Myanmar government urged to halt controversial dam in Shan State

Shan Community Based Organizations (CBOs) have issued a statement concerning plans to build the Upper Salween (Mong Ton) dam in Shan State, demanding cancellation of the dam.

On 9 June at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) in central Bangkok, Sai Khur Hseng, the coordinator of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization, presented the statement to about twenty media agencies, stating that the Burmese authorities must stop their plans to build the Mong Ton dam, as well as all other dams on the Salween River.

The statement and the following discussion also raised questions about the process of public consultation and the involvement of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).

From the left, Sai Khur Hseng, coordinator of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization, and Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator of International Rivers, at a press conference on the Mong Ton Dam at the FCCT on 9 June 2015.   

The planned Upper Salween (Mong Ton) dam, along with five other dams proposed for the Salween River is a joint project between Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power, the China Three Gorges Corporation, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and the International Group of Entrepreneur (IGOEC).

When finished, the Mong Ton dam will affect the historic Keng Kham valley and the unique ecology of a “thousand islands” in the Nam Pang River, according to the group.  

Furthermore, since there are still armed conflicts between the Burmese Army and the Shan State Army and Kokang Army, ethnic armed forces, the construction of the dam could lead to greater conflicts as each party will send in more troops to secure the area. In central Shan State, more than 300,000 villagers have had to be relocated because of armed conflicts.

Sai Khur Hseng also criticized the project consultants, SMEC of Australia, saying that they aimed to rubber-stamp the Mong Ton dam plans. SMEC started research in the area on March 2015 and encountered several protests by local villagers. SMEC then cancelled all public consultations and held closed-door meetings with government officials. He said SMEC should end its EIA/SIA process immediately because it lacks the participation of local people in assessing the impact.

Villagers and CSO workers from Shan State and Karen State shout slogans to oppose the dam project after a public consultation on the Mong Ton Dam held in Taunngyi, Shan State, Burma, on 10 March 2015 (file photo).

He said that the dam building plans had skipped important precautionary procedures because as SMEC was assessing the impacts of the dam, Chinese engineers had already conducted tested drilling on the Salween river bank since early 2015. He urged that all company personnel and equipment be withdrawn from the Mong Ton dam site.

In addition, Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator of International Rivers, raised questions about EGAT’s involvement in the dam plans, saying that it “reflects the intention to avoid the strong environmental and social legal procedures in this country by going to where they are less strict.” She also questioned EGAT and Thailand’s Power Development Plans regarding transparency of the project as information about activities is very limited.

Pianporn said that the Shan CBOs are in the process of discussion with Australian colleagues, since SMEC is an Australian company. They are researching SMEC’s past involvement in other dams in the region.

Sai Khur Hseng concluded that the Shan CBOs are aiming to empower local people by raising awareness and public participation. They are cooperating with Salween Watch and regional NGOs in mobilizing a campaign to stop the Salween dams.