A plan to build six dams along the Thanlwin River – and then sell most of the hydropower they generated to China and Thailand – would be “unjust”, campaigners claimed on July 7. A group of 122 local civil society organisations calling itself Save the Salween (Thanlwin) launched their campaign at a press conference in Yangon on July 7.
The proposed dams would be located in Shan, Kayin and Kayah states and would be built by three companies from China, Thailand and Myanmar. The largest dam, the Mong Ton, will take 14 years to build and produce an estimated 7000 megawatts, of which 90 percent will go to China and Thailand, with 10pc reserved for domestic use.
The Myanmar partner in the project is IGE, which is owned by U Nay Aung, the son of Pyithu Hluttaw MP and former minister for industry U Aung Thaung.
“The electricity from the projects will be sold to foreign countries, so obviously would benefit neither this country nor its people,” the group said in a statement at the press conference.
The campaigners said the project entailed not only the sale of electricity, but even the diversion of water to Thailand, which they called an “injustice”.
The dams also increase the risk of earthquakes, objectors say. Retired general manager of Ministry of Mines U Saw Moe Myint, a geologist, said the dams are located in the vicinity of Kyauk Kyan fault.
“If the reservoirs are big, and store a large volume of water, it is likely to depress the fault and drive water into the fault,” thus making quakes more likely, he said.
The Tarlay earthquake of 2011 originated from the Kyauk Kyan fault, he said, adding that one serious quake was likely every 40 years. “If the upstream dams break, the domino effect would destroy all the dams downstream as well,” he said.
Nan Khan Naunt from Kunlong township, Shan State, said residents were concerned about the scale of the proposed projects. “We have heard the basin area of the dam will be bigger than Singapore. That’s why we’re all protesting.”
The company hired to perform environmental and social impact statements, Australia’s Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), had conducted public consultations in which local people expressed disagreement with the plans direct to the company authorities, she added.
“SMEC spoke only of the advantages of the dams, and gave the villagers presents. Then they asked them to sign letters they didn’t understand. Now everybody’s objecting,” she added.
Nan Khan Naunt said the government had already sealed off the project area to all but “authorised persons”, and claimed Chinese scientists were conducting experiments there.
Ko Saw Thar Boe, of Kayin State, said local residents were worried about the resumption of conflict because some of the dams were located in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups.
“This is the first time we’ve had a respite in 60 years, and now the dams are going to shake things up again,” he said.
Researchers from Kayin civil society say the project region is home to about 130 species of fauna, some of which may be threatened if the dams go ahead. They complained about this to the Thai Human Rights Commission, but a subsequent meeting with the Thai company concerned yielded no results, he said.
Kayah State resident Ko Oattaya Aung said some ethnic groups will be severely affected. “The Yintale tribe, which lives in the project area, has only about 1000 members left,” he said.
Local people have already proclaimed that “Salween is not for sale”, and left anti-dam graffiti along the banks of the river.
Contacted by The Myanmar Times, U Aye San, director general of MOEP’s Department of Hydropower Implementation, said he had no comment at this time.