The Salween River, one of the great rivers of Southeast Asia, is under threat. The governments of the Salween countries; Burma, Thailand and China have been pushing forward with plans to dam this still free-flowing river. It is planned to both exploit the hydropower potential of the entire river basin, as well as to divert water to Thailand. A series of large dams along the course of the river, in southern China and the eastern states of Burma are being considered.
The dams will have major impact on the local ethnic people, who will suffer displacement and dispossession. In Burma, these people have already been suffering from many decades of brutal conflict that has decimated their populations. Preparations for the dam construction, including securing the dam sites and clearing the flood areas, have already caused gross human rights violations and massive population displacement, although this has been concealed by the context of the ongoing civil war.
The development plans were made without consideration of the recommendations made by the World Commission on Dams. This reality together with the many negative impacts of large dams, make the projects unacceptable. In Burma the dams will be used by the military dictatorship for further oppression of its people. In order to bring an immediate halt to the Salween dam plans, urgent action is needed.
Salween Watch was formed in February 1999 and is a coalition of organizations and NGOs that work on Burma-related and environmental issues. It was set up with the primary aim of preventing the building of harmful hydroelectric power dams on the Salween River. The group members aim to inform and raise awareness to the local and international communities about the impacts of the proposed hydropower development projects in the Salween Basin.
The coalition works to collect information directly from the affected project areas including data from the affected environment and the people, as well as information from the media, and other credible sources. The information, along with various participatory activities is used to raise awareness about the dams, the environment, and looks at both the positive and negative aspects of development projects among the affected communities. The group strives to build the capacity of local activists, and supports local community initiatives to help organize against development projects that potentially harm their livelihoods. At the same time, much of the groups information and campaign activities are directed outwards, with the aim of alerting and motivating key sections of the regional and international community who are in a position to access more information, influence policy, and block the financing of the hydroelectric power dams.
Salween Watch operates in a difficult environment as most of its members have illegal status in Thailand and the project site areas in the Salween Basin are part of a landmine strewn war zone. The potential dam sites are mostly surrounded by “black zones”, in which the people are often shot on sight, tortured and killed on suspicion of giving support to rebel ethnic resistance groups.
Group members exchange information through meetings and email, as well as produce campaign materials, generate mass email-out publications and local language printed publications. They carry out interviews, and produce reports in collaboration with network coalition partners, and other closely associated NGO’s.
On the local level, Salween Watch members have held well attended meetings, produced and distributed information booklets and articles in English and the local languages, organized workshops, and produced T-shirt and sticker campaign materials. They have made speeches, presented photo/poster displays, discussed with, lobbied and provided data packages about the dam project plans to leaders of ethnic groups and to journalists.