Eleven Myanmar

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Gov’t urged to review Thanlwin hydropower dam projects

YANGON - The Myanmar government must review hydro-power projects being planned on the Thanlwin River, according to Karen Rivers Watch and environmental activists.

Critics argue that the projects, hatched under the last military government, will only serve the interests China and Thailand leaving little benefit for ethnic communities in Shan, Kayah, Kayin and Mon states.  

“Mon State lies at the end of Thanlwin’s course. Although the dams will not be constructed in Mon State, the disadvantages can be harmful to the residents due to less flow of water which will affect crops. The locals don’t know about the environmental and social impact assessment,” said Saw Thar Boe from Karen Rivers Watch.

The Thanlwin River flows 2,820 Kilometres from the Tibetan plateau down to the Andaman Sea making it the 26th longest river in the world, criss-crossing most of Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas. 

Chinese and Thai firms have planned to invest billions of U.S. dollars for the construction of six hydropower projects on the Thanlwin River together with military-connected companies such as Shwe Taung, Asia World and IGE.

Campaigners have decried the lack of transparency and stepped up their demands for a full government disclosure to make their plans public. They raised fears that ethnic communities could suffer serious social and economic disadvantages, as well as environmental degradation should the dams go ahead.  

A petition against the Thanlwin Hydropower projects is being launched and will be submitted not only to the President and the Ministry of Electric Power but also to firms from China and Thailand. 

Campaigners will also raise the issue with the World Bank and Asia Development Bank   to mark the International Day Against Dams on March 14.

“Most of the firms are going to get investment loans from the banks like World Bank. They say that they are surveying the environmental and social impact assessments to avoid harming the locals. That’s why we must know exactly who is involved,” said Saw Thar Boe.

“If the entire people will object to the building of the projects, the organisations that are now lending the loans can withdraw their mortgage. We haven’t agreed to these projects. The authorities should discuss these issues in the parliament,” he added. 

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes because of armed conflict in ethnic areas bordering the Thanlwin River over the last few decades. 

Such centrally driven development projects may also jeopardise attempts by the government to forge a nation-wide peace agreement with a dozen armed groups, exacerbating grievances that may lead to more conflict. 

“The chosen sites are located in the conflict areas between the government’s army and the ethnic groups. The government are doing the projects without locals’ approval. In doing so, not only can cancel the internal peace process but also can break out the trust building on the government,” said an officer from Kachin Peace Network.

The six-hydropower projects intend to send 90 percent of the electricity produced to China and Thailand. Up to now, there has been no transparency as to how the government plans to distribute the remaining power, according to mineralogist Saw Moe Myint.

The Chinese firms such as Hanergy Holding Company, Hydrochina Corporation, China Three Corporation, China Datang Over Seas Investment and Sinohydro and EGAT International Co,Ltd from Thailand are all involved in the six hydropower project.


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