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Twenty villages in eastern Burma’s Shan state are struggling to cope with the impact of a dam built upriver in the Chinese province of Yunnan.
Daily water level fluctuations on the Shweli river are creating problems with trade and transport for communities living near Shan state’s border towns of Muse and Namkham, according to a joint report released this week by the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation and the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN).
It claims that around 16,000 people who rely on the river for trade “have seen their income cut drastically by the continual drops and surges in the water level, which have caused both grounding and flooding of the ferry boats”.
The river, known as the Longjiang in China, marks part of the border between Burma and its northern neighbour, and became the route along which Shan migrated from Yunnan into Burma up to 2000 years ago.
China has been busy damming many of the rivers that feed into Southeast Asia, and has been accused by environmental groups this year of causing the Mekong river’s lowest water levels in nearly half a century. Beijing is planning 13 dams on China’s stretch of the Salween river, which also flows through Shan state.
The 110-meter tall Longjiang dam is located only 30 kilometres north of Muse, and was finished in mid-2010. Affected residents have called on Chinese authorities to mitigate the fallout from the dam, while the report claims the Burmese junta has done little to address the concerns.
“The Burmese government knows about these bad consequences, but as far as we have learnt, they are not doing anything to help the local population,” said Sai Sai, from the Shan Sapawa group.
The few environmental regulations that exist in Burma are only weakly enforced, while there is little or no policy of carrying out impact assessments prior to projects going ahead. China’s need for efficient energy sources to meet the needs of its billion-strong population also means that the ramifications of its hydropower projects are often overlooked.