On March 14, 2014, on International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams, more than 200 people, including members of the Burma Rivers Network, participants from Araken State, Shan State, Karenni, and Karen State and local residents from Mawlamyine, the Mon State capital gathered on “Kaw Mu Pone” Island in the Salween River delta near Mawlamyine to take action to protect the rivers.
Following government reforms and for the first time in Burma's history civil society groups and dam affected indigenous and ethnic community representatives to came together on the International Day of Action to raise their concerns regarding dam projects in their areas that have disrupted their lives or threaten to do so.
The event was jointly organized by Karen Rivers Watch (KRW) and the Burma Rivers Network (BRN) for the purpose of raising awareness on the impacts of dam, motivating people, and presenting the results of their signature campaign against the six Salween Dams.
Sai Khur Hseng, from Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization said;
“The reason for all of us to gather together here on this March 14 event on the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Large Dams is to raise our voices against the projects which negatively affect people, as well as to protect our river resources.”
Six dam plans are currently active for the Salween River in Burma, five on the mainstream and at least one on a major tributary. The mainstream dams include the Kunlong, Nong Pha and Tasang dam in Shan State, the Ywathit Dam in Karenni State and Hatgyi Dam in Karen State.
The Salween River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the world, and is considered the lifeblood of millions of ethnic people in Burma. The six dam projects would have a combined capacity of about 15,000 megawatts and are planned by Chinese, Burmese and Thai investors. They are threatening the future of the people and the rich biodiversity of the Salween basin. Although the ones who will be most affected by the projects are the local communities living along the river, the majority of the benefits to the investors and the Burmese government and the generated electricity will go to China and Thailand, leaving very little or no benefits for these communities.
Victoria, from Karen Rivers Watch said;
“There will be no benefits for the Karen State if they build the Hatgyi Dam. 90% of the electricity from the dam will go to a foreign country and only 10% will be available for Burma/Myanmar. Therefore we want to say do not build this dam. We also want other people, including all of you, to support us in opposing it.”
The dam projects have been linked to forced displacement of local landowners, environmental damage and Burma Army militarization, intensifying the concerns of ethnic people and civil society groups that the Salween dam projects will come at the expense of human rights.
According to Shan Human Rights Foundation reports released in February 13, 2014, due to the construction of access roads in preparation for building the Kunlong Dam in Shan State, communities in over 60 villages have lost their lands and houses already.
According to the Karenni Civil Society Network, even though Karenni State, where the Ywathit Dam project would be located, is quite small, it is heavily militarized and there are 22 Burma Army Battalions stationed there. The government has continued to construct the No 14 military training centre, despite opposition from local people.
In Karen State where the Hatgyi dam project is to be located, the conflict between the government and the Karen National Union (KNU) has been going on for more than 60 years. Although the government and the KNU entered a ceasefire agreement in 2012, so far there is no concrete political agreement that will guarantee genuine peace and the well-being of the people. Instead, while both sides are trying to build trust, the military is sending more troops, rations, supplies and has made their camps stronger, especially in Mutraw District where the Hatgyi Dam project is to be located.
Saw Kler doh, the KNU Brigade 5th Major said;
“To build trust, both sides need to show clear indicators that can make them really trust each other. Out of over 80 Burmese military camps in our brigade we only asked them to withdraw 8 camps. However they completely refused to withdraw from their camps. Instead they have sent more troops; they have strengthened their fortifications and have been stockpiling supplies for their military.”
These are some of the reasons for civil society groups and members of communities from different parts of Burma to come together on 14 March 2014 on Kaw Mu Pone Island to share their experiences on dam, and raise their voices so the government and the dam investors will hear them.
On March14, during the event, Burma Rivers Network presented the results of their signature campaign against the six Salween Dams, conducted by their members in collaboration with other civil society groups inside Burma. Over 33,500 people in Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon States and from Yangon, Sagaing and Magwe division signed the petition, while over 130 civil society organizations and political parties representing thousands more formally endorsed the signature campaign.
As part of the Salween campaign the petition letter will be sent to the Burmese, Chinese and Thai governments, and the companies listed as the dam developers. These include Thailand’s EGAT International Co.Ltd, the China Three Gorges Corporation, Hanergy Holding Group, Sino Hydro Corporation, China Datang Overseas Investment Co.Ltd, and the Burmese crony companies Asia World, the International Group of Entrepreneurs Co.Ltd and Shwe Taung Hydropower Company. The petition calls for an immediate halt to the plans to dam the Salween River.