Hydropower Projects on the Salween River: An Update (1)

Salween Watch

Over the past decade, plans for 13 hydropower projects have been proposed for the Salween River in China and another six in the lower reaches of the river in Burma and at the border of Thailand-Burma.

Very little information about the projects has been disclosed to the public. Unrest in the ethnic states of Burma has also hampered independent efforts to gather information but Thai and Burmese state and private agencies have also made little effort share the information.

In August 2013, according to a high ranking official in Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power, six hydropower projects are being developed on Burma’s Salween River including the Upper Salween Dam, also known as Kunlong Dam (1,400 MW), Nong Pha Dam (1,000 MW), Mai Tong Dam also known as Tasang Dam (7,110 MW), Manntaung on a tributary of the Salween (200 MW) (the four dams are located in Shan State), Ywathit Dam in Kayah (Karenni) State (4,000 MW) and Hat Gyi Dam in Karen State (1,360 MW). The projects are being developed jointly between Chinese corporations, Thailand’s EGAT International Co., Ltd. and Burmese investors. Once the project agreements are signed it is estimated that it will take about 4 to 10 years to complete construction.

A Thai news agency has also reported that two more projects named Mae Sariang 1 and Mae Sariang 2 are also being developed. It is assumed that the two projects are in fact the Wei Gyi and Dagwin Dams that have long been proposed to be built at the Thailand-Burma border. The two projects were originally mulled by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and an MoU has been signed with Burmese authorities on these two projects.

Originating in the Himalaya Mountain Range in Tibet, the Salween River flows through China’s Yunnan province into Burma and Thailand covering a length of 2,800 kilometers from the source down to the Andaman Sea. It is one of the last international rivers in the world which can still run free. It boasts one of the richest biodiversity sources of the region and is home to at least 13 ethnic groups, including the Nu, Lisu, Shan, Karen, Pa-o, Karenni, and Mon.

Salween Watch has been compiling information about the projects through its networks and would like to provide an annual update as follows:
Upper Salween Dams in China
The Nu River basin in China has a cascade of 13 dams planned, but construction has stopped several times due to civil society opposition and high seismic risks. In China’s 12th Five Year Plan, five of the 13 dams proposed for the Nu are scheduled to start construction: Songta, Maji, Yabiluo, Liuku and Saige. Songta dam, near the Tibet-Yunnan border, has already started early preparation work. NGOs visiting the construction site have been able to take photos of the early preparatory work underway.

Survey machinery and vehicles have also been seen at the other dam sites, especially Maji, but no major construction has started as of early 2014.

The Nu River is on a major fault line and geologists have warned of potential disasters if all the Nu dams go forward and impound water, further accelerating seismic activity. More than 10 different ethnic minorities live in the Nu river valley, and their livelihoods will be directly affected if relocated because of dam building. In a recent NGO report called “The Last Report of China’s Rivers”, an alliance of 19 NGOs has called for the suspension of all Nu dams to save one of the last free flowing rivers for the Nu residents and future generations.

Kunlong Dam
Located in Northern Shan State, in an area inhabited by Shan and Kokang Chinese close to the Chinese border, the Kunlong dam project will have an installed capacity of 1,400 MW, of which 1,200 MW will be sold to China through a connection to the China Southern Power Grid. According to Hydrochina Kunming Engineering, several villages will be affected. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been conducted, but no results have been made public. Construction has started in secrecy and substantial progress has been made.

In 2010, due to refusal of the Kokang resistance army to become a Border Guard Force (BGF), the Burma Army launched an offensive and seized control of the area, causing over 30,000 people to flee across the Chinese border.

In February 2010, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) issued a report stating that apart from impacts on local villagers, the development of dams on the Salween River would hamper peace building in the country as the dam sites were located in armed conflict zones between the Burma Army troops and ethnic forces. They called for a halt to dam construction.

In a report launched on 13 February 2014, it was revealed that the area slated to be used for the construction of the dam in Kunlong township is not stable since it is close to the Kokang and Wa self-administrative regions, and there has been recent new displacement of villagers in Kutkhai due to skimishes between Burma Army troops and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) as well as the KIA (Kachin Independence Army). At present, there are five battalions of the Burma Army based in Kunlong, just below the dam site.

According to SHRF, the construction of access roads to the Kunlong dam site has led to large scale land confiscation and destruction of houses, impacting over 60 villages with a population of around 20,000 people. The villagers have been given no compensation. At the dam site, about 500 workers are being employed at cement and gravel production plants,