Dam floods 20 villages in central Burma

Around 20 villages in central Burma vacated to make way for a hydropower dam have now been submerged, locals have reported.

But no compensation has been paid to those who lost their homes, a resident of Shwe Kyin township in Bago division said, while crops had also been destroyed by Burmese troops.

“Along with the villages, thousands of acres of farmlands and fruit gardens were also flooded,” he said. “There may be a rise of water level from three to five feet whenever the dam releases one foot of water [from the reservoir]. It is causing a great deal of damage to local businesses.”

Building of the 185-foot high dam began in 2000 and is expected to open next month. It will have a 75 megawatt electricity output, relatively small in comparison to Burma’s other hydropower projects, and covers a 44-square mile area, populated mainly by small Karen villages.

Secretary of the Karen Environment Committee, Naw Paw Gay, reaffirmed that no compensation was paid to the villagers, the majority of whom are ethnic Karen who lost their farms.

“Some villagers have now been displaced to mountain areas while some moved into towns. They only had those farms to rely on for making a living,” she said.

The area has also seen an increase in army troops who were deployed in the region to secure the dam site and intensify offensives against Karen villagers. Recent fighting has forced the closure of a number of schools in eastern Burma.

The complaints echo the recent furore of the Myitsone dam project in Burma’s northern Kachin state, which is being bankrolled by China.

A spokesperson for the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), Ahnan, said that both the Burmese and Chinese governments failed to publicly announce the forced relocation of around 15,000 people from 60 villages near to the dam site.

The Burmese government has embarked on an aggressive expansion of its energy sectors, with the tally of major hydropower dams in the country expected to reach more than 50 in the near future.

Despite Burma’s major urban areas suffering from frequent blackouts, observers have alleged that the majority of electricty produced by the ventures is siphoned off to neighbouring China and Thailand.