By The Mekong Eye
Myanmar, November 15, 2016
A powerful new documentary produced by Karen News profiles people who may be affected by a string of planned hydropower dams on Myanmar’s Salween River. “Our River…, Our Life” takes viewers along one of the world’s longest undammed rivers.
“It gives voice to the people currently missing from the debate on the dams,” said Karen News, who describes the video as a work of public interest journalism. The documentary goes “deeper into the impacts of those policies/events on the people most affected – the villagers.”
According to the video, “the Salween River is one of Asia’s great rivers that bring life to people who live along it. Known as the Nu in China and the Thanlwin in Burma, Salween River stretches over 2,800 kilometers from its source on the Tibetan Plateau in Eastern China through Burma’s ethnic states to the Gulf of Martaban and into Andaman Sea. It is estimated that six million people live in the Salween watershed and depend on the river for their livelihoods, dietary protein, and its nutrient rich food.”
Along with haunting shots of the beautiful Salween River area, the video profiles many fisherfolk, villagers and activists worried about dam construction.
“Like this time now, we would use net to catch fish so we can have [fish] curry. We also collect our vegetable around here and catch fish from this Salween River. The river is the lifeblood for us. Since we were children our lives depend on the River.” Maung Myo Oo, a villager from a lower proposed dam area says in the video.
At least seven dams have been proposed for the Salween, with critics saying there is little transparency or public participation in the planning. Campaigners worry that the dams will displace thousands of villagers, while harming fisheries and agriculture.
Myanmar’s infrastructure development has sometimes been linked to conflict. Recently, the area near the planned Hatgyi dam on the Salween saw renewed conflict between the government and armed groups, forcing villagers to flee. “The fighting is directly linked to the Hatgyi dam,” Karen Rivers Watch told Myanmar Times.
Several civil society groups are asking for all dams to be cancelled or reexamined, on worries that conflict, environmental degradation and impacts on local people could be devastating.
Myanmar’s new government is grappling with the need for more energy as the country modernizes after decades of economic stagnation under military rule. “Our River…, Our Life” gives voice to those on the front lines of the tough decisions facing the country.
The Karen News documentary was produced with support from The Mekong Eye and Mekong Matters Journalism Network, which is supported by Internews and its Earth Journalism Network. The filmmakers and their outlet retain full editorial and copyright control.