Throughout our lives, we have always been displaced and have to run away from the invasion of the Burmese military. With this dam built, we would have to run again. We cannot accept this anymore.
-Woman from Ban Itu Tha, Myanmar
The Salween River flows from the Himalayan Mountains through China to Myanmar’s Shan State, Kayah State, Karen State, and Mon State, all the way to the Andaman Sea in Mataban Bay. It is the second longest river in Southeast Asia, after the Mekong, and ranks 26th globally. It provides livelihoods to more than 10 million people from 13 ethnic groups.
In 2002, the governments of Thailand and Myanmar approved five dam projects, including the Hatgyi Dam. The Hatgyi Dam is planned in Karen State in Myanmar, close to the Thailand border. Though located in Myanmar, a majority of the power is to be sold to Thailand.
At least 41 Karen indigenous villages are situated near and around the project site. Thousands of people will bear the direct impact (Living River Siam, “Salween: The three land river”, 2008, p.99). In addition, on the Thai side, four villages will suffer direct impact, and another 50 will be indirectly impacted.
Almost everyone living in the affected area earns their living from farming including terrace rice cultivation, vegetable growing, fruit orchards, rotational farming and fishing in the Salween River.
If the Hatgyi Dam is built it will block the River which will cause various detrimental impacts, including an elevation of water levels. The subsequent floods would affect homes and farming areas in both in Myanamar and Thailand. Logging concessions are also planned for large swathes of teak forests, causing irreparable damage to wildlife and fauna. Damming the river will obstruct the migratory path of fish and bring about drastic changes to the environment.
The project was decided by the Thai and Myanmar governments, without consultation of the indigenous peoples who will be directly affected. Giving clear access to information is the first step for indigenous peoples in the area to be meaningfully involved in decision-making. Currently, indigenous peoples in Thailand and Myanmar are barred from accessing information about projects such as the Environmental Impact Assessments.
Indigenous people have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in according with their own procedures as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institution. (The United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People)
Few public consultations were arranged, even with a project as big as this one, the developer arranged few public consultations and few people attended the event. According to the media most of locals, however, oppose this project.
To solve this problem, both Thai and Myanmar governments have to respect and protect indigenous people rights. Governments have to guarantee that the communities will receive the full details of the project, include any negatives and positives impacts. Governments have to guarantee that before going forward with this project that indigenous people will have a chance to express their opinion about the whole project, and be heard. They should also guarantee that public consultations will be Arranged, and that finally, that the indigenous peoples’ comments and suggestions are taken into account when the future of this project is decided.
Indigenous people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development (The United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People)