By YEN SNAING / THE IRRAWADDY| Monday, February 22, 2016 |
A stretch of the Salween River in Karenni State. (Photo: Alex Ellgee / The Irrawaddy)
YANGON — Save the Salween Network (SSN), a group of nine river protection and ethnic civil society groups, released a statement on Monday calling on the incoming government to halt all projects on the Salween River, which extends through China, Myanmar and Thailand.
“In accordance with the new government’s promise to guarantee ethnic rights and set up a federal democratic system, the Save the Salween Network urges the new government to stop all plans to build dams on the Salween River, as they will have disastrous impacts on the lives of countless ethnic communities in Myanmar,” the statement read.
“This is not only going to create misunderstanding between ethnic peoples and the new government, but will also have impacts on ethnic armed groups and the current peace process.”
Saw Tha Phoe of Karen River Watch, a network member, said that the SSN is worried about news of an agreement between the Chinese and Burmese governments on Feb. 2 to build 18 new dams along Myanmar’s rivers, though details of the agreement were not publicized.
“The government did not officially release any details about the 18 dams. We just know that there are plans to build dams along the Salween River,” Saw Tha Phoe told The Irrawaddy.
“We want to know why this is being so hurriedly done when the government’s term is ending. When the NLD [National League for Democracy] government takes power, they will have to take care of what the previous government did.”
According to Saw Tha Phoe, six hydropower dams are already underway on the Salween River: Kunlong, Mann Taung, Mong Ton (Tasang) and Naung Pa in Shan State, Ywathit in Karenni State, and Hatgyi in Karen State.
The Myanmar Rivers Network has said previously that these dam projects, which have a combined capacity of 15,000 megawatts and which are funded by Chinese, Burmese and Thai investors, pose a threat to the future of locals and to the Salween basin’s rich biodiversity.
“The Mong Ton dam, planned on the Salween River in Shan State, will be the largest hydropower project in Southeast Asia, and will threaten the lives, homes and property of countless communities in Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon states,” the network said.
“According to research along the Salween by earthquake experts, the building of dams will have seismically disruptive impacts on major fault lines, and should definitely not go ahead,” the network added.
The current Salween dam projects, the network said, are also violating the human rights and indigenous rights of local people.
“The Salween dam projects are fuelling tension and conflict between different ethnic armed groups,” SSN said. “Government troops are also using the pretext of providing security for the dams to expand their presence in ethnic areas. This is threatening the peace process and the lives, homes and property of local ethnic peoples.”