonies in several towns including Kachin State’s Myitkyina, Waingmaw, Bhamo (Manmaw), Manje (Mansi), Shwego and Laiza on the Sino-Burmese border and Rangoon.

Similarly, Burmese activists and supporters held a protest rally in India’s New Delhi calling India to halt its planned Thamanthi dam construction on the ChindwinRiver in North Western Burma.

At least 21 large dams are currently being planned, constructed, and financed in Burma by Thai, Chinese and Indian corporations and governments.  All the dams are on major rivers in Burma such as the Salween, Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Sit Thaung, and their tributaries. Most of the rivers are recorded so far as still free flowing