The Hatgyi dam is a proposed hydropower project on the Salween River in Myanmar, less than 50 kilometers from the Thai border. More than 10 million people rely on the river for their livelihoods and the Hatgyi dam may put many of them in jeopardy, as it will significantly impact agriculture and fish migration. ERI partners with the affected communities, including many indigenous groups, by supporting their campaigns to participate in decision-making, to access information, to build their capacity to organize effectively.
The Salween River basin is ecologically rich and ethnically diverse. If built, the Hatgyi dam will flood two official wildlife sanctuaries in Myanmar and alter sediment and nutrient flows. These floods and changes in hydrology may cause fish populations to drop and farmland to become far less fertile and productive.
There is also an ongoing conflict between ethnic Karen armed forces and the Burmese army in the area of the dam. This has led to numerous deaths and the forced displacement of thousands of Karen villagers. The construction of the dam may hamper the peace process and the conflict also exacerbates issues with the proposed project. As the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has agreed to purchase 75-90 percent dam’s power, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has become involved and is investigating alleged human rights violations associated with the project. These include forced labor, illegal taxation, rape and forced displacement.
A broad group of activist and civil society organizations have organized a resistance to the dam, coming together for demonstrations and for celebrations of the life and spirit of the Salween. This united coalition includes the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karen Women Organization, the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, local forest protection officers, the Karen People Network Abroad. The People’s Network of the Salween River has called for an immediate halt of the Hatgyi dam project in light of human rights abuses. They also call for Thailand’s government to reassess their energy policies, especially alternatives to dam building in the Salween river basin.
ERI participates in a coalition of NGOs and CSOs that calls for transparency and accountability for ASEAN regional investors, in the case of Hatgyi, the Chinese and Japanese sponsors of the project. ERI also supports a Thai civil society coalition on Thai outbound investment that works to advance Thailand’s commitment to implementing policies based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The original environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted in 2008 determined that the Hatgyi project would directly affect six villages (110 households) in Myanmar. EGAT claims that in Thailand, only three villages would be affected. But outside reports estimate that a total of 31 villages and over 3,500 people would be directly or indirectly affected in both Thailand and Myanmar. An EIA is currently underway in Thailand, conducted by Chulalongkorn University.