Concerned about a series of dams planned along the Salween River, the Save the Salween Network has raised objections to the formation of the Hydropower Developer’s Working Group (HDWG) in Burma by the International Finance Cooperation (IFC), claiming it will assist investors while sidestepping potential negative outcomes of the dams for thousands of ethnic minority groups.
The Salween River is one of the largest free flowing rivers in the world with many largely isolated groups living alongside it.
A Save the Salween Network statement said: “IFC has outlined a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for future hydropower projects in the country, and while touching on the potential environmental and socioeconomic costs such projects could entail, the document fails to present a thorough assessment and consultation plan that will guarantee respect and protection of local communities.”
The HDWG was established in Laos in 2013 where dams along the Mekong River are being financed by many of the same investors. Its website states that it’s an “innovative platform for companies to influence policy, network, and identify solutions to improve sustainability and business operations”.
The river network’s statement said: “A legacy of mass distrust among ethnic groups from a track record of human and indigenous rights abuses, lack of compensation, and the destruction of livelihoods (have been) seen in the wake of previous hydropower development projects. A string of broken promises from the government and external investors has left a bitter taste in the mouths of ethnic people nationwide.”
Regarding energy projects, special consideration needs to be taken in Burma, said the statement, where many unresolved conflicts are currently happening along the Salween River where dams are being planned.
In an open letter sent to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last week, the network urged the government to cancel plans to build the five main dams along the Salween River financed by Chinese, Thai and Burmese investors.
The letter said: “We wish to remind you that the Salween River basin has been a conflict area for decades, where the Burma Army has been relentlessly expanding and committing systematic atrocities against villagers in its attempts to control ethnic lands and resources. Pushing ahead with these unpopular dams will inevitably lead to more Burma Army militarization, increased conflict, and on-going atrocities.”
The letter also said that government claims that the dams will help the country’s energy problems are false as much of the power will go to neighbouring countries.
Earlier in the month, the network held a press conference in Mawlamyaing where heavy rain has caused severe flooding in both Mon and neighbouring Karen State, and also where the Salween River passes through.
Saw Tha Phoe, a spokesperson for the Save the Salween Network and resident of Hpa-an said in a issued statement: “Thousands of people in Hpa-an are currently suffering from the floods. We fear much greater flooding if the Salween dams are built.”
Sai Khur Hseng, a Shan spokesperson of the Save the Salween Network said: “People mistakenly believe that dams help prevent flooding, but they don’t. Look at Thailand. The large dams on the Chaophraya River could not stop the massive 2011 flood disaster.”
Reporting by KIC News
Translated by Thida Linn
Edited by BNI staff