Dam investors 'fuelling violence'

Foreign investment in Burma’s multiple military-backed dam projects is contributing to environmental degradation and human rights abuses such as forced displacement, a Thailand-based watchdog has warned.

Companies should cease their involvement in ongoing hydropower projects, the Burma Rivers Network (BRN) said yesterday to mark International Rivers Day. Some 25 dams are either mid-construction or being planned along Burma’s waterways, the majority catalysed by substantial Chinese investment and demand.

“The investing companies and the military junta, despite protests from local residents, are going ahead with the dam project,” said BRN’s Ah Nan. “The dams will affect millions of people living both up and downstream on the rivers.”

She said some 200 locals on two sides of Salween river, which runs through eastern Burma, yesterday held ceremonies praying for protection of the river as concerns mount about the possible impact of the Weigyi and Hatgyi dams, two of five projects planned for the Salween.

“Despite the highly controversial nature of the Hatgyi dam, which is located in a contested war-zone, Thailand is pushing ahead for it to be the first of the dams built on the Salween River,” says the BRN website. “Although it is the smallest of the five planned dams, there are fears that once built, it will pave the way for the building of the other larger dams.”

Despite the aggressive damming of Burma’s rivers and the subsequent impact on local communities, BRN says that most of the power will be exported, despite only 20 percent of Burma’s population having regular access to electricity.

There is also the potential for energy projects to exacerbate armed conflict in Burma, with the majority of the dams located in volatile ethnic border regions.

“Areas around the planned dam sites, particularly along the Salween, are heavily militarized by the junta’s troops, who have forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands of local civilians, and commit ongoing systematic human rights abuses, including torture, killing and rape,” said a statement released by BRN yesterday.

“Foreign engineers currently surveying for the dams are being escorted by the very same troops committing these abuses.”

A report released last week by the Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) warned that more than 37,000 people could be displaced by a series of hydropower projects in Karenni state, which borders Thailand. Surveying for the projects is underway and, according to KDRG, there is a real threat that the Yintale, a Karenni sub-group, could be wiped out.

BRN said that foreign investors should consider that their input risks both reputation and lives “as it is impossible to adhere to meaningful dam-building standards when affected communities are silenced with violence”.

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