Representatives of Shan communities have expressed serious concerns on the ongoing plan to construct a series of hydropower dams on the Salween River, saying many areas are still plagued with ongoing fighting between minority groups and the government.
Shan State Rivers Network’s coordinator Sai Khur Hseng said at a press conference on Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Bangkok, that areas designated for dam sites, especially in Shan State adjacent to China’s Yunnan province were still plagued with the sporadic fighting.
Among the planned dams is the 1,200MW Naung Pha Dam proposed by a Chinese firm at a site. But fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups had been going on west of the site and the United Wa State Army occupied areas to the east, the group said.
The group said some aspects of the pre-construction process such as public consultation, were not being disclosed publicly.
For instance, locals invited to “public consultations” on the Naung Pha were only informed about the meetings hours in advance.
Charm Tong, from the Shan Women’s Action Network, said villagers in the state had staged protests against the dam at least twice last month.
Apart from concerns that the dam would cause increased fighting and displacement, villagers feared the dam could be risky given the area is prone to earthquakes and flooding.
Despite their concerns, shortly before Aung Suu Kyi’s state visit to China last week, the National League for Democracy government announced that it would proceed with the Salween dams, to address Burma’s energy needs.
Last week, Shan community groups wrote an open letter to Suu Kyi urging her to scrap the Salween dams. They warned that unilaterally selling off the Salween, a vital artery for millions of ethnic people in eastern Myanmar, would undermine the peace process.
“The government should rather give an importance to the environment and the unity of people in the country first,” Sai Khur Hseng said. “For locals, the rivers are always more important than the electricity, because it’s the source of their livelihood.”