Thursday, 21 November 2019

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Dam construction endangers lives of locals: report

New Delhi (Mizzima) - At least 15,000 villagers in southern Shan State have been forced from their homes and into the jungle, leading many to cross over the border with Thailand, as the ruling junta began relocating villages in preparation for a hydroelectric project, according to an environmental group.

While a few villagers tried to return home and rebuild their lives, most of the villagers have crossed over to Thailand in a desperate search for refuge, Sai Sai of Shan Sapawa, an environmental group, told Mizzima.

The mass relocation, according to Sai Sai, whose group on Tuesday released a new report on the human and environmental impact of building the mega dam, has been accelerated with the increasing militarization of the region by the ruling junta.

The Tasang Dam, which will be the tallest in Southeast Asia at an estimated height of 228 meters, is one of a series of dams to be constructed on the Salween River with the help of Chinese and Thai companies.

Since the mid-1990s Burma’s military rulers, with assistance from neighboring countries including Thailand, China and India, have embarked on a dam construction spree – including the Tasang Dam project, which commenced in 1996.

Burma initially made a deal with Thailand’s MDX group for the construction of the Tasang Dam but later brought in the China Gezhouba Group of Companies (CGGC), which now holds a 51 percent stake in the project compared to the 24 percent held by MDX, with Burma’s Department of Hydropower Implementation maintaining the remaining 25 percent.

The dam, which will have an installed capacity of 7,110 MW, is to produce 35,446 Ghw of electricity per year and will cost USD 6 billion. As per the agreement, most of the electricity will be sold to Thailand.

Sai Sai said with companies initiating surveying in the region, authorities have forced local villages to be relocated.

According to the initial survey, dam water will inundate 870 square kilometers, consuming over 100 villages and a number of communities living in the area.

While MDX will be the principle company responsible for the construction of the dam, the Burmese junta is responsible for the security of the site, as the area surrounding the site is infested with ethnic armed rebel groups including the United Wa State Army (UWSA), one of the largest armed ceasefire groups.

“With the junta taking care of the security, several Army battalions have been moved to the area and with these army outposts human rights violations including forced relocation, forced labor, and even extra-judicial killings have increased,” Sai Sai said.

Shan Sapawa, in their report entitled “Roots and Resilience”, said at least 36 Army battalions have been moved to the Tasang Dam area, where earlier less than ten units used to operate.

“This increased militarization caused local villagers to flee their homes, sending communities on the verge of extinction,” Sai Sai elaborated.

The report by Shan Sapawa also shed light on the plight of a particular community known as the Keng Kham Community, which resides along the Salween River about 35 miles upstream from the Tasang Dam.

This community, comprised of about 114 villages, will be directly impacted as the whole area including their villages, fields and farms are to be inundated by water once the Tasang Dam is completed, the report said.

“The human rights abuses have begun in these community and many have been forced to flee from their homes,” Sai Sai added.

Tasang Dam, however, is not the only dam envisioned on the Salween River. With the help of Thailand and China, the military regime has planned to build at least five dams on the Salween, which to date is still considered the longest free flowing river in Southeast Asia.

Like Shan Sapawa, rights activists in other areas have also protested the construction of dams on the river, particularly because the projects would bring irreparable damage to the lives of local communities while primarily benefitting Thailand and the military regime.

On Tuesday, the Karen National Union, an armed resistant group, raised concern over the junta’s plan to build Hatgyi Dam in eastern Burma’s Karen State, saying it would displace thousands and endanger the ecology and rare species in the vicinity.

While Burma’s military junta has signed several deals with China, Thailand and India to construct dams on major rivers including the Irrawaddy, they were last month forced to buy electricity from China to supply the country’s second largest city of Mandalay.

Except for the junta’s capital city of Naypyitaw, Burmese cities, towns and villages largely still remain in the dark at night. But for the countries two major cities, the former imperial capital city of Mandalay and the commercial hub of Rangoon, the government makes sure residents receive electricity for six hours per day in a rotation system.


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