Environmental groups call on government to stop Salween River dams

A Burma environmental watchdog has called for the government to stop dam projects on the Salween River as they did to the Myitsone dam project on the Irrawaddy River.

Burma River Network, an environmental group monitoring Burma’s rivers says the Myitsone Dam will see the relocation of about 10,000 villagers and if the dam collapses, the whole of Myit Gyi Na Town will be destroyed.

Burma River Network claims even the smallest dam proposed for the Salween River, the Hatgyi Dam will force the relocation of dozens of villages and the dam will adversely affect 500,000 villagers downstream of the dam site.

Burma River Network says all the proposed dam projects on the Salween River will cause destruction to the river’s ecosystem, flood many areas including hundreds and thousands of acres of farmland and local villagers will lose the means to make a living for their families.
Burma River Network’s chief negotiator Ko Sai Sai said their organisation has been monitoring the dam projects planned for the Salween River for over a decade and explained that the dam will not benefit local communities or the people of Burma.

“We’ve started monitoring in 1998 – a proposed dam project in Shan State. The electricity produced from the proposed dam projects will be sold to Thailand. There will be no benefits to the local community. People have been displaced from the area and still can’t return, so there is no benefit for them.”

Ko Shwe, the media and information officer from the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network said that Burma’s government would be less interested in the impacts of dams on the Salween River than those on the Irrawaddy.

“The Irrawaddy River flows right through the middle of Burma unlike the Salween River which runs through ethnic areas. Many of the areas along the Salween are in armed conflict zones – the government is likely to ignore it, as it is mainly ethnic people affected. We understand development has to be paid with some cost to the environment, but we have to find way to reduce and minimize the destruction as much as possible. We are not against development, but the main thing is that we have to think about the impacts on the lives of the local community. We have to look at how much of the electricity produced from the dam will be used for the people of Burma.”

Burma River Network pointed out that all seven proposed dam projects on the Salween River, Ta Sang Dam and Ywa Thit Dam in Shan State, Dargwin, Weigyi and Hat Gyi dam projects in Karen State and other two dam projects will cause erosion of the fertile soil in the Delta region – Burma’s ‘rice bowl’ – reducing the areas capacity to produce rice.

Following pressure from a wide range of organization and people including Burma’s local and international media, academics, artists, community based organizations, international organizations and most importantly the people of Burma, Burma new government stopped the Myitsone dam project on the Irrawaddy River.

An official from an environmental group set up in the Cyclone Nargis affected area (who asked not to be named) said he is happy the Myitsone dam project was stopped and said it is everyone’s responsibility to protest to save not only the Irrawaddy, but all other rivers that are at risk.

“We shouted loud to save the Irrawaddy and the Burma’s President announced the stoppage of the dam. We are happy. Not only for the Irrawaddy River, but we have to protect all our other rivers. We can’t just choose to work on the one closest to us.”

Ko Zaya Thaw, from the Burma artist community viewed it as a matter of working out what the benefits dams will bring for the people of Burma against the destruction it takes to build them.

“We can’t call for the building of all dams to be stopped. If dams are to be built for the needs of the country, the main thing we have to consider will be do the projects truly benefit the people. Will the benefits outweigh the destruction caused to our environment? The government also needs to be transparent and accountable.”

On September 30, Burma’s President, Thein Sein, said in a letter to Parliament that government had an obligation to respond to public concern and they will suspend the 3.6 billion Myitsone project and will systematically look for alternative safe hydro-power projects to generate electricity for the country needs.

U Ohn, the vice chairman of the Resources Environmental Development and Conservation Association said the halt of the Myitsone dam project was a surprise.

“It was quite surprising to hear the suspension of Myitsone dam project. We are happy that this current government listens to the people at this time.”

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