Salween Dams

From its headwaters in the mountains of Tibet to its estuary in Mon State, Burma, the Salween River, known as the Nu River in China and the Thanlwin River in Burma, supports almost 10 million people. As the longest undammed river in mainland Southeast Asia, the Salween River sustains rich fisheries and fertile farmland that are central to the lives of many ethnic minority communities living along its banks.

Seven dams are proposed for the Salween’s mainstream in Burma, which threaten these communities’ livelihoods, many of whom are already suffering under Burma’s junta. The dam cascade has been planned in complete secrecy, with no participation from affected communities and no compensation or resettlement plans.

The Salween dam cascade is composed of the Kun Long/Upper Thanlwin, Nong Pa/Nawngpha, Tasang, Ywathit, Weigyi, Dagwin, and Hatgyi dams (see map). The proposed dams are located in active civil war zones. Since project preparation began, there has been increased militarization at the dam sites that has been linked to the escalating abuse of local populations. Ethnic minority groups are not only being systematically and forcibly moved from their homes, but also robbed, tortured, raped or executed. At the Tasang Dam site area and floodplain alone, over 60,000 people have been forcibly relocated.

Among the major environmental costs of the cascade, the Hatgyi Dam will flood two wildlife sanctuaries in Karen State, the Tasang Dam will flood pristine teak forests, and the Weigyi Dam will inundate parts of the Kayah-Karen Montaine Rainforests, Salween National Park, and Salween Wildlife Sanctuary.

The dams are being developed by companies from Thailand, China, and Burma.  In June 2006, China’s largest hydropower company, Sinohydro Corporation, announced an agreement with Thailand’s electricity utility, EGAT, to jointly develop the Hatgyi Dam. In July 2008, China Southern Power Grid Corporation (CSG) then signed an agreement with Sinohydro to develop the Salween River Basin, focusing on the Tasang Dam. Once completed, the projects – with an estimated price tag of at least US$10 billlion – will export all their electricity to Thailand.

In December 2007, over 50,000 people, including villagers from the proposed dam sites, signed a petition calling on the Chinese government to halt the construction of Chinese dam projects in Burma until international best practice standards are met. Despite local opposition to the dams, Burma’s Deputy Minister of Electric Power informed Parliament that six dam projects on the Salween River had been approved in February 2013. International Rivers is supporting the work of the Salween Watch Coalition in calling for a halt to all dams on the Salween River until genuine peace talks and political reform occur.

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