Shan group presents Australian consulting firm with signatures of residents opposed to southern Shan State’s controversial Mong Ton hydropower project.
Today Shan community representatives revealed the signatures of 23,717 Shan State citizens who oppose the construction of the Mong Ton (Tasang) dam on the Salween (Thanlwin) River.
The petition was delivered to the Yangon office of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), the Australian consulting firm responsible for conducting environmental and social impact assessments (EIA/SIA) of the proposed hydropower project.
“The signatures were collected from people throughout Shan State, particularly townships adjoining the Salween, who are alarmed at Naypyidaw’s accelerated plans to dam their river to export hydropower,” stated a press release from the coalition Action for Shan State Rivers, which represents communities along the Salween River.
SMEC policy does not allow the firm to comment on ongoing assessments.
Sai Khur Hseng, a representative of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization explained that participants want the signatures included in the final EIA/SIA report, which will be released by SMEC later this month to the three entities behind the construction of the dam: the Chinese Three Gorges Corporation, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, and Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power.
“Our aim is to collect one million signatures. We will continue to collect them. When we get all the signatures, we will present them to Thai and Chinese governments,” Sai Khur Hseng said.
The signatures were collected during a two-week period this month, and extended to the Shan diaspora in Thailand.
Sai Myo Aung, of northern Shan State’s Kyaukme Township and now working in Chiang Mai, assisted the campaign as a volunteer, collecting signatures from members of displaced Shan communities. “Even though they are now living in Thailand, they are not Thai citizens. There is no guarantee for them to be permanent residents here,” he said of the sizeable migrant population, many of whom fled Shan State’s Salween basin due to fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups—a conflict which still continues in areas along the river today.
“They will go back to Shan State. And if their areas are flooded, where will they live?” he added.
Nang Lar, a resident of Pong Pa Kam in eastern Shan State, claimed that, like her, nearly all the people in her village offered their signatures to the petition. “We are Shan—we are like brothers and sisters. We don’t want to see them suffer with the flooding,” she explained.
If the dam is completed, the resulting reservoir would flood an area nearly the size of Singapore and would place 100 villages underwater.
SMEC’s environmental and social assessments could influence the future of the Mong Ton project, and is expected to predict, report and analyze the effects of the dam on both local populations and the natural surroundings.
On Monday, The Nation reported that Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power plans to continue dam construction throughout the country despite civic opposition. However, Nyan Tun U, a Ministry representative, cited the use of “public consultation[s]” to provide feedback on the sustainability of hydropower projects, perhaps a reference to the ongoing EIA/SIA conducted by SMEC.
As was reported by the Shan Herald Agency for News in June, the firm has faced criticism from locals and Shan community-based organizations regarding their perceived promotion of the hydropower project and reports of food and utilities being offered in exchange for support for the Mong Ton dam in particular.
The Mong Ton dam is one of five planned hydropower projects on the Salween River and, once completed, would be one of the largest dams in the region; at over 240 meters high, it would surpass even the Three Gorges Dam in China. It is estimated that it will have the capacity to produce 7000 megawatts of power, of which 10 percent would be reserved for use in Burma and 90 percent would be designated for export to Thailand and China.
BY SAI AW / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.)