Myanmar’s Salween River is NOT FOR SALE

With the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef weighing heavily on the minds of many Australians, you could be forgiven for not having noticed the threat looming over Myanmar’s Salween River – another of the world’s great environmental treasures.

The Salween River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the world and is the longest undammed river in mainland Southeast Asia. Home to the world’s most diverse turtle community and extraordinarily diverse fish stocks, the Salween supports millions of people who live along its vast stretch from the eastern highlands of the Tibetan Plateau, through southern China, Myanmar, and the Thai border before it drains to the Andaman Sea. For many years the Myanmar government has discussed damming of the Salween to generate hydro-electricity.

There has been consistent opposition to the six proposed dams by communities in Myanmar’s Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon States as the river is a vital artery for millions of people in these ethnic communities who will be irreparably impacted by the blockage of its natural flow. The environmental impact is also a great cause for concern with the dams posing a serious threat to the rich biodiversity of the entire river basin.

The director of one of APHEDA’s partner organisations, Charm Tong (from the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth), is a founding member of the growing ‘Salween River is Not For Sale’ movement.

On top of the displacement of thousands of people from lands that will be submerged by the dams, the impact on the environment, and the threat of catastrophic flooding in the earthquake prone area, local people won’t even benefit from the hydro-electricity with about 90% of all power produced slated to be exported directly to China.

“They [the government of Myanmar] have announced that there will be no gains [for local people] in terms of electricity, [as such] they should not build dams on the Salween.” Charm Tong said, adding, “We strongly oppose this activity.”

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA stands in solidarity with Charm Tong and the ethnic community organisations opposing the construction of these dams.

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is concerned to note that an Australian company is playing a leading role in the Salween dams project. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), which is a beneficiary of Australian government aid money, has been commissioned to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment along the Salween River. The business relationship between SMEC and the dam builders, China’s state-owned Hydrochina Company, is at this stage unclear.

Last Wednesday, a documentary revealing the unique natural beauty of the “Thousand Island” area along the Pang River tributary of the Salween was launched with screenings in Yangon and Taunggyi inside Myanmar and Chiang Mai on the Thai border. You can see a trailer for “Drowning A Thousand Islands” here.  Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is working with Charm Tong to set up screenings of the documentary in Australia in the near future.

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