Despite Human Rights Concerns, Thailand and Burma to Build Dams on Salween River

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Thailand and Burma plan to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on joint investment in building a series of hydroelectric dams on the Salween River in Burma on Friday. The Hat Gyi dam in Karen State is reported to be the first dam to be built of the series with an increase in expected output from 300 MW to 1,200 MW. Given the current situation in Burma of military oppression causing widespread human and environmental rights abuses, if these dams are built there will be devastating impacts on the environment and local communities. EarthRights International requests that the Thai government and Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) refrain from signing the MoU with Burmese regime on joint investment to build the dams, and to immediately make available to the public all relevant information pertaining to the projects and their impacts on the peoples of Thailand and Burma.

If the Hat Gyi Dam is built there will be devastating impacts on the environment. It is also the last free-flowing river in all of mainland Southeast Asia and it basin area is one of the most ecologically diverse. Parts of the river have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Notwithstanding the evidence from around the world that the construction of large dams have many negative environmental impacts, in Burma, these problems are intensified due to militarization, repression and widespread human rights abuses. Under the SPDC there has been a complete lack of regard for environmental guidelines and a long track record of widespread environmental abuses. Because of this we believe that this project will lead to rapidly accelerated deforestation, loss of biodiversity, flooding, destruction of fisheries, weather pattern changes, and river water contamination. Since the Salween River naturally floods upstream every year, blocking the Salween downstream will also more than likely intensify floods upstream in Burma. It is also significant that the flood area includes two official wildlife sanctuaries in Karen State.

November 17, 2005 in the Bangkok Post was the first article revealing that the Hat Gyi Dam would be the first of a series of dams to be built on the Salween River. Before this the Hat Gyi had not been publicly mentioned as being a high priority for the government. The Thai and Burmese government have agreed under the MOU to keep all data and joint studies on this project strictly confidential. In addition, no official EIA or SIA or feasibility studies have been completed, let alone made publicly available. The proposed plan is much larger than previous studies, which increases the flood area inhabited mostly by ethnic Thai Karens and Shans.

The surrounding villages will without a doubt be greatly impacted by these plans. We can expect an increase in militarization in the area, forced relocation of the surrounding villages, destruction of livelihoods and culture, forced labor, and more reports of human rights abuses linked to the dam construction. We can also expect that there will be absolutely no public participation or consultation or any form of compensation for villagers in the surrounding area. Dam construction also has disastrous public health consequences and since villagers in the surrounding area do not have access to adequate healthcare in Burma, malaria and other disease outbreaks are expected. Finally, given the dismal track record of the military regime in Burma, it is extremely unlikely that any of the villagers will see any of the benefits from any increases in power production. There will be no benefit for the people living inside Burma- this was clearly illustrated in the case of Baluchaung Hydro-power plant officially named Mawbye Dam at Loikaw in Karenni State. After this dam was built, the local people living around the dam did not receive any of the benefits as most of the power was transmitted to Rangoon. Moreover local people never have participated in the decision-making process of the power plant project. Nor has the majority of local people had any access to power generated form the plants. Rather, since the beginning of the development of plant thousands of Karenni and Shan people have lost their homes, land, livelihood and lives to the construction and operation of the dams and power plants. The experiences regarding Baluchaung is clear and provides a disturbing indication of the problems that are likely to result from hydro-power development on the Salween River.

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