Villagers in Burma Reject Plans to Dam the Salween River

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 Hundreds of villagers gathered on the banks of the Salween River in Burma to voice their opposition to the hydropower dam projects planned by the Energy Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and Burma’s military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Despite enormous obstacles in voicing opposition under military rule, villagers converged to let the world know that the people living along the Salween strongly oppose the Salween Dams.

Hundreds of villagers gathered on the banks of the Salween River in Burma to voice their opposition to the hydropower dam projects planned by the Energy Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and Burma’s military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Despite enormous obstacles in voicing opposition under military rule, villagers converged to let the world know that the people living along the Salween strongly oppose the Salween Dams.

Villagers from different ethnic nationalities from 7 Burmese social organizations, as well as Thai organizations and local villagers attended the event. Villagers carried signs that said, “Dam Means Displacement”, “Free the Salween”, “Dams mean to Permanently Lose Home and Land”, and “Dam Means a Strategy of Occupation Control.” They demanded that all of the dam projects planned for the Salween River be cancelled. They called upon the United Nations, UNSC, the World Commission on Dams, international communities, and the Thai public to pressure the Thai government and the SPDC to stop the dam projects.

Representatives of the Yintalai indigenous tribe, who live in the proposed flood area of the Wei Gyi Dam on Salween River, shared their concerns about the dams permanently impacting their homelands. They also worried that their entire tribe is under threat of ‘dying out’.

A Yintalai spokesperson said, “When I heard about the dam I worried for our people and I wanted people to know about us. Even though I have a small child, I traveled here with my child to tell people about us. We only have about 1,000 people left who live in a small village. So if the dam is built it will flood our village and we will disappear.” 

Karen Rivers Watch (KRW), a partner of Earthrights International in Southeast Asia, organized the event for the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life. KRW also held a symposium on dam issues of Burma highlighting the current dam trends in the country and identifying common goals for the dam movement. “Salween Eyes,” a peoples network of 7 villages opposing dams on the Salween River, led Buddhist and Christian prayer ceremonies. The groups concluded their events with a music concert and community theatre.

During the 2-day event, villagers and researchers discussed experience of the first large-scale hydropower project in Burma, the Lawpita dam built in 1960 in Karenni State. Landmines were planted around the Lawpita power plants for security and 12,500 people permanently lost their homes and farmland without receiving any compensation. Even today eighty percent of the population in Karenni State lacks access to electricity.Salween River on World Opposition to Dams Day

The Salween Dams plans being pushed ahead by EGAT and the SPDC have already had drastic human rights and environmental impacts. Over 300,000 villagers have been forcibly relocated in one dam site area in Shan state alone. In the same area, commercial logging companies have increased their operations significantly leading to rapid deforestation.

As the SPDC moves to secure all four dam sites along the Salween River an increase in militarization has caused even more internally displaced villagers to flee to Thailand for safety.

An internally displaced villager trying to make it to Thailand from Karen State said, “It was not possible to stay any longer, otherwise we would still be in our home. It is not easy to work because of the SPDC soldiers. We could not leave the village. The soldiers stopped us, sometimes people were killed.”

Along the banks of the Salween, a woman Karen activists explained, “If the dam is built Internally displaced villagers flee in Karen statethe military would be deployed in the area for security. The villagers will suffer. Villagers will be forced to work for the soldiers without pay. Women will be raped by the soldiers. The dam will not only abuse the environment, it will abuse human rights as well. We should come together more in the future as we have done today to protect ourselves and the forest.”

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