By The Thu Aung
Mon, Myanmar, September 8, 2016
Mon activists yesterday attacked dam projects slated for the Salween River, releasing a report about the potential negative impacts.
“Given the recently renewed plans by the Myanmar government and Thai investors to build the controversial Hatgyi dam, our downstream communities share extreme concerns with all the other communities along the Salween about the impact of the dam on our livelihood and the environment,” said Mi Ah Chai, one of the lead researchers on the report by the Mon Youth Progressive Organisation.
The announcement that 1360-megawatt Hatgyi project would be resumed was made on August 12 by Ministry of Electric Power permanent secretary U Htein Lwin.
Potential effects could include altering the river’s flow, increased erosion, destruction of islands, damage to downstream agriculture, reduction in the fish population, and disastrous earthquakes or broken dams in this seismically active region, Mi Ah Chai added.
Damming of the Mekong has caused long-lasting damage to the floodplains and aquatic environments in Vietnam, said Nan Hnin Yee, a leader of a Karenni civil society organisation. The seven Salween River projects could produce 10,000 megawatts, she said, but added that the environmental trade-off would be severe.
Strategic environmental assessments cannot guarantee an earthquake will not strike, said Mi Ah Chai. This is a real possibility given the river’s location along fault lines, she said, urging government officials not to gamble with people’s lives.
“The newly elected government should not repeat the mistakes of the past government by ignoring the voices of the people,” she said.
Locals near the sites of proposed dams in Shan, Kayin, and Kayah states have repeatedly protested the projects. CSOs from those states have pointed out that 90 percent of the power will go to China or Thailand, while the dams will threaten food security for millions of people.
“The Salween dams will provide no benefit for the local people, and will create irreversible environmental impacts to downstream ecosystems,” the report by the MYPO concluded.
With the future of the controversial Myitsone dam project still in doubtfollowing Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to China, local residents in Shan State also made clear their position on similar projects.
Sai Khay Seng, a Shan environmentalist, pointed out that the projects are often proposed in areas where tensions between the military and armed ethnic groups are high. CSOs demanded that mega projects be put on hold until a countrywide peace deal is reached.