The Burmese Government is in the process of selling the country’s rich river resources to hydropower developers from China, Thailand, and India. China is investing particularly heavily, with at least 45 companies developing over 60 hydropower projects. Large dams in Burma benefit these foreign investors while continuing to support the military junta financially and politically. Electricity produced from the proposed dams will be exported to neighboring countries instead of supplying local populations who endure serious prolonged energy shortages.
Burma’s largely rural population, which includes over 135 ethnic groups, relies heavily on rivers for their livelihoods and culture, which are now threatened by dam development. Project preparations to date have been linked to increased militarization and numerous human rights violations, including forced relocation and forced labor. Many of the proposed dams are located in civil war zones where ethnic minority groups are being systematically displaced, and in some cases, tortured, raped or executed.
Burma’s laws allow for no public participation in decision-making and effectively offer no access to justice. At the Shweli Dam, now under construction, land and livestock have been seized without compensation, and villagers have been forced to work for unfair or no pay.
Many areas that will be impacted by dam projects have been internationally recognized for their biodiversity. If built, dams on the ecologically rich Salween River, for example, will fragment the longest free-flowing river in mainland Southeast Asia. The Myitsone Dam in Kachin State will flood areas of pristine rainforest.
International Rivers' Southeast Asia program supports local partners in their efforts to protect Burma’s rivers and communities. The Salween Watch Coalition is working to prevent a cascade of five dams on the Salween River backed by Thai and Chinese investors. The Burma Rivers Network (BRN) has conducted extensive research and called on Chinese companies operating in Burma to conduct environmental and social impact assessments, publicly release information about proposed dams, and to include communities in the decision-making process.