Earlier this month a coalition of Karen environmental community based groups, the Karen River Watch, joined local villagers to protest the building of the hydro-power Hat Gyi Dam, in Hlaingbwe Township, Karen State. The protest marked the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams, held each year on March 14, 2015.
The Hat Gyi Dam is one of six hydropower dam projects planned for the Salween River by the Burma government. It is estimated the Hat Gyi Dam will generate 1,360 megawatt of electricity, 90% of it to be sold to neighboring countries.
Naw Hsa Moo, an organizer with the told Karen News that local people have not been informed of the consequences of the dam.
“It is very important for local people to understand very clearly about how the dam construction will impact their livelihood and how it will benefit them.”
Saw Merciful from Baw Traw village said that without the information provided by Karen River Watch the villagers would be completely in the dark.
“We live in this area, but we did not know anything about the process and how the dam will benefit us and how it will impact on our lives. We are grateful to the organizers and our leaders for holding this event. We learn more about the dam construction and we understand, if the dam was built, how we will be destroyed and how we will be disappeared.”
Saw Hay Nay Blue Win, Secretary of Bu Tho Township, MuTraw District spoke to Karen News about the his peoples fears.
“If the dam is built, the civilians will face difficulties. It will be a big problem for our Karen people. Villages, the land that villagers are working on and some animals will disappear. It will damage the environment and wild animals will definitely disappear.”
Karen River Watch, spokeperson, Naw Hsa Moo explained to Karen News that their research had found that most of the estimated electricity generated by the dams would not benefit villagers.
“According to our research, 60% of the electricity that is produced by this dam will be transferred to China, 30% to Thailand and only 10% will be left for Burma. The people who have to suffer the most are the local people who live near the dam. We are certain that there is no benefit for the local people.”
Saw Thutmana, a village leader from Pawakyaw Village said that if the dam is built it would severely damage their lives.
“Salween River is our biggest vein [our life]. If the dam is built, our plants and our living places will be destroyed. If we compare them, there are more negative impacts than positive – we absolutely disagree with the construction of the dam.”
Captain Thein Win, Klo Htoo Lah Military Command, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army said his armed group stood by the villagers in their opposition to the dam. “There is no benefit for the civilians if the dam is built. There will be a big problem for our Karen people, for the civilians and also for the resistance groups. That is why we oppose it. We have to stand for the majority.”
Naw Paw Gay Ku, a coordinator with a Karen community-based organization said that her groups had called for the all planned dam projects to be halted.
“We are asking the government of China, Burma and Thailand to stop the dam projects because there are still armed conflicts in many parts of the country. We are asking the leaders of those countries involved to stop these projects. We hope and are asking our KNU leaders to include this issue as one of the priority topics in its agenda during its peace negotiations – we want them to discuss this at the negotiation table.”