By Demelza Stokes
Shan State, Myanmar, December 1, 2016
It’s difficult to encapsulate, as an outsider, how significant the Salween is in the hearts, minds and identities of the ethnic communities who live in its watershed. “From the Land of Green Ghosts,” Pascal Khoo Htwe’s autobiographical account of life in conflict-ridden eastern Myanmar is flecked through with references to the “legendary River Salween,” the river he refers to as “an old friend or a lover.”Meeting with Salween riverine communities in Myanmar today, Pascal Khoo Htwe’s depiction of his relationship with the river burns strong – they still talk about it all the time.
Even more so now, as political and economic transformation in Myanmar and increased regional integration are shaping the Salween’s future amid the global boom of tropical hydropower development.
The 2,800 kilometer (1,740 mile) long Nu-Thanlwin-Salween River is shared by China, Thailand and Myanmar. It has been politically and geographically marginalized for decades, yet it beats persistently through the veins of its six million riparian inhabitants, as well as nourishing their livelihoods, their agricultural production, food security and local economies. Now the Salween landscape is being redefined in the context of large scale infrastructure development, and plans for at least ten large hydropower dam projects are dotted along the Salween’s path in Myanmar and China. All of Myanmar’s Salween projects lie in or near areas of mixed governance between the Myanmar army, non-state ethnic armed groups or militias.
Photo: The Nu River in Yunnan, China. Plans to dam the river there have been suspended then reinstated, but seem to be on hold for the moment. Photo by Li Xiaolong/International Rivers.
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