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Damn the Dams
Burmese Relief Center--Japan
DATE:June 12, 1995
TIME: 9:25PM JST
DAMMING THE SALWEEN
Peaceful life along the rivers of Burma may soon come
to an end for the tribal people who traditionally live there if
plans for dam building go ahead.
The Thai and Burmese governments are currently
negotiating to build dams on the Salween and Moei rivers
which together form almost 300 km of the Thai-Burma
border. These projects are being proposed as a source of
electricity and water for Thailand and to provide revenue to
the ruling SLORC of Burma. In particular, water drawn
from the Salween River and its tributaries would be de-
livered to the drought-crippled Bhumibol reservoir in
A total of twenty-three dams for by-hydropower and/or
transbasin water diversion are proposed for the Salween
watershed.* 23,40 million cubic meters of water could be
diverted from the Salween and its tributaries. (*This total
includes all proposed dams to date, including those which
have had their funding withdrawn, and those sites which
appear to interfere with each other, because "shelved" plans
have not infrequently reappeared in the past under different
proposals and names.)
Salween River Mainstream Dams:
-the Upper Salween (2 potential sites)
-the Lower Salween
-the Nam Moei 1, 2, & 3
-under separate agreement, a dam is planned (possibly for
construction by Chinese engineers) on the Salween in Shan
There are also 15 hydropower and water diversion from
Salween tributaries planned inside Thailand, and further
border dams are proposed at Nam Mae Sai, Mae Kok and
The proponents of the Salween dams include the
governments of Thailand and Burma, who have formed a
Joint Working Commission and, more recently, China.
Because of the large sums involved in construction, multi-lateral aid and bila
teral organizations, principally the ADB,
will probably finance the projects. Consultants hired by
these funders count on contracts overseas because the
domestic dam industry in Northern countries is in decline.
Dam-building consultants from Norway and EPDC and
JICA in Japan have been most active in securing bilateral aid
contracts from their respective governments to carry out
pre-feasibility studies for the Salween dams.
Dams planning to date has dealt only with the economic
aspects of construction. No studies have considered the
proposed plans for the Salween basin as a whole, nor has
there been any attempt to address the cumulative effects
that water diversion and regulation will have on the river
and its tributaries. Most feasibility studies have not
progressed beyond desk level.
IMPACTS AND CONCERNS: Environmental and Social
To date, Salween dam proponents have not initiated studies
to assess the impacts of proposed dams individually or on
the Salween River basin as a whole. As the Salween marks
the border between Burma and Thailand, the watershed is
shared between the two countries. While many of the ef-
fects of the dams will occur in downstream communities and
ecosystems on the Burmese side, Thailand's forests, rivers
and people will also be affected.
Decrease in River Flow
The cumulative impacts of water diversion from the
mainstream of the Salween is almost certain to result in
severe impacts on the ecology of the middle, lower and
estuarine areas of the river. Many of the individual projects
appear to draw very small percentages of water from the
total annual flow of the Salween. During the dry season,
amounts diverted by every proposed projects will extract a
higher percentage of the Salween flow to meet increased
water requirements in Thailand.
The consequences of diversion of a percentage of the
Salween's flow could include:
- Decreased flow, which could change the ecology and
water quality of the Salween River throughout its middle
and lower reaches.
- Decreased flows in the Salween delta, which could cause
saltwater intrusions into the delta, destroying rice paddy
fields, rendering community drinking water wells unpotable,
altering the delicate aquatic balance in spawning and feeding
grounds of fish and other aquatic fauna.
- Disruption of natural seasonal river flow, which maintains
nutrient supply and habitat for marine fisheries in the area of
- Decline in fish populations and salinization of lowland
paddy areas, resulting in a corresponding decline in food
production and security for the people of the delta.
Destruction of Forests
Vast areas of forest will be destroyed when inundated by the
reservoirs of the proposed dams. More forests will be
cleared during construction of access roads to the dams.
Every incursion into the forest will provide greater
opportunity for commercial logging in border areas already
degraded by five years of logging concessions granted to
Thai companies by SLORC.
As local people are evicted from their land, either due to
inundation, forced resettlement, or flight from areas under
SLORC control, people will be confronted with the
necessity of clearing more areas of forest for the planting of
food crops. Reduction in forest cover destroys or reduces
habitat for forest animals and increases danger of rainy-season floods in down
Sustainable agriculture and gathering of forest foods are the
primary means of subsistence for ethnic groups living in the
vicinity of the border. Destruction of forests and riparian
agricultural plots by large dams and reservoirs will
effectively undermine these people's food security.
Local people will be evicted from proposed reservoir areas
and dam construction sites. Many of these people are
already refugees or displaced from their villages to avoid
forced labour or persecution by the SLORC military. The
vast majority are civilians accused by the SLORC of
cooperating with armed ethnic groups controlling areas of
Burma's border region since 1949.
On the Thai side of the border, many communities in the
Salween watershed have been established for generations.
Few of these local people have identity cards, citizenship
papers, or land title documents. Consequently, the
possibility of meaningful consultation with dam proponents
or of receiving compensation for relocation, loss of land and
Destruction of Cultures
A people's means of livelihood is intimately linked to their
culture. The indigenous peoples of Thailand and Burma
rely on the land for not only survival, but also for their
cultural identity. Many of the indigenous groups in the
mountainous areas of the border are societies virtually un-
known to outsiders.
SLORC's use of slave labour for construction of
infrastructure projects in Burma is extensively documented.
Village people in border areas, regardless of age or gender,
are commonly press-ganged to work on large infrastructure
projects, roads and railways. Often, people in SLORC's
labour program never return to their communities, dying of
starvation, disease or injury during enslavement. Women
bear brutal hardships, as rape of women labourers by
SLORC troops is documented as a regular occurrence.
1. Complete Environmental Impact and Social Impact
Assessments, addressing bio-regional impacts of large dams
and water diversion in the Salween watershed. In addition,
project-by-project assessments should be undertaken
immediately. No dam construction should be initiated until
all these studies have been completed.
2. Existing and subsequent studies, especially
Environmental Impact Assessments required for informed
public debate and decision-making, should be made
available to the public. Towards this end-.
*A. Any EIAs or SIAs produced should be based on the
knowledge of potentially affected local people, who
understand the rivers, forests, and agroecosystems upon
which they depend for their means of livelihood.
B. Local communities located within a proposed reservoir,
and those living both upstream and downstream of a
proposed dam and its reservoir, should be informed in as
much detail as possible of the potential effects of particular
dams in their areas, and of potential impacts of all projects
on the Salween River basin as a whole.
C. Questions of people affected should be fully addressed
by project proponents, in a manner satisfactory to
potentially affected local people before any decision to build
a dam is made. Perhaps, above all, the Thai government
should consider whether it is wise for it to enter into joint
activities with the SLORC. Increasingly, Thailand will
become dependent on Burma for its energy needs. When
the official Burmese media consistently refers to Thailand as
"the other country", when its soldiers consistently violate
Thai sovereignty, does Thailand really want to place such a
vital part of its own development in the hands of such
Adapted from draft report "Hydroelectric and Trans-Basin
Water Diversion Projects in the Salween River Basin"
compiled by Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional