Swiss-backed dam ‘to displace 8,000’

More than 20 villages in southwestern Shan state are facing the threat of impending flood and forced relocation due a hydropower project being built with the help of Swiss and British firms.

The Upper Paunglaung dam on the eponymous river that cuts through eastern Burma could submerge the homes of around 8000 people in the planned 61-square kilometre reservoir, according to a new report released by the Kayan New Generation Youth.

“Households will be forced to flatten their homes and abandon their farm fields, receiving in return just $US50 in compensation,” it said. Mu Moe Lay, of the KNGY, told a press conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, today that no help would be given for the relocation, with the deadline set of October this year.

Aiding the planning and construction of the dam is the Swiss-based AF-Colenco Ltd, which will design and oversee the project, and UK-based Malcolm Dunstan and Associates, which has already been heavily criticised for its involvement in the Tasang dam, the largest of 48 dams in Burma.

“This project shows that whether from Europe or Asia, companies are willing to toss aside proper standards when working in Burma,” said Mu Moe Lay.

Security for the Upper Paunglaung dam has been handed over to the Burmese army, whom the report says has employed the use of forced labour in the seven years since construction began. Mu Moe Lay said that troops from the  local New Kayan State Party militia have been told to leave to make way for government soldiers.

China’s Exim Bank and the Yunnan Machinery and Export Company have also provided capital and machinery for the project, one of nearly 40 hydropower developments in Burma that Beijing is playing a significant role in.

Sai Sai, from the pressure group Burma Rivers Network, said that most of the electricity generated from these projects are sold to neighbouring countries and are of little benefit for local populations. The Upper Paunglaung dam, which is located only 50 kilometres from the Burmese capital, Naypyidaw, will produce 140 megawatts of electricity.

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