Burma’s Dams in armed conflict zones will harm thousands ethnic inhabitants
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Burma’s Dams in armed conflict zones will harm thousands ethnic inhabitants

According to the Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG), a giant 600 MW dam on the Salween at Ywathit, nearly 60 kilometers from the Thai town of Mae Hong Son, will inundate upstream to Shan State across vast areas forcibly depopulated during ongoing offensives by the junta’s troops.

In addition, the 130 MW dam on the Pawn River in the heart of the state will mainly impact the Yintale people who now number just 1,000. Moreover, another 110 MW dam on the Thabet River to the north of the Karenni capital of Loikaw is also designed.

Engineers are secretly surveying for dams planned by China hydropower giant Datang on the Salween and its tributaries in Karenni State under the armed guard of Burmese military junta, according to local researchers.

The report, launched at a press conference in Thailand on Thursday (10 March) by the Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG), exposes secret ventures by the Burmese regime and the state-owned Datang Corporation of China to build three dams in the Karenni state under a memorandum of understanding signed in January 2010.

The Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) launched today a campaign publication exposing how three planned dams proceeding in secret will block waterways across the state, tightening the junta’s control and causing further widespread disruption to the war-torn population.

The Ywathit is one of seven dams planned on the mainstream Salween in Burma being constructed by Chinese and Thai companies. All of the dams are located in armed conflict zones and have already exacerbated local detest and insecurity.

These dams in the ethnic areas will cause damaging of forests and diminish biodiversity, reduce agricultural production, and create water surges and shortages. Many experts agreed that the project would have a negative impact on the local environment.

“Nearly 50 species of animal in the area will be extinct because of these projects,” said Sai Sai, the coordinator of Burma Rivers Network, a coalition of organizations representing various dam-affected communities in Burma.

“How can investors think this is business as usual while armies are battling around them and people are fleeing for their lives?” said Thaw Reh of the KDRG. “They should wake up to the risks of these dams and immediately stop their operations.”

The Datang Corporation is a member of the United Nations Global Compact whose members commit to conduct business according to universally accepted principles of human rights, environment and labor standards.

As said by Burma Rivers Network (BRN), dams planned for the Salween, the Irrawaddy and its tributaries alone have a combined capacity of over 30,000 MW representing an investment of at least US$30 billion. The majority of power produced will be for export to neighboring countries even though Burma is facing an energy crisis. The sale of electricity from these dams will provide significant long-term income to the military regime. The military spends more than 40% of its budget on defense and under 5% on health and education.

Millions of ethnic people have been expelled from their homes to make way for dams and reservoirs. But construction and engineering companies close to the military benefit from those dams. They receive millions of dollars for designing and building dams. The junta’s generals can benefit in many ways – illegal taxes, kickbacks and inducement – during construction of a dam.

In recent years Chinese companies have been involved in the construction or planning of over twenty large dams on the Irrawaddy, Salween, and Sittaung rivers or their tributaries in Burma.

The Burma Rivers Network (BRN) has welcomed the January 17 statement by the National League for Democracy (NLD) that dams are being constructed in Burma without any consideration for the environment or for local inhabitants, and that the Myitsone dam, the first on the Irrawaddy, will have negative impacts on the entire country.