From the estuary in Mawlamyine Towndship (Mon State) to Pa-an township (Karen State), we spent 5 days to gather the information in the community in the lower Salween.
We spent 5 days to gather the information in the community in the lower Salween from the estuary of the river in Mawlamyine Township (Mon State) to Pa-an township (Karen State). The most of villagers who live along the river didn’t know clearly about dam project on Salween River. Especially, the construction of Hatgyi dam project of Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in Karen State, near the border of Thailand, which will impact them directly.
Voice of the villagers, monks and leaders of the armed forces who live throughout the lower Salween River, reflected the apprehension of the consequences, especially, the destruction the traditional lifestyle that always being happy for a long time. The interesting point was that the construction of Hatgyi dam is in the battle area of Karen National Union (KNU), they declared attitude manifestly, “No Dam”
As the representative of the new Mon State Party in Mawlamyine, even they had not signs clearly as KNU but their sounds were amenable to disagree on dam project that affect the environment.
“Today, tides in Salween River have changes due to construction of bridge and make some lands of the villagers was eroded by water. Some areas became Desert Island. If they build dams, it might impact more than building bridges. So we need to weigh between the advantages and disadvantages well. Especially, to change the nature, which, if it is unnecessary, we should not change it, “said Mr. TalaNyi, New Mon State Party Executive Director.
After completing the mission at Mawlamyine and Pa-an township, the team of journalists from Transborder News ,supported by Communicative Skills Improvement Project, led a team of media and documentary filmmakers to travel to Yangon to join the Knowledge Forum with Salween Basin Co- Ethnic Network and Myanmar media groups by Paung Ku Foundation as a coordinator.
The Salween Basin Co-Ethnic Network in Burma had a plan to organize the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams on 14 March in Mawlamyine, in order to spread information about the dam in Salween River to be widely accessed by more villagers .
The representatives of Karenni Environmental Organizations said that we were gathering information about the impact that would occur; if the Ywathit Dam is build in Salween River that flows through the Karenni State. Initially, it ‘s found that 12 villages’ residents had to move out of the area.
“If they really build the dam, the people feel more anxious. Especially, at the riverside of Salween in Karenni State, there is Yintalai tribe which is one of the indigenous groups in Karenni State. By now, total population of is only approximately 700 people. If the dam is built, it will impact their livelihood and culture. So it could be collapsed”.
Previously, Karenni Environmental Organization was trying to present mostly about the Yintalai tribe in the societies as they believed that it might get attention from the societies and stronger cooperation for reposing and opposing the dam.
A representative of Karen Rivers Network had reported on the progress of Hatgyi Dam Project that EGAT paid the salaries for the local workers as they worked to measure the water level in the Salween River. In addition, in November, officials from Burmese government had told the residents that Hatgyi Dam would be certainly built, and the villagers probably have to move to Naypyidaw and Taung Oo where is very far from their villages. The villagers were very worried because it is not convenient for their livelihood.
“It is strange that the Burmese government usually hold the peace talks and signing of a cease-fire agreement at the same time with forward as dam plans. But we do not know clearly yet how much the impact will occur, because we do not have a chance to know the facts, ” a representative of Karen River Network had noted it by giving that “In Burma, developments have focused on producing energy to sale to the foreigners, especially, hydro power . They focus much on the construction dams on the Salween River because it has the optimal terrain to build dams to generate electricity”.
The Burmese media didn’t emphasize much on building dams in the Salween River. However some people paid attention when there was a presentation of data. Some people were surprised to see Thai Media give precedence to this issue.
After talking about the project to build a dam on the Salween, both of Thai and Burmese journalists also exchanged the situations of two countries. Thai media had been questioned about the role of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that more criticism day by day and the amendment of constitution, including the conflict between Buddhists and Muslims. While, Burmese media paid attention on People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) who has organised several protests to expel Thai government.
Burmese journalists said, “2-3 years ago, there was a protest by Burmese citizens from many sectors including farmers, intellectuals, artists, etc. against the Myitsone dam project which was the large dam on Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. It is the issue of social inclusion because the river is like a blood vessel of Burma. There is a vast estuarine area. It is the breadbasket of the country. As the dam was invested by a Chinese company, they would supply electricity to sell to China while the Salween River was more important to various ethnic groups than directly over the Burmese, the investments share of Thailand and Chinese companies”.
About the investment of Thailand, Dr. Kyaw Thu Aung (Paung Ku Foundation) said, “ Investment of Thailand in Myanmar does not have a good reputation. There are several projects raising questions about local impact including special economic zone in Dawei Development Project”.
“Thailand has a very good environmental standard, participation and democracy. Currently, Thailand, they help the Burmese people more than fifteen thousand refugees and more than million workers. We want Thai people to improve the standard of investment in Myanmar. Because if you invest and create serious consequences, that will impact across Thailand inevitable”, Dr. Kyaw Thu Thein said rigidly.
Not long ago, there were a lot of Thai capitals went and did large projects in neighboring countries by profiting from converting the local natural resources such as minerals, forests and rivers. The local residents who live on those resources have been pressured or forced to fall in servitude and fail. Finally they had to move away or abandoned their homeland where they live since the ancestors.
The voice of Dr. Kyaw Thu Aung and the seeking “Capital Investment Governance” from the people in the neighboring countries has become increasingly day by day.
Translated from ”ลัดเลาะท้ายน้ำสาละวิน จากรัฐมอญสู่รัฐกะเหรี่ยง ฟังเสียงชุมชนตะโกน “ไม่เอาเขื่อน” (จบ)“
By Padsakorn Jumlongraj