Friday, August 18, 2017

Documentary raises alarm over Shan region threatened by Salween dam

Activists yesterday released a 30-minute documentary as part of a campaign against a mega-dam in central Shan State.

The documentary, called Drowning a Thousand Islands, includes local people from the remote Kunhing area voicing their concerns that the proposed Mong Ton hydropower project will irrevocably damage the Salween River.

Last month, the government announced they would continue with hydropower projects along the Salween, sparking fierce opposition from Shan political parties and armed groups.

“We need to preserve the Pang River, a hidden gem of the Salween. This tributary is home to unique aquatic ecosystems. The Mong Ton project will destroy this wonderful natural heritage area,” said Sai Khur Hseng, an environmental activist.

According to Action for Shan State Rivers, the film took six months to make.

The Kunhing area of central Shan has been off-limits for years due to ethnic conflicts. From 1996-1998, the Tatmadaw engaged in a scorched earth campaign in the region, displacing over 300,000 people in central Shan and killing hundreds in Kunhing.

Many refugees who fled to Thailand during this time have still not returned.

Though the fighting has ceased, the local villagers of the Thousand Islands area are still threatened, now by the construction of a dam which would submerge the entire area.

Kunhing township MP Daw Nang Khin Saw said, “I have raised concerns about the Mong Tom dam and its effects to the [regional] parliament but they replied that we need to raise our concerns with the national government.”

“We, the SNLD [Shan Nationalities League for Democracy] politicians, are trying to stop the dam on behalf of the locals,” she added.

Daw Nang Khin Saw as well as Shan, Mon And Karen activists say that the project carries risks of property destruction and death caused by flooding and earthquakes.

It is estimated that 50,000 locals from 137 villages would be displaced by the project.

If built, the Mong Ton hydropower dam will be the largest hydropower project in Southeast Asia. It will produce over 34.7 billion kWh of power annually, 90 percent of which will be exported to China and Thailand.

In addition to the Yangon screening, the film was also launched at public screenings in Taunggyi and Chiang Mai, as well as on Thai Public Broadcasting Service TV.

The documentary can also be viewed on Shan State Rivers’ Facebook page.